The Whitehouse Chicago Office by Bruce Bolander

The Whitehouse Chicago Office by Bruce Bolander

Bruce Bolander, Los Angeles-based architect, has completed the architectural and design work on the Chicago office of international editorial company The Whitehouse, his third of such projects for the company. Previous projects included the Los Angeles and New York offices of The Whitehouse.

The enthusiastic input of the client was instrumental in the design and development of the project and in large part what made the Chicago remodel and expansion flow smoothly. Whitehouse Partners and Editors David Brixton, Rick Lawley and Matthew Wood were deeply involved in the creative decision-making of the project.

"Often what's missing on a commercial project is the client point-of-view. Rick Lawley took the time to fly out to Chicago with me several times," said Bolander. "We'd spend the car ride out discussing the project, and then I'd have the time on the flight to draw what we had talked about, Four undisturbed hours without the phone or computer to work side-by-side with the client is a rare creative luxury in this day and age."

The project hinged on the transformation of the space. The Whitehouse had occupied a set of offices in the historic Courthouse Place building since 1995. Courthouse Place was designed by architect Otto H. Matz and completed in 1893. It was initially known as the Cook County Criminal Court Building and was the site of many legendary trials during the 1920's.

Even though they appreciated the character of the building and the space with its dark wood from a previous design and historical feeling - especially with their British background - the company was moving in a new and vibrant direction and they wanted their space to reflect their modern outlook.

They had been looking at various spaces that were more contemporary in nature, until Bolander came out to Chicago. Because he hadn't been to the office before, he looked at it with fresh eyes, and noted the grand scale and the high ceilings of the original space. The other option was contemporary with a warehouse feel, but the square footage was smaller and the space was somewhat cut-up.

At the same time, a series of adjacent offices to the original office became available. The decision was made to stay in the building and combine the two spaces.

"That first trip out was momentous and set the stage for the rest of the project," Bolander recalled. "I spent the plane ride home drawing how the spaces would work together. What we ended up with was pretty close to the original drawings. David Brixton really stuck with me throughout the project to help keep that original idea intact. There were times when it was more expensive to do so and he was the one that really felt that it was worth doing."

Light was important to the client, as the current space was very dark. "I focused the design so that the light from the outside came all the way through, which was occasionally as simple as changing the blinds, wall and floor color. In other areas, we cut out some of the perimeter offices to let light in along the large corridors," said Bolander. "The intention was to try to peel back and get back to the basics of the building, so we uncovered the brick and steel pieces. We also as integrated other stripped-down elements such as vertical wood-paneling as an an additional material that kind of bridges the old and the new."

The building elements themselves presented a challenge, as the offices are on the fifth floor of an old building. At one point, they had to get a steel staircase for the loft connecting the two spaces up to the office. The end result was that the staircase had to be craned in through the 19-foot windows.

"There was a constant concern that we would buy something and then not be able to get it up the building!" says Jen Shelley, Manager of Operations of The Whitehouse, who found herself scouting pieces for the office. "Chicago has great vintage furniture finds because so many of the mid-century manufacturers were located nearby."

In addition to fabric, color, and furniture that came directly from Bolander's office, Shelley scoured shops for the perfect pieces to represent The Whitehouse company culture, taking pictures on her phone and sending them to Bolander, Wood and Lawley for approval; while Wood and Lawley also took part in the hunter-gathering of unusual pieces such as a set of brass chandeliers.

The influence of Matthew Wood's love of primary color can be seen throughout the space, in surprising elements such as the multicolored locks on the vintage lockers and the bright purple rug in the client lounge, as well as accent walls.

This attention to detail and passion for creativity in all forms is emblematic of The Whitehouse itself. The humorous awkward portraits that line the credenza, bathroom plaques and trophies go to the history of the company, as the modern take on furniture speaks to their forward-thinking philosophy.

Bruce Bolander