Letter perfect

Leading by example, the offices for IDC (Interior Designers of Canada) and ARIDO (Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario) inspire as they boldly show the way. This laboratory of a workspace boasts au courant workplace planning and design strategies, showcases sustainable design, features the latest products from an array of manufacturers, and exemplifies how to eke out a rigorous budget with style and panache. Occupying 7,500 square feet in Toronto’s Toy Factory Lofts -– located in the west end’s trendy Liberty Village – the renovated, industrial building (c. 1910) boasts the kind of warm, vintage, brick-and-beam loft space that creative types love to work in. 

Since opening its doors, the IDC/ARIDO headquarters has become a hub of activity, welcoming visitors daily and hosting regular open-house events and educational seminars. Indeed, the office is the living embodiment of the new, bigger, more-encompassing mandate of IDC to become a truly national rather than Toronto-centric organization, by offering a full slate of professional-development seminars to its far-flung membership through the magic of video-conferencing.

Toronto-based Modo (formerly BHdesign) got the gig by winning a design competition open to all registered Ontario interior designers, sponsored by ARIDO, which owns the property. The project budget of $630,000 included consultant fees, construction costs, furniture, IT, AV and security.

Ironically, Modo promptly upended the program, with the blessings of its client. “They set aside their own visions for the space and let us develop a design that we felt was appropriate for them,” explained Modo partner Chantal Frenette during a recent walk-through of the project. “By not following their scope of work, that probably won us the job. The program we were given was more heavily weighted to the workplace; we changed it to become more of an event space.”

Frenette’s key move was to locate the boardrooms and lounge/collaborative spaces so that they faced one another. With the boardrooms’ generous doors open, the entire area serves as an event space, with the reception desk doubling as a bar. “The only way to maximize real estate is if you design spaces that are multifunctional,” added Frenette.  

As for the private and open office areas, “IDC and ARIDO recognized that there has been a big evolution in workplace design and they wanted to be in the vanguard. There has been a shift from putting private offices on the perimeter walls to placing them on the interior so that everyone has access to the windows, daylight and fresh air. It’s much more democratic. And it was a reaction to the fact that those private offices are empty a lot of the time. These people are more often than not out in meetings or off site. This also reflects the shift from using real estate as a reward mechanism to really designing for a person’s function. Here, a person gets a door because they require acoustic privacy.”

Regarding the spartan aesthetic, “Our intent was to be minimalist. There was already so much going on with the brick and the beams and the steel columns. We didn’t want to fight with that. Especially during conferences and events, the people provide the colour and texture. So you don’t need to overdo the details.”

The neutral, white and grey palette of the newly constructed, drywall-sheathed interior volumes emphasizes that they stand apart from the existing shell. This helps focus attention on the donated furnishings, gathered from an array of suppliers. “We wanted to have representation from all the major manufacturers in the space; we didn’t want to go to a single source,” Frenette explained. “This made it challenging to co-ordinate their pieces.”

The nine-foot-high dropped ceiling conceals the messy mechanical – ducts and conduits – and a slot for track lighting. “We located it on the interior of the floor plan so we could maximize the ceiling heights on the perimeter. This gives the illusion of a larger space. The boardrooms would feel cavernous with 15-foot ceilings, and it wouldn’t help the acoustics during video-conferencing for live seminars when they use microphones.”

The project is slated to win LEED for Commercial Interiors certification, pending review by the Canada Green Building Council. To that end, Modo maintained as much of the existing floor as possible instead of carpeting the entire office. As outlined above, everyone has access to daylight and views. Every piece of furniture is GreenGuard certified and almost every item specified has recycled content. Each private office has its own lighting controls. Overheard fluorescents are efficient T5 luminaires; pot lights and task lights all utilize LEDs, which don’t produce energy-wasting heat and last practically forever.

If there is a characteristic Modo look, it would be the clever use of graphics. “We do a lot of graphics integration and branding in our interiors,” Frenette told me. “Most of our projects tend to be corporate-office clients who have a strong brand and look to us to incorporate that brand into the workplace, and graphics is one way to do that. It’s an inexpensive way to bring life and energy into a project. It’s a very flexible solution: when it’s tired, it can be pulled off the wall.”

On this project, the boardrooms, for example, are enlivened with a chronology of ARIDO milestones with dates in black superimposed on larger “shadow” grey numerals accompanied by archival photos. A supersize, abstracted streetscape Toy Factory Lofts photomural transforms the sliding servery door into a piece of art. “We can be trendy and expressive with graphics like these,” Frenette added. “However, our design philosophy is to make spaces with clean architectural lines that last and don’t look too trendy. This applies particularly to ARIDO and IDC, who will be here a very long time.”  cI