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Interior Design Magazine
June 1997

By Monica Geran

Photography by Steve Hall,
Hedrich Blessing

Back To Nature

Observing and utilizing ecological concepts, Rubio|Durham designs the Georgia headquarters of textile consultancy Roman Oakey

Even as increasingly it seems that our ways of living are being taken over by aliens from cyberspace, basic truths, immortalized in simple homilies, retain their timeless merits. Like, mother nature knows best; and, in mixed and mangled metaphors, you can’t keep good people down. Both thoughts can be said to have a bearing on the background of the illustrated project.

The coming together, actually reunion, of the plot’s key players goes back to days when David Oakey was director of design at a leading carpet company. In this capacity he had occasion to work with – and appreciate the talents of – Elva Rubio, an architect at Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum in St. Louis. Then he decided to start his own firm, Roman Oakey, Inc., a design and color consultancy for commercial textile producers; while Rubio, independently, left her job eventually to go into design partnership with Philip Durham, a former colleague at HOK. (Rubio is also currently co-director of the Chicago office of Interior Space International.) And so it came to pass that Oakey, after operating from an old rented building that once served as a Coca-Cola bottling plant, asked Rubio/Durham Architects to design Pond Studio, his new headquarters in LaGrange, Georgia.

Oakey’s broad belief called for a place expressive of and responsive to the character of his business while conforming to his philosophical bent: to be close to nature; to honor environmental needs, reflecting his work for environmentally like-minded companies such as Interface and Prince Street; to encourage interaction between employees; and generally to inspire creative thinking during collaboration between staff and clients, the latter encompassing textile producers and interior designers. After site scouting with Rubio/Durham in the Peach State’s heart of textile production, a six-acre plot was chosen.

Further vouching for the group’s eco-values is the avoidance of redundancies in finished structural materials. Accordingly, steel components and mechanical systems are seen in their raw state, and exposed concrete slabs cover heavy-use floors. Decay-resistant western red cedar board and plywood, galvanized metal decking and concrete block wall obviate, say the designers, redundant layers of nonessential construction members. The utilitarian simplicity notwithstanding, carpeting, whether broadloom or tiles is in ample evidence too.

Thus challenged to avoid ecologically wasteful frills, the designers furnished the design spaces with functional custom furniture systems geared to staffers’ needs. Work stations deployed in open-plan studios consist of oversized drafting table-like desks surfaced with birch plywood and supported with steel frames supplied, in turn, with compartments for project files and fabric samples. Still larger tables placed between single-unit rows are for collaborative efforts. In conference rooms, presentation tables are covered with removable carpet tiles or other textile samples under review. Wing tables may be added to either end, and the whole assemblage can, and often is, taken out onto the deck for open-air gatherings. None of this kind of furniture could readily have been found on the market, the designers note. And since detailing is minimal and local labor costs are relatively low, the made-to-specifications pieces did not upset the conservative but undisclosed budget. Neither did the selective inclusion of classic modern furniture.