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Tsao & McKown Lets History Shine at Sunbrella’s North Carolina Headquarters

PROJECT NAME Sunbrella HQ
LOCATION Burlington, North Carolina
FIRM Tsao & McKown Architects
SQ. FT. 100,000 SQF

“We truly cross the divide,” Calvin Tsao begins, meaning: “We’re equally comfortable with architecture and interior design.” So naturally Tsao & McKown wasamong the talented mix-masters that members of the Gant family wanted to meet when they were planning headquarters in Burlington, North Carolina, for their growing Sunbrella brand. The Gants had their eye on converting the early 20th–century former mill they owned across the street from a building Sunbrella shared with its parent company, Glen Raven. “We had the aha moment, literally, in looking at our birthplace,” Glen Raven chairman Allen Gant Jr. says. “So we weren’t looking for an architect who could design us the most beautiful building—we felt we already had that. But instead for someone who could understand the functionality of the business.”

By de­molishing a 60-year-old addition to a 1901 former mill and restoring its original brick, Tsao & McKown created the lobby for the Sunbrella headquarters in Burlington, North Carolina. Photography by Eric Laignel.

 

Interior Design Hall of Fame members Tsao and his life partner Zack McKown were introduced to the Gants by two reliable sources. First was our own editor in chief Cindy Allen, who had recommended the firm. Then, around the same time, Sunbrella consultant Sherri Donghia also put their name forward—Tsao and McKown having designed furniture for her own family-run company in 2004.

A new custom window brightens samples in the sales showroom. Photography by Eric Laignel.

“Sherri set us up on a blind date,” says Allen Gant III, whose great-grandfather founded Glen Raven, which invented panty hose in 1958 but is now known for its performance fabrics. “We’d interviewed a half dozen world-class architects,” Gant Jr. explains. “Then we met Calvin and Zack,” Gant III continues. “And Calvin said, I want to know how people feel when they get here. He’s so in touch with the human aspect of design that he felt like part of the family. He and Zack are infectious.”

Original pine flooring, which was just refinished, still has imbedded metal shavings from the mill’s old looms. Photography by Eric Laignel.

 

And so a year-long courtship began. Tsao elucidates, “After we agreed on this ‘dating period,’ we began interviewing all the staff, creating questionnaires, and holding workshops—‘diagnostics’ we call it.” But both sides continued to keep their options open. “It gave the Gants the latitude to serial date—neither of us wanted to spend a year on this only to end up breaking up and never see each other again. But it was successful, so we got engaged,” Tsao adds with his trademark chuckle.

Removing a floor slab resulted in a central atrium that maintained the original structural pine columns and beams. Photography by Eric Laignel.

 

Tsao & McKown started by knocking down an unsightly 60-year-old addition to the 118-year-old mill, leaving its original 100,000 square feet over two levels and exposing an original brick facade that was in need of a little love. Luckily, the Gants had a friend with a 1905 mill built by the same brick mason that had recently been torn down, so the architects were able to seamlessly integrate the renovations amongst the original structural columns and ceiling beams. Installing a new glass curtain wall and windows and removing a floor slab resulted in adding copious natural light, most notably in the lobby, where massive stadium seating greets employees as does an adjacent café for their morning coffee fix. A requested auditorium was niftily inserted beneath the lobby seating, with corridors running past to an atrium at the core. There, a new stairway allows access to the employee lounge as well as various office areas and meeting rooms that run to the sunny perimeter. “There’s so much light coming in that you can actually grow plants,” McKown notes. “So we put in two internal gardens.”

A Jens Risom chair and an Eero Saarinen table face a built-in sofa inspired by Donald Judd designs in the café. Photography by Eric Laignel.

The gardens are part of what Tsao refers to as unprogrammed social spaces, “for casual meetings,” he states. “Which is a really hard thing to understand for people trying to get the maximum out of real estate, but we explored that there needs to be a gamut of spaces for working. You’ve got your desk, your meeting rooms, places to hang out, and then there are what we call ‘accidental spaces’. The Gants had to have faith in us that these social spaces are actually effective.” And they did. “I truly believe you need to remove the shackles from people,” Gant Jr. says. “This building provides a place where our associates can innovate beyond our wildest dreams. We’re 138 years old and I expectfor us to be here for another 138.” The staff, many of them locals who have been with the company for decades, even generations, are equally enthusiastic. “I walk in each morning and take a deep breath in awe,” division controller Crystal Coleman says. “This space has relaxed my muscle tension,” assistant division controller Sandy Filarski adds.

