One of the world's best-known furniture manufacturers, Wilkhahn, recently celebrated its 111-year anniversary, with the March 2018 opening of a new Surry Hills showroom in Sydney.
The custom-built showroom lies within Wilkhahn's inner-city and city client base, and follows the new Asia Pacific regional headquarters for operations and production in Riverwood (80 percent of Wilkhahn products destined for Asia are still manufactured in Sydney),
Huge clerestory windows encourage passers-by to look into a naturally lit, minimalist interior, its speckled concrete flooring offset by larger-than-life black-and-white historic photographs lining one wall.
A raised platform displays office chairs, from the traditional chrome and leather to a new mobile, ergonomic stackable chair, the Aula, recently launched with a new folding table further inside the space, the mAx.
"Our tasteful display is not like a jar of boiled sweets," says Adrian Nicolini, Wilkhahn's managing director, Asia Pacific.
BVN was responsible for the last showroom in Alexandria, where Wilkhahn was based for well over 10 years. Now the long-time collaborators have achieved "a more residential look" different from a traditional executive-chair, commercial dominance, says BVN's senior practice director Sally Campbell, who worked extensively on the project.
Both she and Nicolini agree that they wanted a repositioning that would acknowledge the company's established "gravitas" while also allowing it "to show the brand in a contemporary way".
BVN and a tenant representative had scouted around possible sites for a new showroom that could conjure up a mixture of past, present and future. With the gritty Wentworth Avenue having an overhaul, there was no better time to transform a 19th century industrial building that latterly had been a motorcycle repair store and then a gym.
Ripping out the original façade and seeing the possibility of an alluring shopfront made a Wentworth Avenue entrance far more attractive than the other option, from Foster Street, Campbell explained.
The client and BVN were "passionate about playing up the character of the building", she says. They loved the "central atrium with its double height space" (and next to an internal courtyard, since enclosed by a light-well glass box), and the "potential of the quality of the space it could be".
With Nicolini believing in the social responsibility of wellness - "care for clients is a strong part of what Wlilkhahn is" - the company is Australia's first retail space to target the health and wellbeing WELL certification. Having achieved the first Office WELL certification for Frasers Property, BVN was right behind the decision.
Daylight flooding the working office's sit-stand desks, air quality, fitness programs are just some of the WELL factors, but it is the variegated greenery that stands out.
BVN had first spotted Plant Society and its self-described "plant cultivator", Jason Chongue, on Instagram. Campbell could not get the possibility of a partnership out of her head, contacted him, "got to know his business aspirations" and realised Wilkhahn and Plant Society even had some of the same clients.
For Chongue, the resulting collaboration with Wilkhahn and BVN … "was naturally perfect to achieve WELL certification as our core value of reducing human pollution and providing natural solutions to indoor spaces is important to us."
There are seven plant varieties indoors, suited to natural light and (softening) "the architectural edges to highlight the space even more," he says, and numerous ones outdoors.
Examples he describes include the fruit salad plant's organically shaped leaves; the fiddle leaf fig's bursts of tall greenery; the African milk tree's sculptural qualities; and Mistletoe cactus, elegant smaller plants to provide breathing space on windowsills and between furniture.
Wilkhahn thinks of the space as not simply a showroom but also as a community space for holding events, talks and functions about design. It will also partner with compatible people. As such, the Melbourne-based Plant Society holds weekend workshops and has a retail outlet in the courtyard.
BVN interior designer Marc Hine refers to other collaborations, too, where" they share similar values and views and direction with their business and design".
These include mural artist, Daimon Downey, whose unusual, forest wall brightens the ramp to the back of the space, Nanda Hobbs with a rotating, artwork program throughout, and Kvadrat Maharam's acoustic panelling.
WELL Certification lead Eminè Mehmet expects "the certification process to be completed in the next few months. "This is the first time I have worked on a project where the policies and culture of a company have been crucial to the success of the final outcome," she says.