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The Ideal and the Real: Firm’s Youthful Principal Blends Artistry and Utility


By Jill M. Speegle

Creating a space that enhances communication while providing visual appeal is key when it comes to designing commercial interiors, says Solomon Cordell Buenz director of interiors and associate principal Sheyla Conforte.

At 32, Conforte is the youngest principal in the Chicago-based architecture firm and offers “a fresh perspective and creative energy to her work,” according to the firm.

 Sheyla Conforte
 Sheyla Conforte

In a recent conversation with D+D, Conforte shared her take on emerging trends in color and design for commercial spaces, as well as a glimpse into a couple of recent projects in her portfolio.

Where to begin…

Conforte says leadership and guidance throughout the process helps to create a space that will withstand the test of time (and the client’s lease term) and please the client. Her firm offers clients a “visioning session,” where style preferences, image goals and color direction are explored and discussed.

The client’s image or brand is often used as a starting point to develop the color palette for the space, she says.

“The use of the company brand can reinforce the team environment and carry a strong message to employees,” she says.

It is also important to consider the company’s key leadership’s likes and dislikes when arriving at a design.

“Color preference is subjective,” she says.

If client preference, branding and overall project goals are met, Conforte says she can call her design a success.

Trending now…

The most common colors currently used in businesses, hotels and retail spaces are “stone” shades (taupes, French browns, driftwood and milk), she says.

 Walsh Construction headquarters

 All photos courtesy of Solomon Cordell Buenz

The interior design of the Walsh Group project related to the warehouse/industrial style of the exterior and features an open-loft approach.

“These ‘stone’ colors are fully-saturated neutrals, with less beige and more khaki,” Conforte says. “They tend to be richer and deeper tans and taupes.”

She says architectural materials and accents that accompany the “stone” shades tend to be colors like “dusty blues” and “burnt olives.”

Colors of the natural world (earth and sky) are calming, and offer elements of heritage, she adds. Conforte indicates that these colors are often used in commercial environments because they create a sense of “order” and “tend to be uplifting.”

It’s not all about warm and neutral, though. Accent colors often pack a profound punch in these tranquil environments.

“These accents can be changed during the course of the lease,” she notes.

 Walsh Construction headquarters
The Walsh Construction headquarters project design included earth tones relating to the structure with its branding graphics throughout.

When considering an accent color, Conforte says she tends to steer clear of “colors that may create a sense of chaos and stress, such as bright orange and reds.”

The bottom line—it’s all about “creating spaces that enhance communication and visual interest.”

Portfolio highlights

Argentine-born Conforte began as an intern at SCB in 2005 and in only seven years is leading the firm’s interiors group. She credits her success to an “innate professionalism and to her business background in account management.”

 Walsh Construction headquarters
The Walsh project features an atrium stair connecting all the floors.

In addition to doubling the size of her department during her tenure, Conforte can count as major projects United Airlines’ London Heathrow Airport lounge, Walsh Construction headquarters and the Zuckerman Investment Group’s headquarters.

A few details of the Walsh and Zuckerman projects are discussed below.

D+D: Please describe these two projects in general?

Conforte: Walsh Group’s goals were to create an open collaborative space and casual professional image. One key part of the project was to stay on target with our LEED strategy.

 Zuckerman Investment Group headquarters
The Zuckerman Investment Group headquarters features a warm-neutral palette, accented by richer grey tones. The overall effect is one of quiet sophistication.

Zuckerman Investment Group’s (ZIG) goal was to create a quietly sophisticated space that spoke to the high level of service and quality that it provides to its clients. With the ZIG project we needed to create a classic, sophisticated space with a limited budget.

How did you meet the clients’ requests through the design?

Conforte: For Walsh, we designed open-plan workspaces, atrium stairs connecting all the floors, plenty of access to natural light and an environment that provided a strong sense of community.

At ZIG, SCB created a strong brand identity at the entry, which announced the quality of the interior environment through the use of rich eucalyptus wood and limestone.

Can you tell us about your design inspiration for these projects?

Conforte: For Walsh, the building was an old brick warehouse and we converted it into corporate offices. The style related strongly to this warehouse/industrial style and an open-loft approach.

For ZIG, we knew that artwork would play an important part in the overall design of the space. We created a tranquil, neutral environment in which to display the bold, sophisticated pieces that are a part of the client’s collection.

How does the color palette selected play a role the projects?

Conforte: The Walsh project features earth tones relating to the structure with its branding graphics throughout.

For the ZIG project, the client chose a warm-neutral palette, accented by richer gray tones. The overall effect is one of quiet sophistication.

Were there any particularly challenging aspects with either of these projects?

Conforte: Walsh’s challenge was to gain the highest LEED rating within a stringent budget. We developed a list of priorities for the client to help us understand how to spend the dollars.

More information: SCB.


Jill M. Speegle

Jill Speegle is the Editor of Durability + Design News. She earned her B.A. in journalism and English as well as her J.D. from the University of Arkansas. In Sketches, Jill shares her thoughts on a number of topics that may be of interest to the D+D community, including architecture, interior design, green building, historic restoration, and whatever else catches her radar.



Tagged categories: Architecture; Color; Design; Green building; Interior design; Restoration; Color + Design; Color selection; Color trends; Commercial Buildings

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