Beyond the new glass-and-steel curtain wall, a 46-foot-wide swath of pine stadium seating fills the lobby. Cushions covers rotate a selection of Sunbrella fabrics. Photography by Eric Laignel.

“It’s a match made in heaven,” McKown concludes. “Rarely do we work with someone who doesn’t lord over us but instead sits beside us. The Gants respect people, which makes them an extraordinary client.” A client that has him and Tsao finishing up a contiguous ground-up visitor’s center and a footbridge that will connect the old and new buildings in what will be a three-building campus. The relationship also led to the Sunbrella Great Hall by Tsao & McKown, a magnificent swooping fabric installation at the River Pavilion in New York for Interior Design’s annual Hall of Fame gala. So do architect and client finally consider it a marriage? “Of course,” Tsao laughs, “we’re already in therapy.”

Keep scrolling to view more images of the project >

A lounge is scattered with custom sectionals. Photography by Eric Laignel.
The auditorium seating 118 was added beneath the lobby. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A newly landscaped courtyard adjoining the entry accommodates indoor-outdoor events. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A Sunbrella acrylic-blend covering the auditorium’s chairs. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A new staircase in wood-clad steel. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Ferns growing in one of two indoor gardens. Photography by Eric Laignel.
An original structural column. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A sample of Ghislaine Viñas’s Mr. Dimple, an HBF Textiles fabric made with Sunbrella acrylic. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Lievore Altherr Molina stools in the design studio covered in Shift, a Sunbrella acrylic-polyester blend. Photography by Eric Laignel.
The design team’s Sunbrella-covered pin-up boards. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Sunbrella’s acrylic Select collection. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A custom stool made from a roll of Sunbrella acrylic-polyester felt. Photography by Eric Laignel.

Project Team: Richard Rhodes; Justin Scurlock, Chandler Oldham: Tsao & McKown. Plageman Architecture: Architect Of Record. Burohappold Engineering: Lighting Consultant, Facade Engineer. Silman; Structural Solutions: Structural Engineers. Landmark Facilities Group: MEP. Harrison Industries; Structural Wood Systems: Woodwork. Samet Corporation: General Contractor.

Product Sources: From Top: Miles Talbott: Sofas, Chairs (Showroom). Unique Concepts: Coffee Table. Big Ass Fans: Fans (Atrium). Knoll: Chair, Table (Café). Stitch NYC: Custom Sectionals (Lounge). Sien + Co: Pillows. Sedia Systems: Chairs, Desks (Auditorium). Coalesse: Stools (Design Studio). Throughout: Glen Raven Custom Fabrics: Upholstery.Liz Collins: Custom Curtains.

> See more from the May 2019 issue of Interior Design

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Tsao & McKown Lets History Shine at Sunbrella’s North Carolina Headquarters

PROJECT NAME Sunbrella HQ
LOCATION Burlington, North Carolina
FIRM Tsao & McKown Architects
SQ. FT. 100,000 SQF

“We truly cross the divide,” Calvin Tsao begins, meaning: “We’re equally comfortable with architecture and interior design.” So naturally Tsao & McKown wasamong the talented mix-masters that members of the Gant family wanted to meet when they were planning headquarters in Burlington, North Carolina, for their growing Sunbrella brand. The Gants had their eye on converting the early 20th–century former mill they owned across the street from a building Sunbrella shared with its parent company, Glen Raven. “We had the aha moment, literally, in looking at our birthplace,” Glen Raven chairman Allen Gant Jr. says. “So we weren’t looking for an architect who could design us the most beautiful building—we felt we already had that. But instead for someone who could understand the functionality of the business.”

By de­molishing a 60-year-old addition to a 1901 former mill and restoring its original brick, Tsao & McKown created the lobby for the Sunbrella headquarters in Burlington, North Carolina. Photography by Eric Laignel.

 

Interior Design Hall of Fame members Tsao and his life partner Zack McKown were introduced to the Gants by two reliable sources. First was our own editor in chief Cindy Allen, who had recommended the firm. Then, around the same time, Sunbrella consultant Sherri Donghia also put their name forward—Tsao and McKown having designed furniture for her own family-run company in 2004.

