Give Your Lobby Some Love

April 29, 2011
Is your lobby in need of a facelift?

First impressions really do count when it comes to lobbies. If your lobby looks tired and dated, it's well worth your time and money to schedule upgrades. Whether you restore or renovate, enhancing your lobby lets you lead with your best foot forward.

Business 101
Much like a professional wardrobe, a lobby is a personal reflection of your business philosophy, says Mark Stumer, principal of Mojo Stumer Associates. A charismatic and attractive lobby isn't just about aesthetics. If clients are distracted by a poorly maintained space, they may not take your business seriously.

"Your lobby is your front door – it's the first and last impression for your employees, tenants, and their customers," explains Charles McClafferty, chief operating officer with Sage Realty Corporation in New York City.

Lobbies are an area to develop an edge over similar buildings in your location or within your industry. The increased visibility from a strong lobby can result in:

  • Competitive rents
  • High-profile clients
  • Longer-lasting tenants
  • Increased pride of ownership
  • Improved building value

Lobby Design Essentials

  • High-quality materials
  • Clean and elegant lines
  • Light and refined color palettes
  • Organic traffic patterns
  • High ceilings
  • Hard floors
  • Attractive security desk
  • Easy-to-use building directory
  • Seamless security measures
  • Purposeful lighting
  • Engaging customer service
  • Inviting seating spaces
  • Unobtrusive A/V equipment

If you have trouble filling vacancies or suffer from low leasing rates, evaluate the condition of your lobby. "A few years ago, you could afford for your lobby to appeal to a niche market. In this economy, you need to cast your net wider," says McClafferty. "The decision to renovate your lobby must be market-driven. You need to be aware of what your competition is doing and what is attractive to your tenants and their customers."

Modernizing your lobby is a sound long-term investment. A solid lobby can last for 30-40 years, all the while securing good tenants and accompanying rents. While a gut job is rare, a refresh can be as simple as a few updates or as extensive as an entire remodel. "Whether you decide to restore or renovate is 100% the product of your budget," says Scott Spector, principal for the design firm Spector Group.

Mass Appeal
The lobby's design is also influenced by what you want to accomplish in the space. "Which style you emulate depends on your business goals," says Stumer. "What kind of tenants are you trying to attract? Or are you hoping to appeal to existing ones? If you're looking for corporate clients, you want a traditional lobby look. If you hope to attract a young company, like a Google or an Apple, then you may go with a more creative feel."

Remember that regardless of clientele, your lobby is an advertising tool. You don't want a glamorous lobby that's in discord with basic offices or a stark reception area that doesn't reflect premium rental spaces. A lobby can be a make-or-break deal for prospective clients. "The lobby is a highly specialized space – it needs to have its own personality," says Stumer.

It is best to use classic design elements – clean lines, luxury materials, and attractive lighting – tempered with modern trends. If you go with overly trendy designs, your lobby could look dated within two years. Conversely, an austere lobby may be off-putting for media or retail clients.

You should also consider the connection between your lobby and the rest of your building. "You want to keep your lobby upgrades in line with your building's existing architecture, particularly with respect to a historical property," says Spector. "There are easy ways to blend in new and modern trends without being at odds with the original design."

Likewise, you don't want to piecemeal or haphazardly select retouches. "When redoing your lobby, you want to evaluate the space as a whole. If you only isolate upgrades, they may be out of step with your existing architecture," explains McClafferty. Much like repainting your walls at home and finding the furniture no longer matches, you could end up with a series of changes that doesn't add up to a cohesive concept and costs more in the end.

As an owner or manager, you may also come into a lobby project with your own preferences. "Particularly if you built the building or have been in it for years, your emotional investment in the property can make it difficult to accept changes and new looks," explains Glenn DiBiase, director of property management for Sage Realty Corporation. Work with a design firm to ensure an objective eye makes recommendations for your lobby.

You can also choose to use a lobby project as an initiative for greening the space. A redesign won't create the same impact as upgrading mechanical systems, but it can be advantageous to green such a high-profile area.

The best way to be eco-friendly is to reuse as much as possible from the original lobby. With any new materials, take advantage of local sourcing, energy-efficient systems, recycled content, and sustainable wood and fiber products.

A Subtle Refresh Wins Big
A part of the Manhattan skyline, 777 and 747 Third Avenue are home to Class-A office spaces. Built and owned by the William Kaufman Organization and managed by Sage Realty Corporation, both lobbies were recently approved for makeovers. Despite being sister properties, the two lobbies received dramatically different redesigns.

Refresh with Low-Cost Updates

  • Upgrade lighting fixtures
  • Repaint walls with fresh colors
  • Purchase new furniture
  • Add artwork
  • Replace outdated doors and windows
  • Update elevator interiors
  • Replace dark colors with light ones
  • Ditch carpet for hard floors
  • Polish all surfaces
  • Repair cracks, tears, and scrapes
  • Deep clean the entire area

At 777, a large vacancy from a 30-year tenant prompted the owners to assess the space. With 430,000 square feet to lease, it was necessary to evaluate the building from the ground up.

