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Commercial Real Estate

Warehouse Redesign Is a Work of Art

April 30, 2002|MORRIS NEWMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fulham Co. headquarters in Hawthorne was not much to look at last year: scuffed white walls, rusting exterior iron bars, aging vinyl floor tile and water-stained ceilings. In short, the building looked much like every other warehouse in the city's industrial district.

Today the renovated Fulham building brings such rarely seen qualities to this no-frills area as natural light, an elaborate color scheme and a growing collection of Asian art.

"The main thing was to humanize this industrial building and make it an amiable place" in which to work, said architect Luba Tomalevska, a partner in L&V Architecture, the Santa Monica firm that designed the interior.

Visitors enter a carpeted reception area, where they can see a Chinese painting of a cherry blossom and a roll of embroidered silk mounted artfully on the wall. Nearby is a pair of Chinese ancestral portraits. Down the hall is a Japanese kimono in a glass display case.

Color enlivens the office portion of the 24,000-square-foot building. Different work areas are set off by different hues, including rusty red, teal blue and pale green. Beyond aesthetics, the color scheme has a function, Tomalevska said: blue delineates the sales offices, red is used for public areas such as the kitchen and restrooms and green, fittingly, for finance.

The Fulham office also is unusual among warehouses, which often are cavernous, for its plentiful natural light. The architects removed the wrought iron from the windows and replaced it with bar-free security windows. The architects also designed clerestory windows above the doorways of perimeter offices so light from office windows can spill into the interior of the building.

Finding yet another way of introducing daylight, the architects covered a portion of the exterior wall with acid-etched glass blocks, which fills a conference room with diffused light.

Safety was as much a concern as light: Fulham wanted to relocate the front entrance away from busy Van Ness Avenue to the side of the building, and the new glass-brick wall filled in the space of the former entrance.

The company also was willing to sacrifice some parking for an unusual feature: an outdoor patio with two small fountains, landscaping and two umbrella-topped tables. Although such amenities may be commonplace for Westside entertainment companies, they are exotic in Hawthorne.

Among the visitors who have appreciated the changes are members of the Hawthorne Fire Department. "They have been inside every building in the city, and they have told us that they have never seen [anything] else like this," said Carolyn Neal, a Fulham operations manager who served as the company's project manager for the make-over.

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