March 17, 2016
After nearly 25 years in Sun Valley, Calif., Walker Zanger had outgrown its headquarters. As a stone and tile company, it needed a building where it could both show off and store materials like marble and porcelain.
“During our hunt, the current ‘build-to-suit’ became available,” said Kim Bernard, Walker Zanger’s executive director of facilities design, who worked alongside Los Angeles-based SRK Architects. “This offered us the opportunity to customize the building to our needs and accommodate all of our inventory.”
Lemons to Lemonade
Since the company’s move in 1987 to Sun Valley, Walker Zanger had grown to double its original size. To accommodate the space, there were two separate buildings for inventory and offices split into three separate zones. In addition, the surrounding local area had deteriorated enough that clients were hesitant to visit.
“The inefficiencies were significant,” said Bernard, “but when we began to look at buildings in a fairly large geographical area, we found it difficult to meet the specific needs of our business. Every option had significant compromises.”
When the team found the current location, it was less than perfect. The building had a tilt-up structure – this involves tilting concrete walls to a vertical position with a crane. This common building method helps cut costs for the builder but does not yield an architecturally defining structure.
“Our challenge was to take a standard building and massage it to give it personality and make it distinctive,” said Bernard.
The overall shape and space plan for the building was driven by Walker Zanger’s functional and operational needs, such as storing marble inside. The new building allows for a crane that runs the entire depth of the building, and it accommodates their entire inventory of stone slabs.
As for the showroom, the building’s entry was originally at the southwest corner, but it was moved to the center for better access. This made sure that clients could enter through a central point to reach a sort of terminus, allowing them to go into the showroom or office to pick up materials or meet staff. When suppliers visit, they have direct access to a conference room designed specifically for their needs. When visitors enter by the main lobby, they encounter a grand limestone staircase and a custom steel mesh screen.
“The screen is a counterpoint to all of the stone,” said Bernard. “In addition, we designed a custom 20-ft. diameter medallion for the floor. That’s really the show stopper in the space.”
Customizing the Space
According to Bernard, the overarching goal for the entire project was to create a state-of-the-art facility that would serve Walker Zanger’s corporate needs for the next 25 years.
“On the design side, we wanted to find organic ways to integrate Walker Zanger materials wherever possible while not overpowering the space and utilize a fresh color scheme that would be changeable for the future,” she said.
The team worked Walker Zanger materials into architectural elements and surfaces, as well as tables and furniture; two main conference tables are predominately quartzite and marble with insets of porcelain and limestone. The showroom itself boasts lifestyle vignettes that emulate how tile would look installed in a home or business.
“We custom design and fabricate all of our showroom fixtures to accommodate our product line to suit our needs,” said Bernard. “Floating soffits, architectural features and integral lighting lend drama to the space.”
The products are organized in the showroom based on categories: ceramic, stone, porcelain and glass. There is also a curved wall lined with one square foot of every field tile Walker Zanger carries, allowing clients to focus on color and tile shape rather than all of the decorative pieces that make up a line. In the 91,000-sq.-ft. warehouse, the Slab Gallery displays unique stones and uses a 523-ft. indoor crane and a wire-guided order-picking system to allow for narrower aisles and more room for products.
Along with the design challenges of characterizing a plain building, the design team also needed to build according to California’s high standards. In addition, their tenant improvement period was 4.5 months rather than the standard six, giving them a tight timeline to complete the facility according to code.
“Any time you build in California, the building has to be environmentally conscious, and there are many code requirements that you have to abide by,” said Bernard. “In addition to code compliance, we made an internal decision to upgrade wherever possible in selecting materials and finishes that are both durable and environmentally sound.”
All of the lighting is LED, featuring motion and daylight sensors, as well as additional lighting and control systems to conserve energy in the showroom. The facility has skylights throughout, electric car-charging ports, bicycle storage lockers and drought-tolerant landscaping.
“Being environmentally conscious was a major focus as we built the new headquarters,” said Bernard. “It was part of always keeping operations of the business a top priority.”
Designer: Kim Bernard, Walker Zanger
Architect: SRK Architects
Photography: Walker Zanger