By Debra Simon


The big cheese of a woman-owned business in the Triangle had spent years looking for the perfect headquarters. And suddenly, there it was — the right square footage in the right configuration at the right location with the right number of windows and just the right view.

There was one problem: After 25 years of use by a wide range of renters, the space was worn and tired. The big cheese decided to pick up the tab for a complete overhaul. Problem solved.

Except…exactly what to do? She conceptualized a workplace at once functional, productive, high-tech and eco-friendly. She imagined an interior design at once hip, bright, dramatic and original. And she envisioned an atmosphere at once imaginative, inspiring, witty and fun.

A tall order, but not impossible: Create an office with attitude. Check out the transformation that took place.


Reception area

There’s no point in putting a shiny new gift in an old package! To get things rolling, contractors replaced the run-down front door. They tricked out a pine slab by staining it mahogany and adorning it with a fresh mail slot, peephole and handle from Emtek, the high-end hardware manufacturer.

Emtek’s Art Deco lever, dubbed Manhattan, is made of forged brass and finished in satin nickel. The generous thickness and weight of forged parts give the latch a solid look and feel.

Once inside the front door, the contractors found a bumpy bit of faux-wood linoleum, which led to faded gray carpet that ran throughout the office except for a surprise piece of marble in the bathroom.

Everything but the bathroom flooring was ripped out, leaving exposed concrete. To give the office a contemporary and cushy feel, dazzling carpeting from Beaulieu of America was laid on top of thick, eco-friendly padding from Healthier Choice. Both companies are based in Dalton, Ga.

Beaulieu, the world’s third-largest carpet manufacturer, recently launched two feature-rich lines: the odor-destroying, stain-reducing Magic Fresh collection and the durable, yet soft HealthyTouch.

Industry insiders credit Patricia Flavin, Beaulieu’s senior vice president of marketing, for breakthroughs in promoting carpet that speaks to women, including the female-friendly Bliss brand and a website tool that simplifies flooring decisions.

The office’s new carpet, from Beaulieu’s Hollytex line, is a vibrant mix of high-tech fibers called Frisky, and its riot of color is called Fresco, which expertly blends purple, orange, teal, red, gray and blue.

The carpet rests atop padding that acts like a shock absorber. Even better, it doesn’t destroy the environment! Healthier Choice’s padding, which is approved by Greenguard, an industry-independent certifier of low-emitting products, helps office workers breathe easier due to protections against mold, mildew and bacteria.

To punch up the intensity of the reception area, peeling wallpaper was removed and four paint colors were applied. The walls were coated in mellow yellow, the baseboard molding (now wood, formerly plastic) in bonfire red, the drop ceiling in twilight blue and the recessed tray ceiling in a lime hue labeled margarita.


Private offices

Each private office was given a distinctive vibe. Credit goes to the savvy use of paint, which plays up architectural features.

In one office, the door was removed to provide more interior space. The atmosphere was energized with a kaleidoscope of colors. Bonfire red walls were trimmed in margarita while an inset area, and a tall file cabinet housed there, were slathered in shades of purple.

In another office, an earthy ambience came from twilight blue walls bordered in crocus petal purple. An inset was glossed in margarita as a backdrop for an aquarium DVD constantly playing on a plasma TV.

And in another office, a sense of serenity was created with mirror-image walls: mystic grape beribboned in twilight blue facing twilight blue beribboned in mystic grape.

In all the offices, contractors moved or deleted phone jacks, electrical outlets, fluorescent lights and wall switches to create a better flow. Each door was outfitted with Emtek’s Hercules lever as well as its clean, chrome hinges and cutting-edge coat hooks.


The cabinets were dated but functional, and the considerable cash that might have been used to upgrade them was, instead, spent on top-of-the-line plumbing.

Contractors tore out the tiny, square bar sink and the oldfangled faucet, widened the sink space and installed state-of-the-art pieces from Elkay, the country’s No. 1 manufacturer of stainless steel sinks as well as a well-known name in high-quality faucets.

The galley kitchen was improved with Elkay’s Gourmet undermount sink, a deep bowl crafted with heavy-gauge stainless steel and a sound-deadening guard (especially important in an office). The Illinois company’s Avado single-handle faucet with pull-out spray and matching soap dispenser are both constructed of solid brass.

Sharing space on the sink deck is the Insinkerator instant hot/cold dispenser, which does away with the need for a water cooler. The Series 1100 blends form with function, delivering near-boiling, 200-degree water as well as filtered drinking water on-the-fly.

Contractors demolished the outmoded coral-colored laminate counter. To anchor the kitchen, they installed a new countertop and back splash in Moonlight granite, which features dashes of purple and black dappled on white.

Finally, a few undercounter cabinets were junked to make room for two energy-efficient appliances, a fridge and a dishwasher, in jet black.



