More big projects are focusing on interior design; DSGW expands its design team

Duluth News Tribune by Candace Renalls 

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Interior Designers (left) Principal Julie Spiering, Carlie Kemp, Stephanie Hulet and Lynsey Mogck

Open work areas that encourage collaboration and creativity. Colors and materials that uplift and excite. Flowing spaces, carefully crafted for function and to complement a building’s architecture, site and heritage.

Interior design is getting more attention in commercial construction projects these days.

“The general public and the business world are recognizing the value in a space and how it makes people feel,” said Julie Spiering, DSGW Architects’ design team leader in Duluth. “It’s more expected to be part of the design.”

This trend in architecture has taken a while to reach northern Minnesota. But it’s here now and reflected in some of the biggest construction projects underway in Duluth, including the Maurices Headquarters building, Pier B Resort and the Harbor Bay development at London Road and 21st Avenue East.

It also is playing a dramatic role in the designs for new casinos; hospitals and clinics; and banks and credit unions in the region.

“The best projects are those where the aesthetics work together and are complementary,” Spiering said.

When she started at DSGW 15 years ago, Spiering was the firm’s only interior designer. Now she leads a design team of five. And in 2015, DSGW made her a partner, a testament to the enhanced role of interior architecture and design in the company’s portfolio of services.

The trend from enclosed offices to more open spaces and to more relaxed, comfortable work environments that’s underway is about connecting with people so people can do their jobs better, Spiering said.

“We spend so much time at work, the better you feel in the space, the more productive you are,” she said.

The concept influenced DSGW’s design of its own offices at 2 W. First St. in downtown Duluth. The firm bought the two-story 1912 building in 1999 for $82,000, St. Louis County property records show. DSGW restored the exterior of the blond brick building, which has decorative period features and curved window openings.

A third floor, which now houses the design studio, was created by dividing the second floor ballroom with its high vaulted ceiling into two floors. The wood rafters and ductwork were left exposed, with steel beams traversing overhead. That — along with exposed brick, use of corrugated metal and metal light fixtures — establish the space’s modern industrial theme.

Generational shift
Bill Bennett, CEO of LHB architectural firm in Duluth, thinks interior design is more visible these days because of a generational shift underway in design considerations.

“The boomers and Generation X each brought changes in the way we think,” he said. “Now a large percentage of millennials are coming on who are more comfortable in an open environment. We’re all trying to understand the right design elements for the future workforce.”

The impact of millennials already is being felt at LHB, where 42 percent of its staff are millennials, followed by Generation X-ers and with fewer baby boomers than just a few years ago.

“A lot of companies are seeing that transformation,” Bennett said. “We have to design things different to accommodate them.”

As for why so much construction and development is happening now, he said an improved economy coupled with a pent-up demand from the economic recession is fueling what he describes as a “surging market.”

Pier B’s clear vision
For commercial projects, interior architecture and design starts with an empty shell and includes the layout, style, flooring, doors, cabinetry, furniture and myriad of materials and textures used, even the art.

In 80 to 90 percent of its interior design projects, DSGW also is designing the building itself, Spiering said.

“We prefer to work with the building design from the beginning,” she said.

Whether it’s new construction, buildouts, remodeling or retrofitting an older space, the client usually has a general idea of what they want. Some know exactly what they want and come armed with pictures, she said.

The developers behind the Pier B Resort are among those who came to DSGW with a clear vision for their project, one rooted in the site’s industrial history and harbor setting. The $30 million upscale hotel is going up on the site of the former Lafarge cement terminal along downtown Duluth’s waterfront.

“Certainly the interior design establishes the feel, character and contributes to the experience customers are going to have,” said Sandy Hoff, one of the principal partners in Pier B Holding LLC. “Getting the interior design right is very important to us.”

Early in the project, working with the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, they decided to capture the essence of the buildings that were historically on the site, including warehouses and cement facilities.

To that end, they’ve kept and incorporated a group of old silos into the design. They will use brick masonry, stonework, large wood timbers and steel beams on the exterior.

“We asked the designers to carry through with that in the interior,” Hoff said.

The designers have, with plans for concrete countertops and with the use of bricks, timber and stone in the interior design as well.

Inside spaces will take advantage of the site’s views of the harbor, Aerial Lift Bridge and Bayfront Festival Park. The bar and lounge area, for example, will have numerous windows and two levels of seating that allow those sitting higher in the back of the bar to also see the view.

Hoff said they told the design team: “You understand our goal for the building — rustic elegance. Add that flavor to the bar area, but make it contemporary and interesting enough to make it different from Duluth’s restaurant scene. We didn’t tell them how to do it.”

DSGW designers have done a lot of research on the site’s history and the industrial culture of the harbor. They’ve looked at numerous pictures and materials for inspiration down to a simple piece of sheet metal.

“We want to tell a story,” Spiering explained.

With the interior finishing work by trades people still months away, it’s still a work in progress. But as far as projects go, this one ranks right up there for the designers. It’s challenging, rewarding and oh, so much fun, Spiering said.