REGIONAL RELEVANCE: Making Commercial Interior Design Meaningful

several photos of various commercial interiors utilizing different design stylesAs a firm that provides commercial interior design, the RLPS Interiors team must consider not only aesthetic appeal, but also ergonomics, health, safety, and accessibility for our clients’ spaces.  Another important, but sometimes overlooked, consideration is acknowledging a sense of place—the climate, culture, history and traditions of the locale where the space is located.  This is certainly the case for hospitality venues or senior living communities, but also holds true for commercial offices, cultural, municipal and healthcare settings. Highlighting and incorporating the physical and social qualities of a specific region into the interior design or remodel creates a sense of authenticity and resonates with those using the space.

We checked in with RLPSer Jessica Jack for her thoughts about regional relevance.

exterior, inside a room, and lobby of the wilbur hotel in lititz

The hotel industry is increasingly moving away from a uniform experience for every location, to one in which individual properties blend into their communities and highlight local artists and amenities for travelers. The Wilbur Lititz, Tapestry Collection by Hilton

Why is regional relevance important?

Understanding regional relevance is the difference between creating a beautiful space and a beautiful story.  Any talented designer is capable of weaving together finishes to create a space that is visually pleasing and on trend.  The thing that sets a design apart is understanding the client and their story of “home” to weave beautiful finishes together with the influences of their history and location to create a space that feels personal and authentic.

Conversely, if location and history are ignored, we lose the opportunity for a design to go from “Nice to look at” to “Nice to be in.” When we provide spaces that have some form of meaning or sentimental value, people feel a deeper connection to that space even if they are just passing through.

carole mcardle art featured in the new health center at Village on the Isle in Venice FL

The work of local artist Carole McArdle is featured in the new health center at Village on the Isle in Venice, Florida to provide residents with beautiful artwork that highlights familiar sights and specific locations around the region.

carole mcardle flamingo paintingHow do you introduce regional influences into a project?  

One of my favorite things to do when I am working in a new region is to ask for restaurant recommendations.  The hospitality industry today really understands the importance of reaching out to the local community. And frequently, as someone describes their favorite restaurant to me, they mention design elements in the space that capture the local feel. Often, I find a place with local artists on display.

My next go-to is to find local art shows and galleries. Even if they are not showcasing only local artists, they have their hand on the pulse of the community and can steer me in the right direction.

brightly colored canning jars used as a welcoming element at the Harvest Table bistro at Garden Spot Village

Artwork is not the only way to provide local context. These brightly colored canning jars are a uniquely welcoming element in The Harvest Table bistro at Garden Spot Village in New Holland, PA.

Artwork is often the easiest means to referencing the local community and its heritage, but what are some other ways to help achieve this?

Finding local artists whose work can be displayed is certainly a go-to, but there are many other fun ways of bringing a local story inside. This can range from using vintage kitschy mugs from the surrounding area in a bistro or creating historical timelines in corridors, to reaching out to local historical societies to create gallery walls of black and white historical photographs.  This idea can be taken further by bringing local plants and fauna inside, whether real or faux.

a distinctive art installation at Waverly Heights in Gladwyne, PA

This distinctive art installation at Waverly Heights in Gladwyne, PA is a stylized map of Main Line Philadelphia, featuring the distinctive location pin for the formal dining venue.

Can you provide an example where regional relevance directly impacted a design decision?

a unique piece of artRecently, I was reminded of the impact regional relevance can have when hanging artwork in a corridor and an adjacent library.  The library was slated to receive a gorgeous painting of a field at sunset with vibrant, warm colors. A secondary art installation in the adjacent corridor was to be some simple photography of four well know landmarks in the nearby city.  As all the pieces were lined up against the wall, resident after resident stopped in front of those landmark photos, telling each other stories of the time one of them picnicked on that hill, or of the time that one’s whole family met on that riverbank to enjoy their very first regatta.

As more and more stories were told around our team as we worked,  we quickly realized the library area was where we needed to have the story art,because we wanted to promote that positive experience of sitting in front of the fireplace retelling story after story of the places depicted in the photos. That beautiful canvas, that we originally thought was perfect for the library took the place of the photos in the secondary corridor.

cutting blades repurposed and featured in an art installation outside Hearth and Harrow Restaurant at Pleasant View Communities

Re-purposed items, such as the cutting blades featured in this art installation outside Hearth and Harrow Restaurant at Pleasant View Communities, provide connections to familiar objects while creating visual interest.

Another favorite example of mine is the story I was told about a retirement community that had to cut down the oldest tree on its campus for the construction of a new building.  The community turned this into a positive by working with local artists to create stunning wall and floor sculptures from that tree to be used in the new building.  After construction you could not walk through their new building without noticing these distinctive pieces and asking about their story.

Regionally relevant interior design requires a commitment to researching local amenities, natural attributes and values in order to identify specific attributes that will reflect the local character. The effort is well worth it, providing an emotional connection and meaning for those using the spaces.

Jessica Jack, IIDA, LEED AP has 16 years of commercial interior design experience helping  clients create beautiful, functional spaces that will tell their story.

Jodi Kreider, LEED AP, Blog Editor