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Shades Mountain Baptist Church Youth Center

Youthful Energy

I have met a couple of kids who visit there and they cannot believe what we did... They say it’s their favorite place to get together, and they go there all the time.

Shades Mountain Baptist Church’s youth facilities were an ineffective labyrinth of outdated rooms and dark corridors. The church challenged GS&P with developing a new, unique, and inspiring identity for the area. Working with the client’s limited budget, the interior design team transformed the existing spaces into a bright, inviting home for the church’s Student Ministry. The completed interior spaces are energetic, branded, and spatially expansive — perfect for the church’s younger demographic and an inspiration to the entire congregation.

When did GS&P first become affiliated with the church?

Jim Griffo: GS&P began working on a master plan with Shades Mountain Baptist Church around 2002. The youth area renovations are Phase 4 of the master plan.

This phase focused on the student ministry. Describe the environment before you started working on the youth area.

Terra Douberly: It was like you were in the 1950s. They hadn’t changed things probably since 1952, even the old vinyl wall covering. Every grandmother’s couch that had been donated to the church was in every space. All the rooms were really small. I don’t think there was a room larger than probably 10? × 10?. It was a confusing maze of dark little rooms and corridors.

Who did you work with at the church?

Terra: We worked with their minister of administration who oversaw the whole campus development. We also worked with committees, including the youth pastor and his staff, to understand their function and vision. They were very trusting, and we got to build exactly what we recommended.

What was their reaction to the new, contemporary interior design?

Terra: The youth pastor loved it, but it was a bit of a stretch at first for the older pastors, which almost created a setback. We convinced them that junior high and high school students needed a fun, bright, energetic, and contemporary interior space.

When you met with resistance, what steps did you take to demonstrate that your solution would tie into their vision?

Terra: I think it was more of an issue within the church than it was with us and the client. The youth staff had absolutely no questions about what we were proposing; however, I did have a couple of private conversations with the senior pastors to convince them to trust us. I reminded them that we weren’t designing the space for them because they weren’t the ones who would be using the space.

Jim: It’s also worth mentioning that this was a design-build project. We were hired as part of a design-build team with Myrick, Gurosky & Associates. Their president, Scott Gurosky, attends that church, and for the last 10 years has been pushing the church to take a new vision, open up their campus spatially, and go in a different direction aesthetically. So he was a big proponent of this design as well as all the other projects we’ve done for them. He was a great influence on them, and he provided a lot of confidence that said what we were doing was the best solution for all.

The budget was very limited. Describe some ways that you were able to keep the costs down and still meet their needs and requests.

Terra: If you look closely, all we really used was carpet and paint and little bit of vinyl wall covering. We used very inexpensive materials with large pops of rich colors. We felt it was important to dedicate most of the money to knocking a hole in the floor and connecting the two spaces with a new open stair. We tried to be as creative as possible with gypsum board and paint.

Jim: I agree with Terra. Opening up the floor and having a two-story area really made the space dynamic. It was such a maze of little rooms and corridors that the stair inclusion was very unexpected. I don’t think that the church realized the impact it would make on the space until it was actually built.

Why do you think it made such an impact?

Jim: It is a very short floor-to-ceiling building from the 1950s, so having a two-story space opens it up dramatically. Terra showed them a lot of computer animations and renderings, which I think convinced them to go ahead with the project.

Terra: With the tiny rooms and low ceiling heights they had before, along with dark yellow and orange wall covering everywhere, I don’t think they could have envisioned the final solution without the visualizations.

What visuals did you use to show them what you had in mind?

Terra: We primarily used a 3-D computer modeling software, along with Photoshop. We were able to provide them a 3-D walk-through of the space to show them what it would be like. The models were also important in construction because the builder could see the different levels and all the layers and L-shaped wall elements, which helped the contractors build it.

What was your design inspiration for the space?

Terra: I knew that the big display wall was important, and that is where the design concept originated. We designed a cable and rod display system with green, blue, and red walls. It was very important to have an area to display their current events and also have a TV, so I started there with some sketch paper and just started drawing. The form just progressed, and I incorporated it everywhere else.

Is that where your choice of color and materials came from?

Terra: I presented them with two different schemes. One was a warmer scheme that would’ve had just punches of color, but would’ve been a little safer. The other option was bolder and brighter and was clearly my favorite. I started with a carpet sample and built from there. Once I found out what our final budget was, we selected the other finishes. We also had to add the costs associated with the engineering, so I decided to see what I could do with bright paint colors because it created energy and movement.

Has the end result appealed to anyone other than the youth?

Terra: A woman who was on the building committee let me know she enjoys using it, too. Her Bible study, made up of women in their forties, meets there every other week because they love the energy and bright colors.

Were there any lessons you learned from this project?

Jim : This interiors project was part of four simultaneous GS&P projects on the campus. I think the lesson learned here is that you have to keep your eye on the prize for the whole campus. You have to ask how each project fits so you don’t just build yourself into a corner, so that when all is said and done, all areas complement each other. Since we have worked on the campus and done more and more projects, everyone’s become more comfortable with the changes and with us.

Terra: I think it was unique in that they were so trusting of everything that we did. We came in and presented our vision, and they said "absolutely, go forward." And, the response that we’ve received has been overwhelming. I have met a couple of kids through other church organizations who visit there and they cannot believe what we did to the interior spaces at Shades Mountain. They say it’s their favorite place to get together, and they go there all the time.

Is there any one aspect for which you are particularly proud?

Terra: Honestly, with this project we were so fortunate that everything, especially during the renovation, turned out exactly the way we planned it. That rarely happens. I couldn’t have asked for better feedback and better clients or a more positive reaction.

Jim: This project has generated a great deal of visibility throughout the community for GS&P. People don’t generally expect us to do this type of work — church interior design — but it is very fulfilling for the staff. We are very honored to be in the Showcase. It is always nice to have your work recognized, and I think this one definitely deserves it.

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Project Info

  • Client: Myrick Gurosky & Associates, Inc.
  • Location: Birmingham, AL, USA
  • Market: Corporate + Urban Design
  • Services: Architecture, Interior Design
  • Team:
    • James C. Griffo, AIA, IIDA, LEED AP Principal-in-Charge
    • Julie D. Roquemore, IIDA, LEED AP Project Manager
    • Terra E. Douberly, IIDA Project Designer
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