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Richmond Corporate Client

...nice reference to the planes. High amenity space for a high amenity clientele without being over the top.

When a corporate client in Richmond, Virginia, first called upon GS&P in 2009, the mission was to design an additional aviation hangar bay to house a new corporate jet. The client loved the result, but instantly realized the stark contrast created by this newly finished addition when compared to the rest of the building. Executives would surely be impressed with the state-of-the-art hangar and sleek new jet, but would still have to walk through a cluttered and outdated reception area to get there.



As a result, the client commissioned GS&P to provide enhancements to the dated space. However, what began as a simple finish upgrade soon transformed into a significant renovation project after the design team identified potential issues with the space’s efficiency and use. With an eye on providing the client with an opportunity to enhance its corporate brand, the team began to map out a plan to redesign the space to match the chic interior and amenities of the aircraft.


“These passengers are highly paid executives and are used to a certain level of amenities,” says project designer Julia Bradley Rayfield. “The inside of these jets is sleek and modern with high-quality materials that the passengers can touch. The reception area didn’t feel anything like that. When you walked into the lobby as it was, they had basically put in as many chairs as would physically fit with a hodgepodge of end tables and random potted plants. The ceiling was low, and the colors were dark and dreary. Right or wrong, it just did not fit into the experience they were used to.”

Creating a new first impression

As is often the case with open spaces, the lobby had become a holding area for a myriad of functions and unappealing clutter such as frumpy, worn seating, racks of reading material and a lone coffee maker that served as the beverage station. The overall layout was poor and contained an assortment of furniture, horizontal blinds that obscured the outside views and exposed exterior walls that appeared unfinished. Positioned in the middle of the clutter was the outdated receptionist area, which instantly felt dingy and claustrophobic.

As Rayfield recalls, “It was packed so tightly there was no feeling of spaciousness at all. One of our immediate goals was to make this fairly small space feel more spacious than it was.”

The tiny, dark space was originally capped off by a back-lit pyramid ceiling created to look and feel like an interior skylight. The end result, however, was a poorly lit area. To create a visually quiet space, the new ceiling design incorporated a simple curved form to provide a smooth surface for indirect lighting. Venetian Plaster was chosen as the finish because of its subtle sheen that distributed light in a way that was soothing to the eye.

The waiting area was transformed by creating organized zones to clearly define the space. A circular, carpeted area accommodates a television and comfortable mohair-covered seating for relaxation or informal meetings. Outside the soft circle, designers placed a large format porcelain tile to manage dirt or moisture tracked indoors.

“The circle was a way to have a circulation path from the door to the reception desk, as well as an easy-to-maintain surface,” explains Rayfield, “and the curved carpet elongates the seating area and gives it a soft surface below it.” To make the compact area appear much larger, the vertical blinds were removed to showcase the wall-to-wall windows and allow unobstructed views of the airfield on three sides of the building.

A complement to the design is the clean backdrop created for the client’s logo. An unexpected visual effect created by the new logo wall and ceiling design was the resemblance to the sleek surface of a luxury jet. “It was more a matter of how can we elevate the ceiling that has a lot of visual impact and create a subtle and sophisticated effect without being boring?” recalls Rayfield. “It was sheer luck that the result happened to relate back to the aircraft.”

Safety first

Another outdated space that needed a design overhaul was the kitchen. After understanding how much kitchen space was being used for in-flight meal preparation, genuine concern for food safety emerged. This led to a candid conversation with the client and the creation of a plan to design a professional food prep area. In doing this, the team had to create an unforeseen separation between the professional kitchen space and the staff breakroom, which introduced some minor complications.

“Much of it was fast-tracked with a quick turnaround,” explains project designer Eric Sweet, “so we had to make sure materials were available quickly but still featured the design elements that we wanted. Our client was mostly concerned about getting a good quality product that they would be happy with, and that their clients would find useful and easy to use. We knew we could deliver that, but also knew we could design a space that promoted safety at the same time.”

Not only did the solution provide a clean, dedicated area for flight attendants and crew to prepare meals, it also provided a separate area for employees and visitors to enjoy food and beverages away from the main lobby. The lone coffee maker gave way to the Café; a fully functional and inviting refreshment area for visitors separate from the employee area.

The restrooms were equally enhanced by applying upgrades that included porcelain sinks, glass tile accents, contemporary sconces, sparkling quartz wall tiles and local granite.

“The client was very cognizant of aesthetics,” Rayfield explains, “but we also made a point to improve function as much as we could. For the restrooms, we went with the “cockpit” approach; everything you need is within reach without moving, which cuts down on drips on the floor and helps keep the room clean. Decisions like that were relatively simple and small, but went a long way towards the overall effect.”

A client’s trust

Trust is a key element in creating a successful relationship between a client and a design team.

“This relationship is unique in several ways,” says Rayfield, “and most of all in the level of teamwork and trust. It makes a massive difference when our clients trust us. This client certainly weighed in and told us what works for them and their end-users, but they were also very open to our ideas. It was an absolute joy to work with them. They treated us as experts in our field, and I think the project benefited from it.”

The client was so happy with the outcome of the project that they hired GS&P to do five additional major renovations, three of which were extremely aggressive. According to Sweet, “We designed, built and finished the projects in a little over six months from start to finish.”

“They trust us now even more than they did when we started this project,” Rayfield adds, “and it’s extremely gratifying to have a client that values our professional opinions and expertise. At the end of the day, having their trust is definitely the best feeling.”


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Project Info

  • Client: Undisclosed
  • Location: Richmond, VA, USA
  • Market: Aviation
  • Services: Architecture, Engineering, Interior Design, Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing (MEP)
  • Team:
    • David L. King, AIA, NCARB Principal-in-charge, Project Manager
    • Julia Bradley Rayfield, CID, IIDA Project Professional
    • Eric Sweet, CID, IIDA Project Designer
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