How does an established Cincinnati firm take a fresh look at where it does business?

Beckman Weil Shephardson LLC, Attorneys at Law, were outgrowing the space they occupied for the last 15 years. They had occupied the 12th floor in the Mercantile Building on Walnut Street (formally the Formica Building). It was time to either renew the lease or begin looking for a new home.

"Change is a hard decision for everyone to make," says Joseph Feldman, an attorney in the firm. He and his associates knew this much: they were staying downtown, parking was a concern, and more space was a necessity. So, last summer, their search began.

Twenty years ago, the American Book Building was renovated magnificently. The structure"”situated next door to the Taft Museum on Pike Street, across from Lytle Park"”met the law firm's requirements for a downtown location and sufficient space, and even offered inside parking for employees. The building originally was renovated for residential use, but the gamble on a hot condo market downtown was at least 10 years too early.

The building offers amenities that are difficult to find or duplicate elsewhere downtown. The property features a private courtyard, a magical escape in the middle of the city. The tree-shaded stone stairs and patios bordered by flowers have connecting walkways to the Taft Museum. There are books carved in stone on the exterior façade, and the grand staircase was built to stand forever. The lobby houses a collection of McGuffey Readers and framed artwork that take you back to the smell of chalk dust. Charts that parents and grandparents learned to copy in perfect cursive style are displayed in the lobby.

Steve Cook is the general contractor with Bedrock Construction and PDT Architects. They were hired to design and complete the project for Beckman Weil Shephardson. Work began last summer and was completed in early October.

A Design Committee was formed. Jennifer Anstaett, Laurie Lamb, and Peg Hilvert were instrumental in making choices. With 14 lawyers (an increase of four new associates within the last five years), the old offices did not fit the image of a growing firm. The fake wood paneling and 1980s wallpaper look would not follow them to their new home.

The design team sought a younger, energized, urban, metropolitan look. Immediately they thought of Bill Baum and Jim Moll's work with Urban Sites Properties in renovating downtown and Over-the-Rhine properties.

Every employee became involved in some aspect of the project. They re-thought how they worked and how they could work better. Everything from paper placement and  slots for envelopes to the organization of books and files were re-evaluated.

A general practice law firm, Beckman Weil Shephardson has grown into a Fortune 500 company, but the firm prides itself in offering distinctively personal attention. The Design Committee wanted this ambience reflected in everything from the artwork selection to the unique furnishings.

WARMTH REFLECTED IN DESIGN

As the elevator opens on the fourth floor lobby, the warmth of the law firm is reflected in vertical two-toned cranberry hues on the walls, matched with contemporary signage and lighting. One of the first things that strikes visitors is how the furnishings are so multifunctional. A circular table contains a second table-bench on wheels that can be pulled out for use as a side table or for seating. The soft curve of the sofa and comfortable look of the oversized chairs speak more to being home than in an intimidating serious business office environment.

A custom-made reception station consists of frosted glass, steel and wood. It provides a multi-purpose work station, but also is sleek and strikingly gorgeous in its use of multiple elements. The combination of frosted glass, steel and wood are echoed throughout the work stations and conference rooms, with great attention to detail.

The main board room features a contemporary credenza with brushed nickel hardware. Double lamps with brushed nickel and black shades reflect the black leather chairs. A wall of windows overlooks the private courtyard.

What is really changing in board rooms is not the furniture, but the way work is conducted.  A second conference room has become an essential meeting space for Beckman Weil Shephardson. Blue walls are the only traditional aspect of this conference room. Audio/video, conferencing and other technological elements are hidden.

A third conference rooms offers elegant, armless chairs in bright colors, a contrast to those dark, uncomfortable chairs so often found in conference rooms.

Throughout the individual offices at the law firm, interesting chairs and side tables abound. Other features include organized library shelves, and a company kitchen with stunning dining furniture and the latest in stainless steel appliances.

The actual move was a team effort, requiring employee cooperation and camaraderie. Phones and computers were disconnected on a Friday evening, then reconnected so the firm was open for business that Monday morning without a missed phone call or a worried client.