A New Old Space for a Detroit App Developer

Detroit Labs is a group of mobile app developers, based in—you guessed it—Detroit. Their new office space, completed in October by Kraemer Design Group, sits on the 5th and 6th floors of the historic building at 1520 Woodward Avenue, described recently in this article by Brian Rebain.

Preservation standards and cost-consciousness led the designers to salvage and repurpose many of the existing building materials. These constraints helped them to achieve the “cool, raw space” that Detroit Labs had envisioned.

“We jump[ed] at the chance to juxtapose those historic elements with contemporary materials,” said Heather McKeon, studio director at KDG. “The interesting result of this approach is that it actually serves to highlight the historic integrity of the space rather than detract from it.”

The designers used the original floor joists as brackets for the new guardrail.

The boldest move KDG made was to open up the two-story suite by cutting a hole between both floors. They repurposed the wood that was removed in the process by turning it into railings, and accents in conference rooms.

“The floor joists that were removed—after being ripped in half—ended up being the perfect depth for the primary guardrail brackets,” said McKeon. “The vintage rough sawn finish, contrasting with the fresh cut edges, provided an extra level of detail that blended in perfectly with the rest of the finishes.”

The designers were also able to repurpose the building’s original wood studs.

“The studs were salvaged during demolition and set aside to be used for wall framing and accenting in the conference rooms,” she said. “Like the guardrail brackets, the wood studs provided a pleasant contrast against the new finishes.”

In addition to cool and raw, Detroit Labs wanted their new space to encourage high levels of collaboration, a charge that was met by the physical connection of the opening.

McKeon said that the lunchroom on the lower floor is the “creative epicenter” of the office: it’s outfitted with two mobile tables that seat sixteen people each, and surrounded by walls clad with marker board surfaces. Now, people walking by on the upper floor can see the creative juices flowing in the lunchroom—“and toss a few ideas of their own to the staff below.”

Said Bill Camp, who works for Detroit Labs: “Connecting the two floors was great for our collaborative work style. We have lots of short stand ups to quickly problem solve frequently shouting between the floors to gather everyone up.”

“We are house proud,” said Camp. “We just love the way it looks.”

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