After listening to potential clients and gathering feedback from current occupants and employees, it became apparent that the timeless lobby design was well received by the clientele. Only a few retouches were needed to return a little sparkle back to the lobby after years of use:

  • The marble walls received a deep cleaning.
  • The terrazzo floors were cleaned and polished.
  • Lighting was updated with more modern fixtures.
  • An outdated mirror was replaced with matching marble.
  • The older visitor's desk was substituted with a new one and relocated in a new position.
  • Turnstiles were added for access management.

The restoration work was spread out over several months and mostly during off-hours to minimize any disruption to tenants. The unobtrusive updates were kept in line with the building's corporate outlook and management's desire to become more office-intensive.

The 1970s Get Left Behind
A sister property to 777, the high-rise 747 Third Avenue is in the process of an extensive renovation. The original lobby – a 1970s design with nautical gauges and exposed piping – had a whimsical feel that no longer appeals to modern sensibilities. "We felt the 747 lobby was becoming a real liability for tenants that were looking for a corporate front door," explains McClafferty.

It became apparent, particularly when compared to 777, that prospective tenants were less than thrilled with the 747 lobby. It caused hesitation in some and others to bypass leasing deals. The slower foot traffic from tours led the William Kaufman Organization to call in the design firm Mojo Stumer Associates to bring the lobby in line with the 21st century.

"The instructions were to design a lobby that financial services and law firms would feel comfortable having as their front door, yet still retain some of the distinctive personality that originally made the building successful and was always a hallmark of it," says McClafferty.

To rebirth the lobby, Mojo Stumer Associates devised a flexible corporate design that could appeal to a variety of clients while reflecting the reputation of the William Kaufman Organization. "The lobby needed to be updated, but we also didn't want to lose the funkiness of the original design. So we maintained some of the avant-garde features while adding a corporate flair," says Stumer.

To ramp up anticipation, a letter detailing the renovation project was sent to all tenants and renderings of the new design were posted in the lobby several weeks prior to work starting. This created an immediate sense of engagement with occupants and perked the attention of prospective clients. During construction, a temporary entrance was outfitted with carpet, paint, and security to compensate tenants during renovation.

The lobby, to be completed in early May, will feature:

  • Scaled-back elements of the original, such as piping behind steel mesh
  • Carpet replaced with thermal-etched granite
  • Fresh wall treatments
  • Modern fixtures that diffuse direct lighting
  • A new ceiling with wood, stone, and stretched fabric
  • The addition of flat screen TVs
  • An upgraded desk with a streamlined design
  • Turnstiles with access control

The renovated space, with a renewed sense of warmth and modern ambience, has a fluid design that will serve 747 and its tenants for many years.

Resurrecting the Presidio
Located in the folds of a national park in San Francisco, the Presidio Landmark is an adaptive reuse project with a grand sense of history. Originally a military hospital from the 1930s, the Presidio was salvaged after sitting abandoned for 20 years and reimagined as luxury apartments.

"The whole idea behind the Presidio project was to take the best of what was there and spin it into something fresh and new," explains Andrew Wolfram, associate principal for Perkins + Will and a lead designer for the project.

The lobby – a focal point as part of the main entrance – had suffered much damage throughout the years, notably layers of graffiti on valuable marble. Reviving the lobby required a considerable amount of elbow grease and a respectful play between historical and modern structures.

"We made sure everything we did was sympathetic to the building's legacy," says Wolfram. "We used the old pieces as a backdrop – like restoring the marble walls and plaster molding – and then refreshed with details like new flooring and lighting fixtures. We then carried these blended elements into a new lounge space connected to the lobby."

Other elements received careful scrutiny during the 3-month restoration. A dropped ceiling was removed to bring back a sense of openness, the main doors were recreated from photos of the originals, a reception desk doubles for concierge and security, a dark floor was selected to complement the marble, and wood accents and bold colors were added to inject energy.

"The biggest challenge was introducing modern life safety requirements needed for the lobby, such as a fire control panel, cameras, and a security desk," explains Wolfram. "We wanted to disguise those elements without sacrificing functionality."

The lobby now welcomes tenants with an inviting lounge, pristine staircase, and gracious natural light.

Second Chance for a First Impression
As the economy slowly recovers, you want your lobby to be in top notch shape. Make sure it sends the right message to your tenants and their clients. "Remember the lobby is your tenants' second home," says Spector.

Keeping the design fresh will solidify relationships with existing tenants and help draw in new ones. Not every lobby renovation needs to be as extensive as 747 or the Presidio. A good deep clean, some polish, and a few modern accents may be all that you need to breathe new life into your lobby.

Jennie Morton is assistant editor of BUILDINGS.

About the Author

Jennie Morton

A former BUILDINGS editor, Jennie Morton is a freelance writer specializing in commercial architecture, IoT and proptech.

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