Dramatic style and function meet in the San Francisco offices of Babey Moulton Jue & Booth.
FOR A TIME, the San Francisco design offices of Babey Moulton Jue & Booth told the proverbial tale of the cobbler’s children. Quarters were always a bit too cramped to comfortably accommodate the firm’s growth from four people to 26 since its 1991 founding. But finding space in the Jackson Square area (where BaMo had previously occupied several sites) was no easy feat in one of the tightest real estate markets in the country. In 1998, skyrocketing rents drove partners Pamela Babey, David Moulton, GerryJue, and Michael Booth to explore SOMA, the region south of Market Street. Sure, the area is booming now. “But it was a secondary market then,” according to Babey. While reluctant to leave the familiarity of downtown, “we needed to find someplace to call home,” says Jue. What they located was a former light industrial building with a dingy, windowless interior. Yet this experienced crew, known for its four-star hospitality installations, had the foresight to see beyond dim conditions to a couture design situation.
Visible assets within the 9,500-sq.-ft. site included a double-height volume plus a mezzanine extending over roughly one-fourth of the space. Demolition further revealed an entire wall of factory sash windows that had been concealed by stucco. As environments go, dark and dingy gave way to expansive and light–at least when weather permits. BaMo now has a loft, with the characteristic attributes of gutsy columns, unmasked ceiling, and exposed ductwork, to call its own.
As an open studio
Throughout its history, the design firm has operated as an open studio; new quarters were to be no exception. On the ground floor, stations comprising the design studio hug the window wall, while a pair of conference rooms, library, and reception zone occupy the remainder of the space. Even these areas lack traditional doors. Conference rooms easily spill over to adjacent studio and reception areas via pocket doors; the library is defined merely through shelving that reaches to ten-ft, height. Partners are upstairs, “for better or worse,” says Babey. They, too, occupy open offices based on larger versions of the design studio’s U-configured, birch and plastic laminate stations.
The key to the project’s success is more intangible than concrete. It’s about energy, spirit, and the way the space is constantly evolving. Within this crisp white envelope–punctuated by brilliant red carpet as an antidote to black and gray–one is bombarded by visual cues alluding not only to projects past and present, but also to the firm’s refined sense of style.
At the time of our visit, for example, the sliding door between the conference room and studio was a virtual collage of Chinese tea papers. An adjacent tack surface displayed schemes for a Japanese restaurant in Santiago, Chile, a resort in Uruguay, and a hotel on the shore of Lago di Garda, Italy. In front of it were chairs being considered for use in various projects. Diametrically opposed in style, one chair was a casual willow model, the other a formal bergere covered in a combination of antique Fortuny and contemporary cottons. The conference room was similarly filled with objects seemingly unrelated, but quirky enough to garner attention. A hemp chest, a gift from its creator, Christian d’Astuguevieille, was paired with a custom coffee table and a simple Chiavari chair from Italy. Another grouping lent the air of a surrealistic stage set. These pieces comprised a pyramidal wood sculpture that’s part of BaMo’s collection, a tapestry-covered chair “that reminds me of a dog bone,” says Jue, Eames chairs, and D’Urso tables.
The office has art displayed throughout. Some of the prints and drawings are left over from the firm’s design of Milan’s Four Seasons hotel; others are by staff member Steve Henry. The reception zone is dominated by a Scott Waterman tryptich painting, commissioned for a client. Another of the artist’s large works enlivens the studio space. Together, art, objects, and attitude enforce the headquarters’ description by the principals: “It’s a machine for design,” says Moulton. And from Babey: “It’s a beehive of activity.” Now, BaMo not only has adequate quarters, but also a showplace that clients appreciate. And that was all part of the plan.
The first floor was completed in three months, the mezzanine a year later. Costs, excluding furnishings, came to $35 per sq. ft.