Designing Spaces—Suburban Office Spaces That Inspire

March 2016 View more

Photography by: Bari Baskin

Office spaces have changed dramatically over the years. Since Herman Miller first created the ergonomic chair, companies have been looking for ways to get more out of their employees and create better, more inspiring work spaces to work in.

While unique corporate offices were once limited to major metropolitan areas, the suburbs have stepped up, moving from stacks of floors to unique, breathtaking work spaces. The Western suburbs have several examples of inspiring corporate offices that make coming to work anything but work.

Urban Oasis

Take for example, Fox River Partners’ office space on 2135 City Gate Lane in Naperville, the private investment group enjoys an escape from the typical work environment with a design created by none other than world renowned Peter Rich Architects. Central to the design is a parabolic arch in the vaulted ceiling, which has zigzagging, miniature, cone-shaped vaults made out of bricks from a local creek bed that has a bit of an artistic, M. C. Escher feel.

Desks are divided in a way to create a combination of privacy and openness. The dividers also serve as shelves, making them highly functional. Wood for the floors and shelves were sourced from trees destroyed by the beetle epidemic. The hallmark blue-ish pattern left by beetles’ burrowing into the wood has become an attractive and unique design aesthetic. The walls are accented with photographs and artifacts from different company ventures.

Other features include three-inch deep, black-bottomed pools of clear water, a weeping wall that gently trickles water into one of the pools and a 27-foot fallen oak tree taken from the forest behind owner, Joe Ritchie’s farm in Big Rock, IL and reassembled above one of the pools.

Lounges with tables exist throughout the space and commissioned paintings of Walter Payton, Walt Disney, Johnny Cash and more create a story that makes it feel like the most elaborate home office instead of a corporate workspace.

“The idea was to create a space with a story to it,” highlights Thomas Richie, director of research for Fox River Partners.

And how do the people who work there feel about the space? The consensus is that it’s a fun place to work. Richie reports that people feel connected to everyone in the office, regardless of the projects they’re working on. “The nature of the space makes it feel like we are all on a huge team,” said Richie.

Office “Coolified”

Charles Vincent George Architects, a nationally acclaimed design and architecture firm at 1245 E. Diehl Road in Naperville, has worked on everything from car dealerships to recreational facilities to medical offices. Just two years ago, Charles Vincent George’s headquarters moved from a vintage house in the downtown Naperville area to a contemporary-meets-industrial designed space that has boosted employee morale, says CEO and President, Bruce George.

“Our employees have responded very well,” says George. “Mostly because of their feeling of being on the cutting edge of design. I often find members of our team still working here late into the evenings—much later than in our old offices—not just because we are busy, they really enjoy being in the space.”

The inspired space features industrialized details such as floor-to-ceiling cold rail steel rolling doors, steel light fixtures and even steel I-beams with decorative edging and trim work. Warming things up are wood walls that give it a lofty feel.

“Because we do so much residential and commercial work, we really need to show clients a blend of contemporary and industrial so they can see the types of spaces we design,” George points out. “Clients and partners who come to our office say they feel as though they’ve walked into a city office that still has the warmth they want in a home or work space.”

George also points out that the overall layout was designed to promote creativity with open cubes for working privately and the option to step away from desks and work in one of the break-out spaces. In the same way that forward-thinking companies like Google and Facebook have created collaborative office environments, Charles Vincent George offers its team members high top tables and stools, a lounge area with comfortable couches and chairs and an oversized worktable in materials room that looks like a modern mini-library.

“Just being able to get up from your desk and go to another place to collaborate with coworkers takes away the doldrums,” George says.

Creative Cultural Reuse

For an office space that is both modern and historic, check out 5th Avenue Station at 200 E. 5th Avenue in Naperville. This truly unique historic building, connected to the Naperville train station, was once the Kroehler Factory building and is the last of its kind still standing in DuPage County. The four-story, 700-foot long brick building features tongue and groove flooring, exposed brick walls, wood-beamed ceilings, heavy timber columns and a 60′ x 30′ skylight. The structure is even listed in the National Registry of Historic Places; definitely something most people can’t say about their office building.

Fieldglass, a SAP company, occupies four spaces in the building and has renovated all of them to reflect the building’s storied history. The spaces feature locally sourced materials such as desk tables made out of bowling alley wood, barn wood and brick walls in conference rooms, 3″ hemlock conference tables and reclaimed steel table legs that were formed by a blacksmith who uses tools from the era when the Kroehler Factory was functional.

“We even mined data about the factory and have named our conference rooms after the furniture that was manufactured here,” said Jeff Basso, vice president of information technology and de-factor facilities manager.

Employees enjoy standing video games, a shuffle board area and even a bar for company happy hours on Friday, which makes for a great way to end the high-performance week that comes with working in the software development industry.

“We’ve talked about moving into a traditional corporate office and people cringe,” Basso remarks.