Blending Old with New, East Coast with Pacific Rim

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Contractor: Commercial Casework, Inc.
Client: Knight Ridder Inc.’s
Project Type: Architectural Millwork

Knight Ridder Inc.'s new space, 40,000 square feet in San Jose, California, was designed to be a study in contrasts. Their company was about to move from its original headquarters in Miami, Florida, to brand-new space in San Jose, California.

Why San Jose? Because it’s considered the epicenter of the information age … and because it’s close to Silicon Valley and … because it’s on the burgeoning Pacific Rim. Furthermore, San Jose is the fastest-growing community in northern California, having just become more populous than San Francisco.

In short, Knight Ridder was an old-line business moving west, a traditional publisher of hard-copy news, but which would now publish on the Internet, too.

Knight Ridder’s architect, Robinson, Mills & Williams, wanted to create a space that would reflect this contrast in style and time. They did it with the help of Toniskoetter, Breeding General Contractors of San Jose and their mill/cabinet sub-contractor, Commercial Casework of Oakland, California. Together, Commercial and Toniskoetter brought to life a most unusual interior design.

Same Wood, Different Looks

Commercial Casework’s contract called for the construction of 69 office fronts, as well as reception areas, conference rooms, coffee rooms, elevators, credenzas and storage cabinets. To create these designs, Commercial Casework used a combination of three different kinds of maple: bird’s eye, curly and quartered. Though all three are nominally the same species, they look just different enough from one another to create a visually pleasing contrast – which itself would contrast with the other materials used in the build-out.

The bird’s eye maple was used for the premiere areas, including the reception desk, lobby paneling and elevator. To contrast with the other types of maple, it was stained with a lacquer-based finish that gave it a rich, amber tone (some might call it honey colored) that was slightly darker than the natural wood.

The office fronts, which were around the building’s perimeter, were built with a combination of curly and quartered maple. The front walls of the offices were built with a combination of wood and opaque glazing, so that each occupant would have plenty of outside light, but privacy as well. The glazing was contained in window jambs made of quartered maple, while the door jambs and the doors themselves were executed in bird’s eye maple.

According to Commercial Casework estimator Ed Grielich, working with the maple could be tricky, especially staining it. "Maple has hard spots in its graining," said Grielich, "so when you apply the stain it’s sometimes tough to get an even tone. We developed a four-part finishing process for all the maple. First, we sealed the wood with a sanding sealer, then sprayed on the color. Then, we added a second coat of sanding sealer and applied a final top coat. This gave the wood a uniform cast and brought out the natural grain. It’s really beautiful.

Elsewhere in the project the quartered maple alternated with the curly maple as both were used for conference room paneling, credenzas, audio visual cabinets and wall storage cabinets placed strategically above file cabinets.

All told, Commercial used 2,400 square feet of bird’s eye maple, 3,000 square feet of curly maple and 9,600 square feet of quartered maple. Baseboard was crafted with several thousand running feet of quartered maple.

Contrasting Looks with Different Materials

Knight Ridder’s reception area announces the interior scheme and theme. Here is a maple-paneled back wall; a composite reception desk with stainless steel legs; a marble floor; stainless steel-clad columns; frosted glazing and recessed lighting. It’s a blend of materials – some man-made, some natural – and a blend of looks: both modern and traditional. And the whole thing works together to create a comfortable, yet dynamic space.

This notion of contrasts is carried through the rest of the space. On one side of the building, there is wood with fine finishes - for instance, paneled walls with vertical stripes created by woods and inlays. On the opposite side there is a blue plastered wall, a smooth, flowing serpentine shape, that’s complete with stainless steel inlays and panels.

Said Toniskoetter’s construction manager, Dave Musgrave, "The central idea was to blend materials to create a pleasing whole. One look will tell you: that’s exactly what we did."

Working Well with Others

In a job this complex, Commercial Casework’s union installers had to coordinate their efforts with a variety of other trades – specifically, plumbers, electricians, audio-visual experts, glaziers, flooring installers, painters and ceiling contractors. Thanks to their experience in coordinating work schedules and work, this 40,000 square foot project was finished within six months, on schedule and under budget.

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