A new custom window brightens samples in the sales showroom. Photography by Eric Laignel.

“Sherri set us up on a blind date,” says Allen Gant III, whose great-grandfather founded Glen Raven, which invented panty hose in 1958 but is now known for its performance fabrics. “We’d interviewed a half dozen world-class architects,” Gant Jr. explains. “Then we met Calvin and Zack,” Gant III continues. “And Calvin said, I want to know how people feel when they get here. He’s so in touch with the human aspect of design that he felt like part of the family. He and Zack are infectious.”

Original pine flooring, which was just refinished, still has imbedded metal shavings from the mill’s old looms. Photography by Eric Laignel.

 

And so a year-long courtship began. Tsao elucidates, “After we agreed on this ‘dating period,’ we began interviewing all the staff, creating questionnaires, and holding workshops—‘diagnostics’ we call it.” But both sides continued to keep their options open. “It gave the Gants the latitude to serial date—neither of us wanted to spend a year on this only to end up breaking up and never see each other again. But it was successful, so we got engaged,” Tsao adds with his trademark chuckle.

Removing a floor slab resulted in a central atrium that maintained the original structural pine columns and beams. Photography by Eric Laignel.

 

Tsao & McKown started by knocking down an unsightly 60-year-old addition to the 118-year-old mill, leaving its original 100,000 square feet over two levels and exposing an original brick facade that was in need of a little love. Luckily, the Gants had a friend with a 1905 mill built by the same brick mason that had recently been torn down, so the architects were able to seamlessly integrate the renovations amongst the original structural columns and ceiling beams. Installing a new glass curtain wall and windows and removing a floor slab resulted in adding copious natural light, most notably in the lobby, where massive stadium seating greets employees as does an adjacent café for their morning coffee fix. A requested auditorium was niftily inserted beneath the lobby seating, with corridors running past to an atrium at the core. There, a new stairway allows access to the employee lounge as well as various office areas and meeting rooms that run to the sunny perimeter. “There’s so much light coming in that you can actually grow plants,” McKown notes. “So we put in two internal gardens.”

A Jens Risom chair and an Eero Saarinen table face a built-in sofa inspired by Donald Judd designs in the café. Photography by Eric Laignel.

 

The gardens are part of what Tsao refers to as unprogrammed social spaces, “for casual meetings,” he states. “Which is a really hard thing to understand for people trying to get the maximum out of real estate, but we explored that there needs to be a gamut of spaces for working. You’ve got your desk, your meeting rooms, places to hang out, and then there are what we call ‘accidental spaces’. The Gants had to have faith in us that these social spaces are actually effective.” And they did. “I truly believe you need to remove the shackles from people,” Gant Jr. says. “This building provides a place where our associates can innovate beyond our wildest dreams. We’re 138 years old and I expectfor us to be here for another 138.” The staff, many of them locals who have been with the company for decades, even generations, are equally enthusiastic. “I walk in each morning and take a deep breath in awe,” division controller Crystal Coleman says. “This space has relaxed my muscle tension,” assistant division controller Sandy Filarski adds.

Beyond the new glass-and-steel curtain wall, a 46-foot-wide swath of pine stadium seating fills the lobby. Cushions covers rotate a selection of Sunbrella fabrics. Photography by Eric Laignel.

 

“It’s a match made in heaven,” McKown concludes. “Rarely do we work with someone who doesn’t lord over us but instead sits beside us. The Gants respect people, which makes them an extraordinary client.” A client that has him and Tsao finishing up a contiguous ground-up visitor’s center and a footbridge that will connect the old and new buildings in what will be a three-building campus. The relationship also led to the Sunbrella Great Hall by Tsao & McKown, a magnificent swooping fabric installation at the River Pavilion in New York for Interior Design’s annual Hall of Fame gala. So do architect and client finally consider it a marriage? “Of course,” Tsao laughs, “we’re already in therapy.”

