SOM Redesigned Century-Old Chicago Firehouse into Optimo Hat Factory

Makers of handcrafted hats founded 25 years ago, Optimo, hired Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), one of the largest and most influential architecture and interior design firms, to redesign a century-old Chicago firehouse into Optimo Hat Factory. The total area of the building completed in 2018 is 722 m² (7,770 ft²).

The workshop on the first floor uses a palette of refined and understated materials, including blackened steel, walnut, and cork, to express a contemporary industrial aesthetic. Elegant steel casings frame task and ambient lighting above workstations; custom floor-to-ceiling shelving houses unique hat forms and molds; rolling racks allow hats to be organized and mobilized for seamless access on the factory floor; and both modern and antique machinery is finished uniformly in matte black. Walls of restored glazed brick wrap the daylight-filled, double-height space.

On the second floor, an expansive studio space serves as a design atelier for hosting clients and guests. An immense walnut table recalls the design of the Optimo factory workbenches on the first floor. Above, a handcrafted circular light fixture measuring 10 feet in diameter further anchors the room. Full-height steel shelves frame the east wall, where objects collected from decades of hatmaking are on display. Traces of historic details throughout evoke the building’s original purpose. Where fire poles once emerged from the floor, for example, porthole windows are now placed, offering views of the workshop below.

Adjacent to the atelier, a private office is delineated by open shelving designed in the same style as the industrial carts used on the production floor. Leather sofas, brass light fixtures, and dark walls create a comfortable ambience in the lounge area. Behind the south wall, a full-scale kitchen is finished with repurposed marble from the original firehouse.

— Skidmore, Owings & Merrill



Photographs by Tom Rossiter
Visit site Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)

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