Time Lapse of Sarofsky’s Warehouse to Studio Reno

Insightful and detailed look at the total rehab of a “beat-up, old, barrel-truss building” in Chicago’s West Loop by Erin Sarofsky and Mark Olthoff of Olson Kundig Architects into an expansive new studio that would feel right at home in Santa Monica, Venice or Culver City.

From the release:

Well known in the graphic design, motion picture and TV industries for her work as a design and creative director with credits spanning major studios and brands, Sarofsky established her company in Chicago back in 2009, and by 2012, it had outgrown its space. “It was clear that financially it made more sense for me to buy than rent,” she began.

Sarofsky’s search led her to 1506 West Fulton Street and what she described as a “beat-up, old, barrel-truss building,” which she decided to purchase. Thanks to a close friend and some kismet, Sarofsky soon met architect Mark Olthoff, and when she described her plans to restore the building, try to preserve its essence while adding some of the open-air features more typical in Santa Monica, he was intrigued.

Although he’s based in Seattle, Olthoff grew up about an hour south of Chicago, where his grandparents first settled around the time of the original construction of Sarofsky’s building. At their initial meeting, when Olthoff asked Sarofsky for her thoughts on materials and style, she referenced the iconic work of Tom Kundig… without knowing that Mark worked for Olson Kundig. So began the partnership.

“During the design process we met with Erin and her staff in their previous office to understand how they worked,” Olthoff explained. “They had an open space plan with two closed rooms, a screening room and one private office. Moving forward, it was important to keep their collaborative style of working in mind as we translated the company’s community-based culture to a much larger building. In this case, they were expanding the size of their headquarters by three times.”

“Working with an architecture firm with a specific point of view was really rewarding,” Sarofsky pointed out. “I have a strong perspective in my own work, so that’s something I really respected throughout the process. And even when there were financial considerations that may have been at odds with the overall vision, they were still very responsive and proactive.”

The process began with the building constructed in the 1880s that filled its entire lot, which Olthoff described as having “great bones.” When thinking of a new design for Sarofsky, Olson Kundig made honoring the building’s history and referencing the area’s industrial roots a priority. The firm preserved the hard-won patina of a working building, redeploying it as new creative production studio and bringing that industry to Chicago’s West Loop.

The finished space now offers a series of contemporary open offices that close-off via sliding steel doors and two screening rooms centrally located within a large, open work area, all lit by clerestories and enhanced by open roof trusses.

The airy central space also includes a large server room, an open kitchen with a long table area similar to the company’s previous space, and a reception area that doubles as a studio for filming and photography. The building now opens to a courtyard, which is valuable for production demands and events… and the street doors, glass courtyard wall and a moveable partition can also be adjusted as needs require.

“The outdoor area stood out as a significant design opportunity from the beginning,” Olthoff said, describing one of Sarofsky’s favorite features. “Maximizing the incredible light from the building’s central clerestory, we removed a roof bay to make the courtyard garden. This created a long vista through the space; the light coming in guides visitors through the building and balances light levels throughout.”

“Our walled-in garden is a really special thing in the West Loop of Chicago, and a total surprise to everyone who enters our space,” Sarofsky said. “I also love that the kitchen anchors the space… that it facilitates communication and pushes people to be inclusive, without them being aware of it.”

The building naturally ventilates through the clerestory for much of the year, which provides considerable efficiency. The new design also added radiant-heat through the floor, eliminating large amounts of ductwork. With these features and the openness to natural light, Olthoff confirmed, “For a high-tech space, it’s actually quite resource-efficient.”

The finishing touches on the building’s exterior match the area’s gritty textures, while the steel-clad additions further reveal and preserve the district’s unique history. The recent arrival of upscale neighbors Soho House and Google has Sarofsky feeling very optimistic about her real-estate investment.

“We wanted to bring a bit of Santa Monica to Chicago, and I feel we’ve done that,” Sarofsky concluded. “This space is amazing to work in, and for our clients, it’s an oasis. Every day, we aspire to create work worthy of such a lovely space.”