2023 Commercial Design Award: Siol StudiosAuthor:Anh-Minh Le
When the commercial space you’ve been tasked with designing is described as a “creative ecosystem,” the standard workplace trappings just won’t do. For Sonya Yu’s studio and agency, Four One Nine, Síol Studios’ cofounder Jessica Weigley and partner Robo Gerson conceived a versatile environment that could serve various functions—from art display to product development to digital content production—in a former warehouse in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood. According to Weigley and Gerson, the architecture firm’s guiding design principles were durability, flexibility and light.
The once “dingy” venue—as Gerson puts it— benefited from coats of Benjamin Moore Super White paint, plus the introduction of six skylight windows that beckon natural light (which blackout shades allow for manipulation of). On the ground floor, Four One Nine occupies approximately 4,500 square feet, most notably an open, cavernous space that is now column- free after Síol installed a 50-foot steel truss. Since this level is available to a broad audience, including large groups—special events and art shows are common occurrences—the floors are sturdy concrete and the furniture was selected for its ease of reconfiguration.
A focal point of Síol’s transformation is the steel-and-concrete staircase that leads to the 1,000-square-foot second floor, where Yu’s office and a bathroom are located. “The furnishings are a little softer and more delicate,” says Weigley, noting that Yu’s art and art books reside here. (She commissioned artist Dave Muller for the vibrant murals in the downstairs bathroom.) Gerson adds that the upstairs is characterized by “an intentional monochromatic gesture. All the cabinets, the floors and the stairs are white oak—for a nice, warm feel.”
The white oak stairs offer access to a rooftop deck and garden that was created from scratch. Previously, the roof was, well, just a roof. A retractable shade not only provides a shield on sunny days, but since “it’s San Francisco and it gets a little chilly, they also use it to keep in as much residual warmth as they can,” says Gerson. Concrete pavers, cedar planks and a living wall by Habitat Horticulture serve as the backdrop for Dedon’s Brixx sectional, along with Christian Woo’s Cluster tables in custom colors by Síol.
Reflecting on the project, Gerson is keen to highlight that “a lot of the movement in the building is the result of collaborations with artisans and consultants.” There’s the dramatic staircase, which was developed with Concreteworks and Henry DeFauw; the latter, a steel fabricator, enlisted woodworker Michael Mellon for the handrail. The steel truss in the open space was a “complicated collaboration” with structural engineer Strandberg Engineering. In addition to Habitat Horticulture, the rooftop features a garden design by Symbios Ecotecture.
The majority of Síol’s clients are residential rather than commercial, which means the firm often has “very explicit, narrowly defined parameters,” says Gerson. But an emphasis on versatility “made this [project] fun and created new challenges. You had to think about and anticipate problems.” With the second floor exhibiting a high-end residential sensibility, furnishings-wise—like Raphael Navot’s curved Moon sofa atop Seraina Lareida’s plush Sottoportico wool rug—Weigley referred to Four One Nine as “a sweet spot for commercial. This one really gave us time to develop the concept and also it was very personal for the client.”