Barnes & Thornburg is a young but thriving law office that has seen incredible growth since they arrived in San Diego. Based in the midwest, Barnes & Thornburg has offices across the United States. Their old office, situated on the sixth floor of 655 West Broadway, was the ideal location but had one major drawback. While their office boasted incredible views of Downtown San Diego, the harbor, and Coronado—its direct neighbor to the north was another law firm with a distinctly similar name.
Intending to detach and distinguish any relationship with the competing firm and to provide an invigorated space where the firm could grow and flourish for years to come, Barnes & Thornburg tasked the team to re-imagine their new offices on the thirteenth floor of the building. The mantra that permeated the task at hand was to take the ordinary to extraordinary—a repeated design philosophy that informed every detail of the project. The design sought to incorporate the energetic and varying voices of Barnes & Thornburg San Diego, as a space that not only responded to the client’s program but creates an office that feels more like a second home and an extension of their culture.
The design honed in on creating a series of inviting spaces that seamlessly flow into one another with dual functions for large social gatherings with their clients and emphasized the breathtaking views beyond, aside from all the functional and practical requirements of a law office.
The drama starts at the elevator lobby where walls are paneled in a warm white back-painted glass. The refinement and neutrality of the glass is contrasted by the industrial standing seam zinc panels, whose nuanced color ranges from oxblood to sienna. The patterning of the standing seams was a nod to the more traditional wood paneling of law offices past. The familiarity with the unusual materiality provokes a subtle tension.
That tension is repeated in the reception area, where walls of a floating conference room are fully paneled in the zinc, a foil for the refined polished Calcutta marble of the reception desk. Wood floors unify the space and provide tactile warmth that contrasts the dark painted walls, an answer to the managing partner’s desire for moodiness. The effect is a heightened awareness of the views out the windows, as the walls recede into the background. Custom sofas are curated along the circulation and conference room edges. The sofa’s soft whisky leather is offset by a tailored houndstooth fabric, providing that tactile warmth and lending a residential touch.
Off the reception area, a large conference room beckons with full height pivot doors that open onto a sprawling lounge area perfect for large office events. While the idea of the doors seemed simple, the result was a careful and extensive process to find a door system that would meet the challenges of the length and angle the doors were placed, as well as meeting stringent acoustical requirements. Multiple systems were reviewed and vetted with the client, structural engineers, and the general contractor. Unsightly beams were even proposed at one point to support the system, but persistence and patience prevailed when the contractor brought in a specialist who provided a system that would avoid the installment of the costly beams. It was a true test of the team’s dedication to the design vision at hand.
The break room conveniently located to the south of the reception engages staff and guests to hang out and dine at the expansive island bar akin to the trendy restaurants of nearby Little Italy and The Gaslamp Quarter. A game room, complete with a pool table, is tucked behind the break area that further enhances the causal yet polished atmosphere.
To the west and north wings of the space, private offices and secretarial workstations were designed to create neighborhoods. To further enhance the neighborhood feel, seating areas were carved at the building’s interior corners. The custom sofas are defined by a curvaceous channeled back and layered with plush pillows. Nautical themed light fixtures—a nod to the bay only footsteps away—complete the space. Certain offices were intentionally pushed away from the window line to democratize the views for all employees passing through. A daring and controversial design move that took the client some convincing at first. An additional layer of detail in these interior offices are their dark ceilings and abstract gradated wallcovering whose colors echo the greens and gray used throughout. Ironically, these offices have become much-coveted spaces with staff.
The mood lightens further into the space. Walls are simplified to white and exterior views dominate the floor to ceiling windows on the building’s west and north facades. The balance of the floor is a sizable sublet space that was planned for a seamless integration into the main office space once the walls are removed. It will maximize the future growth of the firm on the floor.
In essence, Barnes and Thornburg San Diego exemplify the commitment to our client to deliver a home away from home. The pandemic has shed light on the capacity to work from home, and all its comforts and conveniences. It was truly unforeseen how the philosophy of that idea (pre-COVID) would be a central point of reflection and reality as staff transition back into the office. It is the ultimate realization that what the team started over a year ago has now come to fruition.