Keep scrolling to view more images of the project >

A lounge is scattered with custom sectionals. Photography by Eric Laignel.
The auditorium seating 118 was added beneath the lobby. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A newly landscaped courtyard adjoining the entry accommodates indoor-outdoor events. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A Sunbrella acrylic-blend covering the auditorium’s chairs. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A new staircase in wood-clad steel. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Ferns growing in one of two indoor gardens. Photography by Eric Laignel.
An original structural column. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A sample of Ghislaine Viñas’s Mr. Dimple, an HBF Textiles fabric made with Sunbrella acrylic. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Lievore Altherr Molina stools in the design studio covered in Shift, a Sunbrella acrylic-polyester blend. Photography by Eric Laignel.
The design team’s Sunbrella-covered pin-up boards. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Sunbrella’s acrylic Select collection. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A custom stool made from a roll of Sunbrella acrylic-polyester felt. Photography by Eric Laignel.

 

Project Team: Richard Rhodes; Justin Scurlock: Tsao & McKown. Plageman Architecture: Architect Of Record. Burohappold Engineering: Lighting Consultant, Facade Engineer. Silman; Structural Solutions: Structural Engineers. Landmark Facilities Group: MEP. Harrison Industries; Structural Wood Systems: Woodwork. Samet Corporation: General Contractor.

Product Sources: From Top: Miles Talbott: Sofas, Chairs (Showroom). Unique Concepts: Coffee Table. Big Ass Fans: Fans (Atrium). Knoll: Chair, Table (Café). Stitch NYC: Custom Sectionals (Lounge). Sien + Co: Pillows. Sedia Systems: Chairs, Desks (Auditorium). Coalesse: Stools (Design Studio). Throughout: Glen Raven Custom Fabrics: Upholstery.Liz Collins: Custom Curtains.

Continue reading Tsao & McKown Lets History Shine at Sunbrella’s North Carolina Headquarters

Milan Design Week’s Most Impactful Installations

As Milan Design Week 2018 draws to a close, we revisit the installations that made an impact.

“Beyond the Deep” by Lindsey Adelman x Calico Wallpaper

Beyond the Deep by Lindsey Adelman x Calico Wallpaper. Photography by Lauren Coleman.

Lighting doyenne Lindsey Adelman joined forces with Calico Wallpaper to present “Beyond the Deep,” an immersive undersea installation at Via Pietro Maroncelli 7. It marks the launch of Adelman’s Drop System, a De Stijl–inspired lighting series that features hand-blown mini globes affixed to verdigris-finished brass tubes. Backdropping Adelman’s fixtures are Calico Wallpaper’s brand-new Oceania collection in three shades and fluid-like Sumi collection in a custom colorway.

“ACT III” by Apparatus

“ACT III” by Apparatus. Photography by Paola Pansini.

After creative director Gabriel Hendifar mined his personal cultural history as a first-generation Iranian-American to conceive Apparatus’s latest product introductions, he transformed the studio’s Milan showroom (Via Santa Marta 14) into a snapshot of bygone memories that simultaneously looks to the future. Hendifar infused each piece with Persian history—the brass-tubed Talisman sconce replicates details found on statues in Persepolis, while the gently curved Drum table evokes the Tombak, a foundational instrument in Persian music.

“Le Roi” by Marc Ange

“Le Roi” by Marc Ange. Photography by Éclat Public Relations.

After his installation Le Refuge took home top honors as the most Instagrammed piece of Milan Design Week 2017, Marc Ange returns both bigger and bolder. His signature leaf lamps, this time in a shimmering gold, beckon visitors inside a throne-like room where a giant bear lounge chair—illuminated by two Refuge lamps—presides over a duo of Les Araignées chairs, each upholstered in royal blue Sunbrella® fabric. Le Roi displays at Wallpaper*’s Mediateca di Brera space (Via Moscova 28) until April 22.

“Open Sky” by COS x Phillip K. Smith III

“Open Sky” by COS x Phillip K. Smith III. Photography courtesy of COS.

Phillip K. Smith III’s work challenges perceptions of light and space, particularly in California’s Palm Desert, where he’s based. So when Swedish fashion brand COS approached him to devise a site-specific installation during Salone del Mobile, he took on a new medium: 16th-century Italian architecture. Nestled inside Palazzo Isimbardi, Open Sky’s faceted mirrors reconfigure the surrounding colonnade into a geometric abstraction. The buildings dramatically pull away as one moves toward the center, until fully encircled by vast sky’s languorous drift and color changes. “Each participant is in control of how the sky and architecture merge across the nearly 14-meter-diameter surface,” Smith notes, making each experience unique.

“For You Everyone” by Herman Miller

“For You Everyone” by Herman Miller. Photography by Ben Anders.

