The Wilkhahn forum revitalises Surry Hills with a modern sophisticated palette

It’s been over one year since the new Wilkhahn showroom opened in Wentworth Avenue, Surry Hills. What was once an industrial warehouse has been creatively converted into an attention-grabbing street presence inspiring passers by to enter, and positioning the Wilkhahn brand in a more contemporary light. In fact, since opening, the Wilkhahn forum has revitalised Surry Hills, attracting new galleries and showrooms into the area, and become the first Australian retail project to be WELL Certified™ Gold*.

For BVN, the incredibly talented team behind the Wilkhahn forum’s design, this is highly gratifying indeed. Because designing the Wilkhahn forum was about much more than helping to sell a product.

“The showroom reflects Wilkhahn’s evolution from a supplier of contract, designer-specified office furniture to a product with a broader audience. The space both debuts furniture and strengthens Wilkhahn’s role in knitting together, nurturing and educating the design community,” Sally Campbell, Senior Practice Director, BVN, says.

Wilkhahn is the only European manufacturer with a factory in Australia, so it’s fitting that BVN’s design translates Wilkhahn’s deeply held brand values, including authenticity and a history of craftsmanship, and evokes a clear image of a dynamically evolving business.

To play up the character of the original building, BVN stripped the entire room back to minimalist simplicity, exposing a five metre high, light-filled ceiling. This created an honest and confident space reflecting Wilkhahn’s no-nonsense, design-oriented brand. And it’s BVN’s creative use of that space that is truly innovative.

An elegant promenade draws customers from the street entrance up a dramatic ‘path’, created by a series of oversized images showcasing Wilkhahn’s products throughout history. The ‘path’ ends at the back of the showroom where a projection screen displays films and images for talks and events. This is clearly the social end of the space where ‘creative magic’ happens, as it adjoins a large square stone bar, which as Sally says, “is a symbol of Wilkhahn’s history of providing great hospitality and is sure to be the heart of every party. It will most definitely contribute to many years of co-creation, entertainment and inspiration within this creative community.”

In fact, the hospitality bar, along with floor to ceiling drapery and a steel-framed greenhouse thoughtfully divide the showroom into easily manageable volumes. “It was never our intention to build walls to the ceiling that would obscure the architecture. So the design deliberately places elements in the space to create rooms, which create additional rooms in the negative space surrounding them,” Sally continues.

The material palette reflects the minimalist tendency of the space – predominantly raw concrete and brick. BVN wanted the finish to be modern and sophisticated, connecting to the Wilkhahn brand, yet not look out of place in the envelope of a converted warehouse.

The ethos of Wilkhahn is to treat its products in an authentic, refined way, and the use of Grigio Medio terrazzo on the benchtops in the bar area reflects this. When it came to the hospitality bar design, the monolithic nature of terrazzo perfectly represented Wilkhahn’s brand – refined and minimal, yet strong and impactful. The centralised bar design, held its own. “The terrazzo was perfect for the space, providing an anchor piece that grounded the overall display floor for Wilkhahn to display its product. Conscious not to detract from their products’ beauty, the simple nature of the terrazzo was a perfect synergy,” Sally comments.

Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of this space is the abundance of light. It is particularly important in this space, which is long and narrow and has an opening on one side.

In fact, flooding the space with natural light through the clerestory window facing Wentworth Avenue was critical to Wilkhahn achieving WELL Certified™ Gold. Issued by the International WELL Building Institute pbc™’s WELL Certified™ – Pilot Program, WELL Certification explores how design can be optimised to advance human health and well being. For Wilkhahn, achieving WELL Certified™ Gold reflected the value it places on creating healthy environments and holistic workplaces – not only in its products but also in the company’s culture.

An abundance of greenery was also important to achieving WELL Certified™ Gold, as well as conveying additional warmth and texture to the space. So, Wilkhahn partnered with The Plant Society, an organisation whose core value is reducing human pollution and providing natural solutions to indoor spaces – a simply perfect collaboration. Beautiful large trees and dense plantings fill the central atrium greenhouse space and potted plants are scattered throughout the forum. Large flexible forum spaces, sit to stand desks, as well as differing zones of dynamic, loud quiet and retreat for employees are additional WELL Certification features.

The design of Wilkhahn forum has left no stone unturned. Not surprisingly it received a Silver Award in the 2018 Sydney Design Awards in the Interior Design – Flagships & Showrooms category. And there is no doubt that the forum will continue to play a strong role in Surry Hills, inspiring passers by and the design community for many years to come.

Architect and interior deign: BVN

Product: Grigio Medio Terrazzo, honed finish

Builder: Buildcorp

Planting: The Plant Society

Photographer: Brett Boardman

* Footnote: International WELL Building Institute™ is a trademark used with permission from the International WELL Building Institute.