The interior design of law firms typically evokes images of heavy wood paneling, solid mahogany, or oak furniture and dark motifs that scream “conservative” or “traditional”—and for good reason. The current model for law-firm design has been around for nearly a century and is grounded in the notions that legal work is individual, and that the private office is a symbol of status and success, according to a study by Gensler.
But the legal field isn’t insulated from the new workplace paradigm that has emerged as a result of improved technology, evolving work methodologies, and a younger workforce unencumbered by old-school thinking and with vastly different expectations than its predecessors. So, what if the outdated law-firm prototype were flipped on its head to embrace the existing trend toward highly open, collaborative spaces while still respecting the often-sensitive nature of legal practice? What would it look like?
One notable example is the offices of Noonan Lance Boyer & Banach (NoonanLance) in downtown San Diego, designed by award-winning international design firm Ware Malcomb. NoonanLance’s new space combines the core needs of a law office with more progressive, creative workplace elements to create a unique environment that breaks from the industry standard.
“NoonanLance’s previous space in San Diego’s DiamondView Tower was characteristic of the traditional law office, with large private offices and conference rooms, monumental architectural elements and furniture, and few opportunities for employee interaction,” said Tiffany English, principal of Ware Malcomb’s San Diego offices. “With their lease expiring, NoonanLance seized the chance to find a new space that would allow them to shift away from this traditional design toward a more progressive and efficient office environment.”
To depart from the traditional law-office environment, NoonanLance sought a new site that provided a more creative feel. The 5,000-square-foot office occupies the top floor in a historic building in San Diego’s East Village, and the overall design highlights the classical nature of the structure by creating an industrial loft aesthetic. Previously used as a warehouse, the building’s open floorplan provided the perfect opportunity for a fresh design for NoonanLance’s office. Additionally, “the project provided a great opportunity to reuse features and materials of the existing warehouse space, since they aligned with the aesthetic sought by the client,” English explained.
The existing brick walls, and wood floors and ceilings, were restored and left exposed, while hanging pendant lights, exposed ductwork, and skylights complete the look. Throughout the space, earth-tone finishes complement the brick and wood, while a vivid blue accent on select furniture and millwork livens the space and acknowledges San Diego’s beach city image.
NoonanLance also wanted an open and collaborative workspace to inspire creativity and engagement while providing an inviting and comfortable environment for clients. To achieve this, the design team focused on reducing visual and physical barriers to foster employee interaction. Central administrative staff workstations utilize low partitions to encourage verbal communication and provide unobstructed lines of sight across the space. Private working areas were still a necessary part of the design due to the need for confidential client meetings, so these offices are located along the perimeter and feature glass walls to maintain a visual connection. The break area provides informal gathering space, offering employees a place to gather for impromptu meetings and interactions.
“The resulting environment is relaxed, inviting, and less imposing than a typical corporate law office,” English observed.
1. Pendant Lighting
The SoCo Pendant, featuring customizable sockets and cords, is used in open workstation areas and adds to the industrial look of the space.
Wilsonart was chosen for the shelving in the lounge area which coordinates with millwork for a unified appearance.
3. Lounge Chair
The entry and reception area features the mid-century-inspired Stryde Lounge Chair, designed by Michael Wolk, lending a clean, modern feel to the space.
Millwork in the lounge areas was surfaced with durable, yet affordable, plastic laminate from Lab Designs.
5. LED lighting
The open office circulation areas feature Gotham’s 4-inch Incito Cylinder light, which offers dynamic control of light levels that can minimize glare and increase visual comfort.
Dark, high-pressure laminates used on workstations provide durability and achieve a strong, yet clean, aesthetic.
Pressed laminated glass from 3Form was specified for the workstations to add a touch of privacy, and pops of color and pattern.
8. Task Chair
The Torsa Task Chair was chosen for the open office workstations for its exceptional flexibility, comfort, and styling.
9. Desk System
Private offices utilize the STAKS Desk system, which includes eclectic textures and patterns, and scales flexibly to individual needs.
The OPM4 lens-free luminaire seen throughout private offices, conference rooms, and break areas eliminates internal luminaire connections, resulting in continuous illumination for an unbroken line of light aesthetic.
Neutral paint colors from Sherwin-Williams on walls allow the existing brick and wood preserved in the historic building to stand out, while its Frazee brand was used on millwork.
Work rooms also include laminates
in lighter tones that counterbalance darker workstations and millwork throughout the space.
13. Conference Chair
Conference rooms are outfitted with the Sleek Swivel Chair, which features a molded plywood seat and a polished chrome tube frame back.
14. Bar Table
First Office’s Intermix Bar Table was also selected for the project’s break area to encourage collaboration and connectivity.
Photography by studio MAHA