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Sitting rooms.

A showroom and offices for a Dutch furniture firm has transformed spec-built warehouse space on a busy main road into a civilised workspace.

The remodelling by Noble Associates of a showroom and offices, for the Dutch furniture firm, Ahrend, has created a civilised airy interior in which staff can work in comfort, and where the furniture is lit and displayed like objects in an art gallery. This is an approach which has long been practised in the motor industry, and has been made familiar over the years by exhibitors at the Milan Furniture Fair. At the Vitra Museum in Germany chairs are displayed, like treasures, on plinths and on the wall; here too the plan is eventually to mount an exhibition of Ahrend's chairs on the wall opposite the entrance. This should work well; the spare sculptural Modernism that characterises Ahrend's design makes its products suitable cases for such treatment.

The building, which is basically a late '70s spec-built warehouse with offices built into it, straddles the junction of two main roads leading west out of London. Though plainly of the period, it is structurally of better quality than most. But because the two levels of offices were built into the warehouse section, the heights of the floors were compressed and proportions uncomfortable.

As well as showroom and offices, the client asked for a meeting room and cafe. Faced with two horizontal wafers of space one on top of the other, Noble Associates cut through the upper floor plate, removed existing partitions and inserted others to create interlocking spaces while a strong vertical dimension was introduced to relieve the horizontal oppression.

The double-height atrium over the entrance has been made the central focus of the scheme. Paved with polished composite tiles speckled with colour, it gives onto the L-shaped showroom and glass screened computer room on the ground floor; and flows into the open balustraded galleries at the upper level which is reached by means of an existing metal staircase. Overhead, perspex rooflights, stained yellow by time and casting a pleasing gold light over the interior, have been screened by perforated metal pans; and an undulating suspended ceiling panel links the higher volume of the atrium with that of the showroom.

On the ground floor, the long axis of the showroom terminates in a newly created void rising two storeys. A green panel suspended within its height and back-lit forms the frame for Ahrend's A220 chair.

The shorter arm of the showroom embraces a conference room enclosed by a curved wall clad with oak staves and window slots. Set at the level of a seated person, they ensure privacy for those inside. At either end, two large panels can be pivoted shut to enclose the space fully, or opened out to make it part of the showroom.

In this mainly black and white interior where the lighting has been competently and sensitively designed, Ahrend's sculptural furniture often brilliantly coloured takes on a jewel-like quality. This is particularly so in the small espresso bar, where black granite and stainless steel set off the firm's cafe chairs in pale springlike colours.
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Title Annotation:architectural firm Noble Associates' design of showroom for furniture company Ahrend
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Apr 1, 1997
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