How style and design of a project are determined

If you listen, you will hear it.

I believe buildings – especially historic ones – speak to those who listen for direction. Yep. I know this may sound crazy to some people, but I’ve found that spending time alone in a building’s hushed quiet helps me determine its future.

That’s because fighting a building is a recipe for disaster.

When embarking on a building redevelopment and determining its future style, my top priority is finding the baseline. In other words, settling on what time period and feel personify the building.

This summer, I signed on to a project and vetted three possible use scenarios for it. Regardless of these different directions, one thing remained constant: A vision for a high-end, warehouse-style space. Why? Because the building itself screams for it. If we were to build it out and 'white box' it, the value in its character would be lost. 

Historic research plays a big role, too. Often your baseline is dictated by a building’s “period of significance.”

The Bay City Times building, for instance, underwent a complete overhaul in 1938-1939 that was inspired by Albert Kahn and very modern. When redeveloping it into The Times Lofts, we employed industrial features throughout the newspaper’s former pressroom spaces. If we’d bought gas-burning, outdoor lanterns or something else very 1920’s and placed it on the exterior, the State Historic Preservation Office would have insisted we remove them.

Other factors include protecting your stakeholders’ interests, the building’s relationship to the neighborhood, desired tenants and more. Working with great architects who share your vision is also pivotal. 

From that baseline, you have the freedom to get creative.

I’m a hands-on developer and love design. So we don’t hire interior designers for our projects; we do it all ourselves. Once I determine the baseline and what's on trend and popular in design, I look for a way to add a twist or elevate the choices.

There are thousands of decisions on paint, tile, flooring, hardware, fixtures, kitchen cabinetry, bathroom sinks, lighting, vanities … the list goes on and on.

For The Legacy project, we knew that a lot of pre-war design featured white walls that let the woodwork speak for itself. Unfortunately, much of the former bank’s woodwork was painted in the course of its 127-year history. Painting it dark didn't seem feasible and stripping it all is impossible with our budget. We considered white walls with white trim, but that looked too sterile. Then the idea of gray trim came in and won us all over. 

When it's all said and done, you hope that you heard right. You hope that you’re doing the building justice and honoring its memory. You hope that you’re creating something that will endure long after we’re gone.