Name: CEO Simone Vingerhoets-Ziesmann of Wilkhahn, German Furniture Manufacturer
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Size: 2,225 square feet
Years lived in: 9 months
Wilkhahn is a well-known and respected office furniture design and manufacturing firm with roots in Germany but with a global presence and offices around the world. In each city, they’ve sought to merge the look and feel of their German craftsmanship with the style and history of the local culture in order to fully integrate into the place. Here in Chicago, they selected Tree Studio, a former artist colony established in 1894, to be their home base. The studio’s soaring ceilings and original woodwork details perfectly complement Wilkhahn’s smart and elegant chairs, tables and conferencing pieces.
Each unit in the Tree Studios complex is magnificent, but the penthouse suites are particularly captivating. They feature wood trim details that you just don’t find anywhere else, tall vaulted ceilings with exposed beams, skylights that provide lots of natural light, and even rooftop access for the summertime. Wilkhahn has had their showroom in Tree Studios for the past eight years, and during that time they have occupied three suites in total. When this penthouse became available, however, they knew it was the perfect opportunity to expand their space and to design a showroom that was unique and beautiful.
Celebrating history has always been a part of Wilkhahn’s story. The firm began in 1907 with three German craftsmen working near Hanover, in an area with hundreds of similar small- and medium-sized furniture manufacturing plants. Today, they are the only ones still in business. In the 1940s, the founders’ children took over and began introducing new materials and partnered with leading Bauhaus- and Werkbund-inspired designers. The company continued to grow internationally in the '80s with new lines developed from strict ergonomic studies and tests, and the company is now known as a model of aesthetic, ergonomic, and environmentally compatible furniture construction.
When they moved into their new suite, then, they wanted to imbue it with their history without it feeling like a museum. They wanted a casual space that could be reconfigured for a number of different uses: meetings, lectures, large get-togethers — even mani-pedi parties!
To achieve those goals, the natural wood trim, floors, and beams were left intact, and the remaining walls were painted in Benjamin Moore White Diamond. The only pieces of art are charming old photos from the company’s past: the three founders, craftsmen building wood chairs, even the amazing current production site designed by Frei Otto. There are three main areas, but everything is moveable—even the millwork stands—and can be reconfigured.
To the left is an open space with conference seating set up in a training room style; the monitor and extra folding tables are hidden away in a niche. Behind the niche is the office space, which supports three staff members. The third open area is the most luxurious and homey—it has a gorgeous seating area around a fireplace and a round meeting table, modern light fixtures and beautiful accessories. The only real room is the conference room, off the entry. This is where you’ll find one of Wilkhahn’s historic pieces: the 3 Legged Chair.
Simone, the company’s CEO, clearly cares deeply for this, and all the firm’s, offices. She knew about, and was involved with, every detail of the space. Wilkhahn has a long history of forward-thinking policies that improve and enhance their employees' lives, and designing an excellent work environment is high on that list of priorities. As I photographed the office with the help of the two account managers, Michael and Jillian, they couldn’t stop raving about how much they enjoyed working there. Wilkhahn’s designs show how much it cares about its user, but its office shows how much it cares about its people.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
Our Style: German Modern Classic Furniture meets Old World Artist Loft.
Inspiration: We wanted to give a sense of our company history with a very functional space to show off our furniture, a space to entertain, educate people and, of course, work.
Favorite Element: There is something so relaxing and special to have the Asienta set up around the fireplace. This part of the office just turns the showroom from a space that you can work into a place that you just want to be in.
Biggest Challenge: I think the biggest challenge was how to make this space versatile. This small showroom has to serve many different functions. Part of that is achieved by having a large main space in the center of the room where the tables are easily re-configurable, and the other part is zoning out the areas to a specific function. When you step in, you are struck by the beauty of the furniture and the space without being overwhelmed.
What Friends Say: They are amazed when they walk in... most of them want to move in immediately.
Biggest Embarrassment: When we moved into this office nine months ago, it was a big improvement in space. So we decided to get rid of our offsite storage unit and build that needed storage into the plans... We painstakingly moved over 100 boxes of product literature from that unit up three flights of stairs one hot July day, only to realize that about 75% of what we had moved up was so out-of-date it had to be recycled.
Proudest DIY: We reused carpet from our old office in the office area. One night our staff stayed late and laid it down themselves. I am proud of our team for making it a priority to reduce waste in the move.
Biggest Indulgence: The amazing sound system that was wired throughout almost all the walls to give great quality sound without having to play music loud.
Best Advice: Either work with an amazing designer when you want to move to a new space... or less can be more... Editing is key to having a inviting home or office.
Dream Sources: Our dream source would have be acquiring more historic pieces from Wilkhahn's 100+-year history to round out the collection.
PAINT & COLORS
- Walls: Benjamin Moore White Diamond
- Chair: Wilkhahn IN Task Chair
- Pedestals: Custom millwork
- Chairs: Wilkhahn ON Task Chair, Wilkhahn IN Task Chair
- Tables: Wilkhahn Palette Table System, Wilkhahn Logon Table
- Lamps: Haworth
- Wireless music system: Bowers & Wilkins
- Pendant light: Pinnacle Architectural Lighting
- Table: Wilkhahn Travis Height Adjustable Table
- Stools: Wilkhahn Stitz2 Leaning Aid
- Cabinet: custom
- Espresso machine: Nespresso
- Photo: picture of the founders of the company
- Table: Wilkhahn Graph
- Chairs: Wilkhahn Graph
- 3 Legged Chair: Wilkhahn archives
- Cabinet: Wilkhahn Gravis
- Lectern: Wilkhahn Confair
- Server: Wilkhahn Confair
- Pendant light: Pinnacle Architectural Lighting
- Settee: Wilkhahn Asienta
- Armchair: Wilkhahn Asienta
- Floor lamp: FLOS IC Lights F
- Photo: picture of the Wilkhahn factory in Germany
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