Warehouse Transformed Into Specialty Showroom

Burlingame, CA - Some projects require a slow boil to reach perfection. When Cheryl Hamilton-Gray, CKD of Hamilton-Gray Design, Inc. was first approached to design a Sub-Zero/Wolf appliance showroom into the existing Burlingame, CA Westye Group office and warehouse space, the year was 2002. At the time, Hamilton-Gray was already involved in the design of Westye’s Oahu, Hawaii showroom. The principals of the Westye Group – Sub-Zero/Wolf’s distributor to the western U.S. – believed the design of the Oahu showroom was successful and asked Hamilton-Gray to sign on for the California showroom.

The property, acquired in 2002, had already been partially developed to house the company’s corporate offices and warehouse facilities.

“Westye did not have any specifications going in,” says Hamilton-Gray. “That was the interesting side to the project, and why we pondered for a few years before launching into it.”

Many showrooms of this scale and type had been designed before, but with mixed results, says Hamilton-Gray. “Hearsay was that some were successful, some white elephants, some presented cabinets versus appliances and many didn’t fit the needs anticipated. With the venture likely to cost millions, we wanted to learn from others’ experiences so we set out on a year-long project to research appropriate designs.”

Hamilton-Gray, along with the project architects and Westye representatives, went on a whirlwind tour of similar showrooms throughout the country, interviewing owners, managers, chefs and clients, gathering information and photographs. This side project resulted in Hamilton-Gray’s game plan for the space, and design solutions that strove to differ from what the team had seen in its travels.

The biggest challenge was turning the spacious warehouse into a warm, inviting space. The design solution needed to camouflage the ductwork and mechanicals of the high ceilings. “We achieved this by painting everything black and dropping clouds over appropriate areas to take attention away from the unsightliness,” Hamilton-Gray points out.

Another challenge, she says, was displaying vast amounts of product without losing the viewer’s interest, and naturally drawing interest into all areas of the showroom, creating a flow between displays. The design team also had to work within the stringent codes of a commercially equipped preparation kitchen. And of course, adds Hamilton-Gray, “We had to overcome the hurdle that underlies every project: maintaining the budget!”

Space, however, was not an issue. The square footage allotted was a formidable 10,000 sq. ft. and, when the designs were finalized and building began, the entire space was utilized.

Among the features considered integral to the success of the design are two live demonstration kitchens. These demo kitchens were included with the purpose of supporting Westye’s educational agenda, which includes teaching appliance specialists and consumers about the products in a hands-on way. Hamilton-Gray sought to create a practical space while exhibiting the products in a cohesive design with what she calls “warm, detailed Old World qualities.”

The variety of products is the spice of this showroom, says the designer, and is exhibited in the form of a meandering gallery around the two demo kitchens.

She adds: “The product is shown in laminate encasements, presented cleanly and neatly in an unconfusing format, also convenient to change-outs.”

“These demonstration kitchens are serviced by a behind-the-scenes preparation kitchen,” says Hamilton-Gray. From her travels, she says: “We had learned that these service areas had always been underestimated in this type of showroom design.

With this knowledge, we designed our prep kitchen to service a training arena for 50 people, both of the demo kitchens, the bar and an executive dining room.”

Functionality and design authenticity were at the top of the design to-do list. These concepts led to the creation of a working bar to not only show bar refrigeration in context, but also serve as an entertainment area for clients of the showroom. The dining room was included near the prep kitchen as another entertaining area.

Hamilton-Gray names the wine grotto as the “gem” of the showroom. “It is entered through a distressed wood and wrought-iron door and has a domed, cave-like ceiling, covered top to toe in stone. High-tech wine refrigerators are built into recessed niches, providing an exciting contrast to the rustic space,” she adds.

The showroom opened in the spring, with a lavish event organized by the showroom’s manager Jeff Dunn. Portions of the warehouse were draped with fabric and chandeliers were strung from the 30-ft. high ceilings. Attending guests were treated to an oyster bar, wine tastings, serenades from a 12-piece orchestra and giveaways from a celebrity chef. The approximately 900 guests included appliance dealers, clients, developers, builders, architects, designers, factory representatives and members of the press.

Hamilton-Gray Design, Inc. seeks to design it all.

“We primarily design and specify for remodels and new construction high-end residential, specializing in kitchens and baths and also commercial kitchen and bath-related showrooms,” says Hamilton-Gray. She adds that the firm also does a fair amount of “other room” design including wine rooms, dining rooms, craft rooms, outdoor living spaces, outdoor kitchens and laundry/spa/mud rooms, among others.

While Hamilton-Gray Design, Inc. has no showroom of its own, the firm maintains a design studio stocked with specifying product catalogues, samples and finishes.

Perspective drawings are done by hand while working drawings are prepared in AutoCAD. The firm, which is active in the NKBA and has won several awards from area organizations, has been in business for 15 years.

“I’ve noted a huge amount of trend changes in the market, particularly with the growth of technology and availability of information on the Web,” says Hamilton-Gray. “Clients have changed in their approach to design requests by being a lot more informed and educated. I think the Westye project follows the same evolution by offering specific, precise and efficient product selections to the client in a versatile aesthetic appeal.”