An oversized bathroom presented its own problem: The big, gaping expanse was overwhelming for a very private function. The solution: Use color, texture and depth to fashion a more intimate feel.

Contractors removed just about everything but the original cabinets and marble floor. Out went the dilapidated counter, faucet, sink, mirror, toilet, handicapped rail — even the door handle and coat hooks.

Instead, the Aurora Dot Lever, part of Emtek’s Bright Handle Collection, signals the start of something swanky. The California company is dedicated to interesting, well-made hardware, and it has broken the mold with this saucy number. Red dots light up on the outside when the door is locked, sending up flares that the bathroom is occupied.

Once inside, the razzle-dazzle continues with walls bathed in mystic grape and crocus petal purple. A trio of mirrors, tagged Fizz by BDI, the Virginia-based designer, doubles as art. Fizz’s frosted pattern lets the racy wall color peek through the circles. It’s even more impressive in triplicate because the ring-shaped pattern interlocks.

Beyond the mirrors, recessed lights shine on an Azul Pearl granite counter with flecks of sparkly silver as well as its centerpiece, an angled sink by Elkay that seems to be made of twisted metal. The Asana undermount is a heavy-gauge bowl rendered in soft-texture stainless steel, and its arching Sensor faucet provides hands-free operation.

The hygienic functionality continues with the Xlerator electric hand dryer. Putting in motion a powerful blast of air to blow off water droplets, the Xlerator improves restroom cleanliness, dries hands within 15 seconds and consumes 80 percent less energy than conventional dryers.

Xlerator, which is made in America by Massachusetts-based Excel Dryer, is the first of its kind to be listed in the GreenSpec guide to environmentally preferred products. And, let’s face it, the textured graphite face looks fierce.

This earth-friendly focus extends to the comfort-height Stealth toilet from Niagara Conservation. Stealth employs vacuum-assist hydraulics to provide an effective, yet hushed, flush. Although using just eight-tenths of a gallon of water per flush, this model doesn’t make the loud, swooshing sounds typical of other low-flow brands.

Above it all are two whisper-quiet ventilation fans by Nutone. The leading-edge, Energy Star-qualified products look like recessed lights, work like fans and act like on/off switches.

The first is wired to start whenever the bathroom light goes on. The second is a combination of fan, light and humidifier. Cleverly hidden inside is a humidity-sensing switch that automatically starts whenever necessary and, later, stops.


Conference room

Dominated by a stodgy, wall-to-wall bookcase and narrowed by featureless white walls, the conference room cried out for help to become a popular gathering spot.

To create a comfy zone, two multicolored, reclining loveseats are stationed next to the broad windows and across from each other. Top-down, bottom-up honeycomb privacy shades — Applause by Hunter Douglas — cover the windows in neutral porcelain and include a light-rise lift system.

Centered in the space is a glass conference table, which is mounted on linear, chrome legs, made by Euro Style. Officially a dining room table, it was chosen because it expands to put more people in the conversation. Four to six contemporary, sling-back chairs easily fit around the base.

A hip work area is jazzed up with an adjustable-height desk by Jesper Office. The slick SitStand model is equipped with an electric motor that slowly shifts from chair height to person height at the push of a button.

Sit-stand desks are recommended by health-care types because they encourage people to get off their butts. Plus, with many professionals taking turns using the desk, the fact that it can be the right height for a particular person within an instant is ergonomic magic. So, it’s perfect for this room.

Capping it all are twin flush-mount ceiling fans by Craftmade, the Texas-based manufacturer known for reliability, durability and airflow efficiency. Modern geometry meets swept-wing blades in Juna, a 54-inch fan with a three-speed, reversible motor in polished nickel and an integrated light kit.

Just one thing remained to make the conference room a hot spot: color. Its bookcase was modernized with a green soapstone counter and a lime corkboard. And in an office bathed in bright hues, its walls were soaked with four — margarita, twilight blue, tangy orange and mystic grape.



The air-conditioning unit, hidden behind bushes in the back of the building, was on its last legs.

A new unit was needed — no question. But that led to many questions. A residential or commercial unit? A “split” system? How many tons? How many SEER? What’s a SEER, anyway?

The office’s new occupants underwent a crash course in heating, ventilating and air conditioning – known in the biz as HVAC — from the folks at Nordyne, a major manufacturer of indoor heating and cooling systems.

“Air conditioning is the biggest home-energy hog,” explains Kari Palutis of Nordyne, whose brands include Broan, Frigidaire, Gibson, Kelvinator, Maytag, Nutone, Philco, Tappan and Westinghouse.

While it may not be the most scintillating subject, HVAC 101 is important to your pocketbook. For example, Palutis says, “A bigger upfront cost may be worthwhile if it makes a significant difference in monthly bills. You have to ask, ‘Where’s the break-even for efficiency of a unit?’”

To learn elementary HVAC, start by reviewing the glossary of terms on the website of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America.