A contemporary furniture maker moves its Northeast Minneapolis headquarters one door down to a storied warehouse space

By Joel Hoekstra

Five years ago, Twin Cities–based furniture maker Blu Dot returned to its roots, moving into the Crown Iron Works complex in Northeast Minneapolis—a stone’s throw from the Northrup King Building, where the business got its start in 1997. The decades had been good to Blu Dot: Its product line was diverse, its sales global, and its employee roster nearing 150 people.

But as the U.S. economy got back on its feet, it didn’t take long for Blu Dot to blow past those milestones and outgrow its 15,000-square-foot space. Problem was, company founders John Christakos and Maurice Blanks didn’t want to leave their funky industrial building. Plus, they had begun to talk about opening an outlet store where floor samples and overstock items could be sold—which would require additional space.

Looking around, they realized the solution to their space crunch might be right under their noses: Next door was a 20,000-square-foot warehouse where military airplane wings had been manufactured during World War II. It was dark, dingy, and damaged, but Christakos and Blanks saw considerable potential in its high ceilings and openness. They retained designer Troy Kampa, Assoc. AIA, of Kampa Studio, and architect Toby Rapson, AIA, of Rapson Architects, to help them transform the former factory into the company’s new headquarters.

Kampa and Rapson responded with a design that simultaneously highlights the space’s raw industrial character and showcases Blu Dot’s colorful and creative product lines. Inside the front entry, visitors have an uninterrupted view to the back of the shop, but all eyes are drawn up to the clerestory windows that illuminate the studio. Scrubbing the interior clean revealed the beauty of the wood-plank ceiling, the muscularity of the iron beams, and the patina of the concrete floor. White paint on the walls and a glossy clear epoxy on the floor add crispness without cloaking the structure’s history.

“The build-out was minimal,” says Kampa, “so the guts of the warehouse are still visible and striking.”

To the left of the entry is a reception desk, to the right an area that showcases Blu Dot’s award-winning wares, which pop against the white interior and bask in the warmth of the natural light. Staff use the showcase space to mix and match products and to experiment with arrangements—a sort of test kitchen for home furnishings.

Glassed-in offices line the south side of the building, while bays of cubicles—each devoted to a different department—are clustered on the north side, lit by skylights cut into the ceiling. In between sit two conference-room pods that float like ultra-modern houseboats in the cathedral-like space. Both enclosures feature a hickory-lined interior, a painted metal-panel exterior, and a “porch” beneath a cantilevered overhang where arrangements of Blu Dot chairs and coffee tables beckon staff to gather and discuss ideas.

Rapson likens the pods to furnishings themselves. “They’re large, but they function like furniture,” he says. “They’re essentially art objects.”

Blu Dot’s actual art collection is displayed throughout the building. And when employees need something more than visual inspiration, they can retreat to a large open kitchen with built-in banquette seating or sweat out some ideas in the small but well-appointed gym.

Christakos says his team loves the expansiveness and brightness of the new space. (The old office has been transformed into Blu Dot’s outlet store.) “We wanted to do just enough to make it work for us but leave the coolness of the space intact,” he adds. “In the end, the space is the hero.”

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Client: Blu Dot
Building owner/developer: Hillcrest Development, LLLP
Design team: Kampa Studio with Rapson Architects (Ralph Rapson & Associates, Inc.)
Architect of record: Thomas (Toby) Rapson, AIA
Principal-in-charge: Troy Kampa, Assoc. AIA
Project lead designer: Troy Kampa, Assoc. AIA
General contractor: Greiner Construction
Size: 20,640 square feet
Cost: $48.50 per square foot
Completion: August 2015
Photographer: Rick Peters, InsideOut Studios