Whiter shade of pale

For a furniture company, a bad showroom is easy to spot: scattered beachheads of desks, storage and partition walls, and chairs popping up like pickets offer as much design appeal as a warehouse. The design team behind Teknion’s new flagship showroom in Toronto had to avoid these common problems and create a clean, cohesive space that would let the products shine.

The solution was to go light, very light, in fact. Building on a Teknion signature, the foundation of the whole design is white: white walls, white room dividers and environmentally friendly white linoleum floors. “We like to say white is the new black,” says Frank Delfino, Teknion’s president of Canadian and international markets. “We wanted to use the space as a canvas for the furniture and a white canvas lets the furniture speak for itself.”

The new design comes courtesy of designer Michael Vanderbyl, of San Francisco-based Vanderbyl Design. No stranger to Teknion’s design ethos, Vanderbyl was the art director for the company’s book, Folio, and had worked on showrooms in San Francisco, Atlanta and Dallas. In order to avoid a whitewashed, sterile look in this new space, the designer reached back into his graphic design years and used layering to create visual interest without stealing attention from the furniture. Screens of stacked circles and ovals snake through the showroom, giving visitors a peek-a-boo experience and unifying what could be an arctic expanse. “I wanted to veil things, so you don’t see everything all at once; there’s a screen of sorts,” he explains. And their mid-century modern vibe generates a feeling of familiarity. “It’s an optimistic, bright white.”

The showroom is divided into two parts. The larger space is home to Teknion’s interpretation of the modern office, which has evolved from the dreaded cube-farm into a more open and less isolating environment. Modules reflect this corporate trend towards a more residential feel with warm materials, wood finishes and frosted glass walls. A second, more intimate space showcases how collaborative workstations function in an open environment. “The building itself makes a strong statement with the undulating glass wall on the main floor, and we wanted to work with that,” Vanderbyl says. “And the reaction we’ve gotten has been very positive.”

There’s a bit of a mutual admiration society between the client and the designer, which could partially account for the project’s success. “He’s experienced in communicating, graphically and in terms of design, to the architecture and design community,” Delfino says of Vanderbyl, describing the redesign process as “painless.” And for his part, working with Delfino was a pleasure. “He’s a real design fan. He loves the a-and-d community, he loves good design and he really gets excited about it.” White it may be, but a white elephant, the showroom is not.

Photos by Richard Johnson