Natural Systems Design

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Interior Designer: Spiral Design Studios
Architect: Lush Architecture & Interiors
Location: Downtown Bellingham 
Photographer: Chris DiNottia

Background

Whether you live here or have just passed through, you’ve probably noticed the Blackburn building. Perched above the waterfront on W. Chestnut Street, it’s one of a handful of iconic downtown Bellingham landmarks, having been built as an American Legion around the turn of the 20th century. 
In 2019, Natural Systems Design, an environmental science and engineering firm, was looking for a new home base in Bellingham, and in a stroke of luck the Blackburn building came up for sale at just the right time. The folks at NSD jumped at the opportunity to locate their offices in the heart of downtown Bellingham, in a historic building bursting with character and charm.

 

The shared goal of everyone on the team was to restore the 100+ year old building, maintaining as much of its character and original detailing as possible.  The down-to-the-studs remodel took the better part of a year, but as you can see from the photos, the space manages to pay homage to its past, while also providing clean and modern workspaces that will help it stand the test of time.

Key elements of the transformation included removing the dropped ceilings; uncovering & refinishing the original wood flooring; rebuilding the beautiful, historic staircase; replacing all 50 (!) of the old single-pane windows; repairing the exterior brick; and so much more.

Design details

The design team re-imagined the space, creating an open office floor plan with individual and shared work areas featuring handmade workstations, welcoming seating alcoves, two kitchenettes and ample storage space.

  • The fir that was used for studs, headers and flooring 100 years ago is of a far superior quality to the finish-grade material currently available. So, during demo, the crew salvaged a trove of this material for re-use in the main entry desk, trim throughout the building, and even for one of the new structural posts.
  • In a nod to earlier times, Spiral Studios suggested adding an address stamp to the entry way tile flooring. These stamps were common in historic downtown Bellingham buildings – it’s one of our favorite details.
  • We pulled down the 70s drop ceilings from the main floor (which, for the record, were NEVER a good idea) to expose the original framing. As you can see from the images, the original framing remained exposed, lending both an industrial and historic feel to the space.
  • The flooring on the top level of the building is absolutely stunning, which isn’t an adjective I often use to describe flooring. Originally built as a ballroom, the floor is maple laid in a herringbone design – both beautiful and practical for holding up under so many dancing shoes over the years.
  • The staircase to was designed to mimic the original grand staircase which connected the main floor to the ballroom. Our crew restored the original fir stairs and built custom railings to complete the look.
  • In another nod to the history of the building, our crew meticulously worked around the exterior American Legion insignia and Blackburn sign while restoring the brick, paying homage to the building’s distant and more recent past.

Historic restorations of this scale don’t come up every day. Working on buildings like this one is both inspiring and humbling. It reminds us of the potential for buildings to both endure and to evolve, if only given the chance. 

“As an architect, what I really appreciate about Chuckanut Builders is that they are collaborators. They go beyond simply reading plans – they understand the big picture, the concept, the vision. Then they work with me and the client to exceed everyone’s expectations.” -Michael Smith, Architect

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