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SLM & Associates Carthage Office

Architecture for Sale

As in many mid-size Midwestern cities, downtown Carthage, MO, has become a mixture of mostly retail and some office spaces. To blend with the retail establishments that surround his office, Stephen L. Morrill, AIA, principal of SLM & Associates, designed a space that is as attractive to passersby as it is functional and enjoyable for his employees.

SLM & Associates is located on the ground floor of a two-story Italianate brick structure built in 1906. At other times, the building was a fire station and an appliance store. Now, other than Morrill's office, two restaurants and a dance company are situated on the first floor; the second floor will eventually be converted to apartments. The basement is a gym for SLM employees.

Looking in

From the street, SLM's office presents a visual invitation that says "walk-ins welcome." In fact, the firm has won a few commissions from clients who were just passing by.

"I don't think everyone understands what architects do," says Morrill. "Our office invites them to come in and find out. And as architects, it's important for us to create an appealing office space. Otherwise, why should clients trust us with their space!"

From the street, the public sees an open and friendly office space. Morrill chose a predominantly white color palette for neutrality and uniformity. Black accents appear as conference and drafting chairs, decorative accessories and a restored bank safe from the early 1900s. The safe alludes to the firm's specialization in retail banking.

Once inside, clients and visitors are treated to a collection of architectural motifs. Four columns anchor the center of the space. On each column, a small square of marble recalls Carthage's mining history.

According to Morrill, the marble is so highly polished, people seem almost unconsciously drawn to its touch.

Flanking the entrance are two conference tables with tops made of local marble to reinforce SLM's ties to the community.

Leaning against a side wall are two eight-foot doors that Morrill discovered in an old freezer building. Once the doors to the building's freight elevator, Morrill had them restored for display in his office. The height and thickness of the doors lend a sense of scale to the high ceilings in the office.

To the rear of the space, a pediment recalls the popular Grecian style of architectural ornamentation. On either side of the pediment, decorative buttresses made of metal add another motif. Playfully perched in front of the buttresses are two gargoyles that peer down on the activity below. The ornamentation and keystone over the doorway to the office's storage area has zigzag lines and neon highlighting, which hint at Art Deco design.

Front to Back, Top to Bottom

To hide the clutter that is often part of design and production, Morrill placed three work stations at the back of the office behind a low wall that conceals additional work space, as well as file drawers and storage for supplies. The detail cap on the wall leads the eye around the space and is yet another playful element in the office's design. Beyond the three work stations is the entrance to additional storage and seven more work stations, as well as the employee kitchen and the stairs down to the gym in the basement. To accentuate the ceilings, which are more than 13 feet high, and to create a three-dimensional effect, Morrill left the duct work exposed and installed suspended track lighting. A crisp black line painted where the walls meet the ceiling makes the ceiling almost appear to be floating. "We attempted to use as much of the vertical space in the office as possible," says Morrill. "That way we create layers of activity that are attention-grabbers to people looking in." · One activity marches along the top of display shelves only a few feet below the ceiling. Morrill jokes that the row of wooden skeletal dinosaurs are there to remind everyone in the office of what SLM does not want to become.