To celebrate the launch of Cosm, Herman Miller’s first auto-tilt chair designed by Studio 7.5, the storied office furniture company transformed their Brera Design District digs into a veritable high-design automobile showroom called “For You Everyone.” Neon signage invites visitors inside, where Cosm’s size and color variations preside on clusters of pedestals. Visitors can then test drive the task chair’s Auto-Harmonic Tilt, experiencing how adaptable the workplace of the future is—and how Herman Miller is responding to the ever-changing office landscape.

“Into Marble” by Nendo and Marsotto edizioni

“Into Marble” by Nendo and Marsotto edizioni. Photography by Takumi Ota.

Prolific design firm Nendo teamed with Marsotto edizioni to devise “Into Marble,” a poetic exhibition where clean-lined marble furniture melts into liquid. Each piece sits askew on puddle-like pedestals, to which Nendo manually surfaced with gentle ripples. Pieces by Claesson Koivisto Rune, Jasper Morrison, Philippe Malouin, and Konstantin Grcic all make an appearance. “Into Marble” runs until April 22 at Spazio Bigli (Via Bigli 11/A).

“My Dream Home” by Piero Lissoni, Elisabetta Illy, and Stefano Guindani

“My Dream Home” by Piero Lissoni, Elisabetta Illy, and Stefano Guindani. Photography by Saverio Lombardi Vallauri.

Photographers Elisabetta Illy and Stefano Guindani present “My Dream Home,” an exhibit that juxtaposes photographs of Haitian children alongside drawings of their “dream homes.” Interior Design Hall of Fame member Piero Lissoni collaborated with Dmeco Engineering to design the venue: twelve stacked shipping containers in the colors of Haitian houses. All proceeds from the show, open until April 28 at the Cortile d’Onore of Universita Statale, will be donated to Fondazione Francesca Rava to construct homes in Cite du Solei, Haiti.

“Swarovski Palazzo” by Swarovski

“Swarovski Palazzo” by Swarovski. Photography by Mark Cocksedge.

To mark the third phase of its home decor collection, Swarovski reveals four new product collaborations inside a grand greenhouse set within a hidden courtyard of a neoclassical Milanese palazzo (Corso Venezia 16). Objects by John Pawson, Nendo, Patricia Urquiola, and Peter Pilotto—who all push boundaries of crystal artistry—are featured, as are new lighting collections from Swarovski Crystal Palace by Tord Boontje and Marjan van Aubel.

Observatory by Lee Broom

“Observatory” by Lee Broom. Photography courtesy of Lee Broom.

Lee Broom’s stellar-inspired lighting fixtures, two years in the making, take center stage at “Observatory,” a traveling installation in a Grade II–listed building (Via Lovanio 6) in the heart of the Brera Design District. Eclipse, Orion, Aurora, and Tidal all glisten amid gallery-like environs, which Broom will show during NYCxDESIGN and the London Design Festival. “I wanted to create a celestial collection of sculptural lighting which is progressive and experimental using the latest LED technology,” says Broom.

“Altered States” by Snarkitecture x Caesarstone

“Altered States” by Snarkitecture x Caesarstone. Photography by David Zanardi.

To kick off Eurocucina, quartz manufacturer Caesarstonetapped Snarkitecture to explore the kitchen island at Fuorisalone. The New York–based collaborative practice then examined liquid as the kitchen’s most crucial element, channeling ice, water, and steam to create Altered States at Palazzo dell’Ufficio Elettorale di Porta Romana. Anchoring the amphitheatrical installation is a circular kitchen island surfaced in layers of Caesarstone White Attica, a nod to natural topography. Over 250 metal mesh pedestals in monochromatic gradients—emblematic of Snarkitecture’s oeuvre—gather around. 

“Perfettamente Imperfetto” by Dimorestudio

“Perfettamente Imperfetto” by Dimorestudio. Photography by Andrea Ferrari.

One of three installations by Dimorestudio, Perfettamente Imperfetto (Via Solferino 11) showcases the studio’s Progetto Non Finito and Oggetti collections. Decidedly neutral backdrops, such as a corridor lined with white parachute silk, highlight precious materials and artistic expression, as seen in spider-like floor lamps that nod to Louise Bourgeoise.

Continue reading Milan Design Week’s Most Impactful Installations

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