Tradition meets modernism in the remodel of the third floor of the historic No. 1 firehall in Regina, Saskatchewan.
The gorgeous studio space for Bradbury Branding and Design makes the climb upstairs well worth the effort.

HOW magazine, November 2002

The 90-year old No. 1 Firehall is Regina, Saskatchewan is three stories of Queen Anne regality, a cherished landmark in this delightful Canadian town. But the only fires the occupants of the top floor put out nowadays are deadline-related. Two years ago, Bradbury Branding and Design Inc. (BBDI) took over the third floor of this restored heritage property and embarked upon a renovation that granted new life to the historic building.

Regina is a city of extremes, a small town with a palpable artistic, urban edge. However, the otherwise charming redbrick space BBDI occupied for ten years in Regina’s warehouse district was far too aware of Regina’s atmospheric extremes—scorching summers and frigid winters. Knowing comfortable designers are happy, productive designers, President Catharine Bradbury began a search for a more suitable space for the main office of this branding and design. Since Bradbury founded BBDI in 1989, the firm has built a diverse and impressive client list, ranging from Canada Post to Domtar Papers to the University of Regina. Now with an office of four employees (plus one in Toronto), it was necessary to find a space worthy of the growing firm.
It was a BBDI client who suggested the firehall, a local landmark that had been converted into office and public space after retiring from public service in 1986. Although the first two floors were occupied by the likes of engineering firms and community groups, the building’s top floor (42 steps up—but who’s counting?) stood vacant. Since the space previously served as a storage space, it was largely unfinished, without basic amenities like a bathroom or kitchen. This left Bradbury with a conundrum—the firehall had been designated a heritage property, mandating that nothing structurally could be altered. But Regina came to the rescue—as an incentive to rent the space, the city assumed responsibility for the structural renovations, completing everything from installation of suitable flooring to the addition of a kitchen and bathroom. These renovations took a relatively painless four months, after which it was up to BBDI to bring the space to life.

Bradbury worked in close collaboration with Laurie Nenson of Regina’s Nenson Design Inc. to complete her vision for an interior that evoked “timeless, contemporary design.” The primary challenge was finding a way to honor the architectural history of the space, while representing BBDI’s modernist aesthetic. “Existing architectural detailing of this heritage building dictated much of the ‘form’ of the space,” says Nenson. “Hence, the interior design focused on the introduction of color, pattern, texture, and shape of furnishings and accent detailing within the setting of the architectural shell.”

The long, narrow space is just over 1,600 sq.ft., open and airy, with clean lines in both the detailing and furniture selection. A neutral palette provides the backdrop, with conservative use of splashy accent colors to draw out certain areas. Fluorescent lighting is upturned and mounted on top of the exposed mechanical ducts (“contemporary minimalism meets light industrialism,” says Nenson), with individual fixtures used to spotlight features, displays and vistas. The walls are mounted with picture rails and adorned with awards the firm has won, along with a collection of classic design posters. The space is also blessed with abundant natural light, warming the space both literally and figuratively.

The space is not divided overtly with cubicles or even walls. Rather, different areas of the studio are suggested with understated effects. The flooring’s vinyl composite tiles create a subtle directional feel and gently establish the boundaries of different spaces. Free-form translucent vinyl mesh “sails” provide light and airy alternative to conventional permanent partitions.

Every detail of the space was designed to be a manifestation of the BBDI aesthetic. The firm’s professional character is evoked in the traditional “business” areas of the physical space. For instance, sloping walls frame the reception/greeting area, which is modestly adorned with a modern vintage lounge in metallic taupe vinyl with a long bolster pillow situated beneath the company logo mounted to the wall. Upon entering the actual workspaces, visitors witness creativity in action. The workspaces, with suspended shelving and glass door storage suggest a friendly, casual atmosphere with space where creativity can breathe.
There’s nothing precious about the BBDI studio—a guiding firm principle is to remember not to take anything too seriously. The furniture is a mélange of affordable items acquired from everywhere from IKEA to secondhand shops. A neon “hello” sign greets visitors and a sawed-off ladder allows people to peer out the high windows. And perhaps most importantly, a premium is placed on general comfort.

“Creativity doesn’t always work on the 9-5 schedule, so sometimes our hours are long,” says Bradbury. “It’s nice to have a place that is creative, but also relaxing when you need it to be. The couches are there for resting and taking a breather, and the kitchen and conference room are homey and inviting dining areas when we need them to be.” The philosophy is certainly consistent with the history of the building. “Firemen work long hours and odd shifts, and a firehall needs to be a comfortable home away from home for them,” she adds.

The studio’s generous open space is perhaps the most functional aspect of the interior design. The layout provides more than ample room for the designers to spread out and collaborate during design reviews. “Typically, more than one designer will work on any particular project throughout its life,” says Bradbury. “Several years ago I decided to build a team so I would have the benefit of continuous input from other creative minds. The open space assists us in our process.” The studio design works for the employees as well. “There’s room to move around and breathe,” says Associate Designer Karin Uusikorpi. “And since the windows are so high, the light is bright but not harsh.”

All this adds up to a space that evokes the elusive “wow” factor. “Everyone who comes in the door says ‘Wow, this is great,’” says Bradbury. “The fact that the building is a renovated heritage property also makes it a special place to work. It’s almost like a structural representation of Bradbury Branding and Design philosophy. As designers, we want to be open to all inspiration, whether it comes from the past, present or future. We certainly find that all here in one place.”