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A United Effort

February 9, 2016

Later this summer the United Way of the Midlands is going to be moving into their brand new space at 1818 Blanding Street in Columbia.  Over the past few years, the United Way had begun to outgrow their existing space in an older office building in downtown Columbia.  This growth and the desire to build on their mission of “uniting people and resources to improve the quality of life in the Midlands” by providing much-needed community meeting space prompted this decision to move. The renovation of 1818 Blanding Street provides UMW with personalized yet well-connected department areas, multiple conference rooms and collaboration spaces, and training areas that will be open to the public. 

A big part of what we do is developing and distributing community resources," said Joey Wallace, VP for Marketing and Communications at United Way of the Midlands. "We recognized that we had an opportunity to make our meeting space a community asset, and McWaters helped us realize that vision."  

The project has been a labor of love for the team at McWaters, especially for Whitney McMakin, the interior designer from McWaters.  As the completion date gets closer, she reminisces about the work she's done over the past two years. 

Design is all about the challenges

When I say challenge, I don't mean it as a negative.

The architectural firm 1x1 Design and project managers LCK were hired by UMW to take on many design challenges with the renovation of multiple existing buildings. Two challenges were varying floor heights and poor lighting. This new space is actually three Flex office spaceseparate buildings that had to be joined to make one cohesive space. When the project started the floors in the three buildings were all different heights. So the first challenge was to get the floors level and install carpet, which was one of the services McWaters provided. It was probably the biggest height difference our flooring department ever dealt with. When I say challenge, I don't mean it as a negative. The raised flooring system we installed actually ended up being a positive addition, because it meant when Anna, the lead interior designer from 1x1 Design, and I were thinking about space we weren't confined by power at all. No matter where we wanted to put a collaboration space or a work station, I knew we'd be able to run power under the floor to make that area work the way we needed it work. It helped us be more flexible with the space. 

Let there be light

The next challenge was the poor lighting in the three completely different buildings. Each building had its own characteristics that presented obstacles to designing good lighting. Windows on the perimeter allowed for some good natural light, but the high ceilings and exposed trusses in the center building limited the amount of general lighting that could be provided. From the very beginning LCK, the project manager on this project, helped us work with 1x1 Design to have individual Symmetry Float desk lamps as a non-negotiable line item in the budget. Then we specified work surfaces with a white finish that would help reflect the light from the lamps and windows to really brighten up the space.

Engaging employees

We wanted to let each department customize their work areas, but also have them all be cohesive across the space.

As a designer, one of my favorite things to do is really engage with my clients. We invited all the United Way employees to come into our Customer Experience Center to test out different types of work stations and tell us which ones they preferred in their areas. community impact office spaceWe also sat with each department to get a better idea of how they used their space, because IT is going to have very different needs than Community Engagement, right? A great example is the Resource Development department. We knew they were going to need to be able to host people in their space for one-on-one meetings. They also needed a lot of storage. Our solution was to provide them with Turnstone mobile file cabinets with cushion tops that can used as both guest seating and storage.

Each department has their own collaboration space that is tailored to their needs. For example, Community Impact has a Turnstone Campfire Big Table, which is great for laying out program accounting workstationsinformation, but can also be used for impromptu meetings or an alternative workspace. In this same department, we’ve created open project rooms. The furniture in these areas dictates the space. Steelcase Post and Beam frames out one area that uses Coalesse Topo lounges and Turnstone Alight Ottomans, while JSI Connect lounge, a curved sofa within integrated stand up surface along the back, creates a subtle meeting alcove without the use of walls. In other departments, collaboration spaces are more secluded providing privacy for internal meetings without using larger conference spaces. One such space is the flex office. It’s created using Steelcase Privacy Walls and is designed to be used for visiting board members and internal employees. Using Steelcase Elective Elements desking system, we were able to create a complementary office that can function as a meeting space with the addition of ERG Samba chairs with Designtex fabric and a small Steelcase meeting table. 

A big culture shiftfish bowl open meeting room

This project shifted United Way away from traditional private offices and workstations toward more open workstations--it was definitely a big culture shift for them. We're seeing that trend starts to take hold across all industries. That's because companies are starting to place more value on collaboration, flexible workspaces, and using their space strategically. Instead of working your way up to the corner office with the big, walnut desk, and the door you can shut whenever you want, you might find yourself sitting at one big table with an intern on one side of you and the VP of the company on the other. I personally love it, but it can take a little getting used to for most clients.

The move

I love all my projects, but I've been working on this one for almost two years, so to see it all come together is just amazing. There was so much that went in to this project, it touched almost all of our service lines, and we worked with so many great partners like 1x1 Design and LCK. It's going to be such a wonderful new home for United Way and our community in general. 

Our Relocation Service team will be relocating the United Way to their new space later this summer. Stay tuned for part two of this series when we share pictures, insights from the move, and employee reactions. 



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