Spaces Group partners with Contemporary Media to transform their offices.
The saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” That was what Spaces Group thought when they were asked to renovate the offices of Contemporary Media, Inc. Since the parent company of MBQ, Memphis magazine, Memphis Flyer, and Memphis Parent moved into the Tennessee Street building in the late 1980s, their downtown office had remained relatively untouched. Located in the up-and-coming South Main Arts District, the office fills the second floor of a former dry-goods warehouse built sometime in the late 1800s or early 1900s.
Michael Finger, senior editor of Memphis, says, “Many years ago, the original entrance of this building was on the west, with a big loading dock along that side. A train — not a trolley, but a real train — went down the street, and all the buildings across from us were empty warehouses, because this whole area was very industrial.”
When Contemporary Media moved in, the old warehouse space was divided into private offices and rows of cubicles, but the “bones” of the building — the exposed brick walls and massive wooden beams — remained untouched. In recent years, the interior saw some definitely odd paint jobs. “We color-coded the walls of the various company departments red, green, blue, and orange,” Finger says, “but then, as people moved around the office and we began producing other publications, the coloring didn’t make sense any more. Also, employees were allowed to paint their own cubicles. In theory it might work, but you had Pepto-Bismol pink and lime-green cubicles.”
The building began to show its years of use, and those exposed brick walls started to crumble onto the top of desks and work spaces.
“Every day I would have to brush brick dust off my desk,” Finger says. The carpet had endured decades of smoking, from when such a practice was accepted at work, and the rows of old fluorescent lights, many of which now flickered like strobe lights, desperately needed to be upgraded.
Needless to say, by 2012 the time came for out with the old and in with Spaces Group.
Carol Johnson and Myra Deyhle run Spaces Group; Johnson is president and is a Knoll furniture representative, and Deyhle is Executive Vice President and an interior designer. Johnson says, “We have an affinity for good design, and we understand the value that good design brings to any situation, whether it’s an office building, school, hospital, or any space. You don’t have to sacrifice to have good design, and that’s the value that Knoll brings.”
Molly Willmott, Contemporary Media’s Director of Operations, says, “Spaces Group could see the potential in this building, and we saw it, too. They came in and were just flabbergasted by the raw beauty of the building.” Willmott helped facilitate building plans and coordinate timelines for the renovations.
Before the renovations could begin, the building needed a “mass cleaning undertaking,” Willmott says, that required full-face masks because of all the years of accumulated dust. After extensive cleaning, it was time for Johnson and Deyhle to begin planning the renovation. “Because we have so many creative people, and so much creative ‘stuff’ everywhere, Spaces Group thought it was important to have a neutral palette to show off all the colorful artwork and things people had brought in,” Willmott says. “Before, it made for a real visual mess. There were colors everywhere, and it made everything look kind of junky.”
Upon arrival, the design duo was elated to work with such an old building and provide Contemporary Media with an updated, fresh aesthetic. Johnson says, “When you work with an old space like this, it has its challenges, such as old brick that is a bit crumbly and exposed wood that is very porous and becomes a maintenance issue if left in its original state. But we just see these as opportunities.”
With ever-changing technology and a younger workforce, Johnson believes more of the space should be geared towards teamwork. “Young people don’t sit still. They move around, they’re energetic, there’s more collaboration and teaming, so we could see that 50 or 60 percent of the overall work space or square footage could be allocated towards meeting space, collaborative space, and team meeting rooms versus the standard workstation, which is usually for one individual,” Johnson says. “Even when we design workstations now, we try to leave one side of it open so that you can collaborate with others around the end of your work surface. Even in an old building like this, you need to adapt to new ways of working.”
The Contemporary Media renovations began in summer 2012 and have now entered phase four with 70 percent of the building complete. The executive offices, sales rooms, and reception desk remain. “That reception area is a challenge because when you first walk in the space, you want to make a statement,” Johnson says. “And it has to be a statement that is all about who Contemporary Media is. It can’t look too over-the-top and it can’t look too traditional; that’s not who Contemporary Media is.”
The projected finish for the renovations is in 2014. “In this space I’ve learned so much about the challenges of an older building and how quickly and easily it can be transformed when you have a client with vision,” says Johnson. “That’s what I think is so divine about this space: The people were so receptive to receive the design advice and recommendation from me and from Myra, and it has just been a great project all along.”