This year marks the 50th anniversary of American design company Wolf-Gordon. One of its major initiatives to coincide with the celebration is the return of its corporate headquarters to Manhattan, after nearly 30 years in Long Island City, Queens. CEO Rick Wolf and Vice President of Design & Marketing Marybeth Shaw, along with Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis/LTL Architects’ Principal Marc Tsurumaki, recently invited select publications to a walk-through tour of the new space.
Wolf kicked off the event with history about the company, which was founded in 1967 by his father Mel Wolf and Bernie Gordon. Their original office was located on 21st Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. After asking for a show of attendees’ hands as to whom had visited their Queens facility (none were raised), Wolf laughed and revealed that was part of the motivation for returning to Manhattan. “We would never have invited you to that space, so we’re really happy to be in one that we can be proud to call Wolf-Gordon,” he says. The new location, at 333 Seventh Avenue between 28th and 29th Streets, will allow the company to have greater contact with the design public — but its development was no quick or easy feat. According to Shaw, it was a challenging program for LTL.
“We really wanted a 21st-century office where our employees could encounter each other in the hall and start to talk, gather, sit and have impromptu meetings,” Shaw says. “We wanted a bright, light-filled space and wanted to display our five product categories — wallcoverings, upholstery, drapery, paint and Wink.” The company was going from a 35,000-square-foot facility, half of which was a warehouse, to about 8,000 usable-square-feet. “That was for 40 employees. We also wanted to build capacity in because we want to grow. We’re confident that having a place like this – and all of the energy that’s happening inside the company – is going to lead to growth.”
Wolf-Gordon started talking with LTL, and Tsurumaki in particular, back in 2013. “I had been following Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis’s work since the early 2000’s when they were practicing out of a storefront in the Lower East Side and doing innovative design build projects on a budget, like Fluff Bakery and Tides Restaurant,” Shaw reveals. “Their conceptual strength, willingness to solve problems to make things happen and combination of professional and fun personalities made them our top choice for the new headquarters.”
According to Tsurumaki, the feeling was mutual. “It was fantastic to work with Rick, Marybeth, and the whole staff to come to the design and realization of the space,” he says. That made overcoming the challenges even more rewarding. “We were obviously dealing with constraints of Manhattan real estate, which means limited square footage, and trying to maximize the capacity of the amount of space you have to perform the functions you need,” he says. “We had this really unique program that was fascinating to us. On the one hand this is a working office that has to function on a day-to-day basis for all the pragmatic reasons an office has to work; but in a sense it is also a public interface for Wolf-Gordon, so that meant flexibility, the ability to transform the space, and new particular ways to accommodate diverse functions.” Another principle was the idea the architecture should be secondary to the display of the company’s product line, or put more precisely, the products themselves should become the architecture of the space.
To achieve its goals, LTL conceived of an innovative sliding panel display system that creates a “town square” at the office’s center. The custom, blackened steel armature, which came from steel and metal fabricator Veyko, provides employees with gallery-like surroundings. The system suspends a series of panels, which display 41 two-sided panels of Wolf-Gordon wallcovering and upholstery products that can be easily updated with new ones. The flexible design facilitates an open, interactive setting or a closed version that intersects the town square from surrounding work environments. This configuration can be modified for events, informal work interactions, spontaneous meetings or training sessions, all dependent upon how the sliding panels and furniture are arranged.
“This does a couple of things for us: One is that these panels can be demounted and exchanged, so there are 82 surfaces here, but infinitely more if they are replaced and changed over the course of time,” Tsurumaki notes. “The other thing was to create both a permeable boundary between the working office and the open office, which looks out onto the avenue where there’s the greatest access to daylight and view. This is really a way to make the display of the product the primary spatial mechanism that organizes the space and try to make it do more than one thing. All surfaces have … an aesthetic value because employees work with the product all day, and it becomes a representation of the work. It’s also acoustical, so it helps modulate the space, give people a sense of control, and have an agency in their own area.” The materials and aesthetic in the town square repeat throughout the office and its design library, which is filled with a custom shelving system in the same blackened steel and houses the company’s many current and archival catalogues.
Wolf-Gordon’s Bildenwood wood veneer in Silver Birch is featured on custom millwork for the reception desk, boardroom, library, wayfinding and a central corridor wall. Additional products are also present, including wallcoverings applied to a single wall in each executive office, conference room and communal space. These were selected from Wolf-Gordon’s design collections. “This is really the past 16 years of the company’s design history,” Shaw says. “That’s an important thing: You expect to go into a wallcovering company and see wallcoverings on every single wall. We did not want to do that. The idea was to set wallcoverings off throughout as more precious — and as art.”
The framing off of the product was both a conscious aesthetic and display strategy, as well as an economic one. “We feel spaces work better if you can focus on some highly specific elements,” Tsurumaki adds. “In this case it was about the display of the product — that seemed appropriate. On any project you rarely have all the money you want spent equally everywhere, so it allows for a certain efficiency when you get down to the actual nuts and bolts of the job.”
Haworth, Virta and Bernhardt furniture is featured throughout the space, and upholstery fabrics by Mae Engelgeer were used for lounge and reception pieces. Grethe Sørensen’s Millions of Colors was used in the boardroom and executive chairs. The seven panels of Wolf-Gordon’s 2013 Exquisite Wink project are featured as well. They highlight original works on the theme of landscape by celebrated architects and artists, including Ben Katchor and Ali Tayar. “Those panels were part of a tradeshow booth at ICFF,” Shaw says.“You’ll see them interspersed throughout the office. We love them for their integrity as artworks. We figured we may as well install and enjoy them.”
Wolf-Gordon collaborator and creative agency, karlsonwilker, inc., provided several contributions, including custom infographics for wayfinding and a custom digital wallcovering for the reception area overlaid with Wolf-Gordon’s signature blue. That area also features a light fixture that intentionally matches the custom armature. “We did this so that as you walk into the space, you can see how these pieces relate to each other. In the millwork itself we tried to select one finish that you see around the space,” Tsurumaki concludes.
The glass office and conference room walls are lined with acoustical drapery, and acoustical fabrics have been administered to acoustical panel substrates. They stretch the length of the open-office benching system, lending supplementary sound mitigation beneath the open-ceiling ductwork. “I think that’s been a hugely positive thing that we did,” Shaw says. “Everybody’s really surprised at how peaceful the office is.”
All of the elements incorporated, along with Scuffmaster ScrubTough and Smooth Metal paints and Wink clear dry-erase coating, ensure Wolf-Gordon’s distinct, design-driven product range is accentuated. In addition to its new location, the company has released the Wolf-Gordon SampleBook, a single volume documentation of color, pattern and texture in interior surfacing materials from 1967 to present day, plus their latest collection, Contract 02, which honors the history of printmaking.