Text by Joanne M. Anderson
Photos by Kristie Lea Photography
The same thoughtful, forward-thinking, environmentally-sound best practices that go into every house design and renovation project were incorporated into the office expansion of Shelter Alternatives. The 26-year-old design-build firm, known for its one-of-a-kind houses that embrace energy efficiency, function and style, recently doubled its office space in downtown Blacksburg.
Retaining the character of the 1920s farmhouse that has housed their offices for a decade was paramount, along with improved energy efficiency and a balance between personal workspace and openness for collaboration, comfort and communication. “Besides being a beautiful, comfortable work space, the newly remodeled office is so much quieter than before,” says office manager Gregg Moneyhun. “Groovy touches like exposed siding, lathe, diagonal sheathing and the framed old Blacksburg Mercantile poster [found behind an old wall] mix well with the contemporary Solatube skylights, triple pane windows and lever door handles.” Designer Joe Bassett concurs: “The new office provides a well-lit, pleasant work space. It makes coming to work even more enjoyable than before.”
It’s part showcase as well, a place where clients can see the innovative quality that has propelled Shelter Alternatives to a regional leader in home design and construction. In January of this year, the company was awarded the 2016 Design Excellence Award from the New River Valley Homebuilders Association for this office expansion. It’s the firm’s ninth time receiving this coveted honor.
It is well-documented that productivity, quality of life and even sleep and physical activity are enhanced with exposure to natural light. Eight window configurations and five Solatube tubular skylights permit natural daylight to flow into hallways, work spaces and the new conference room, minimizing use of electric lights. Cellulose insulation was added between existing and new walls, and air-sealed ceilings were piled high with R-70 insulation. “I don’t miss wearing long johns while working at my desk or needing three light fixtures to see what I’m drawing,” quips designer Chris Hudson.
Hardwood floors from the original house were preserved, and hardwood continues throughout the addition. Original rosettes and wide trim around doorways are still in place with matching rosettes, custom crafted by owner and president Ed Tuchler himself, and trim in the new wing. Wood wainscoting at the entry is an attractive, eclectic blend of different woods in varying widths, much of it left over from job sites and used here, rather than wasted.
John Hile, estimator, shares his observations: “I think it allows us to serve clients better with improved meeting spaces. I also like that we improved the energy efficiency, generate some of our power and provide residential opportunities [second floor renovated apartment] within walking distance of campus and downtown.” Moneyhuns adds a client benefit as well: “ I like that prospective clients can walk in and see the luxury we build in homes, but this is a really practical space. Oh, and a favorite surprise has been the acoustics of the meeting room!” [He must be one of the musicians.]
Original exterior siding forms one inside wall, and diagonal wood sheathing discovered beneath siding is now exposed between two offices with a sliding, barn-style, wood door. Pass-throughs are common between offices, and the ergonomics of workspaces are given the same care and attention as the functionality of the building design. Employees have the option of standing up at their work stations on gel mats, and many do, including Tuchler. “The ability to shift from sitting to standing positions while working is much better than sitting in a chair for hours on end,” he comments. “The comfort and ergonomic fit of a workstation is important for the long term health of our team members.” In addition to kneeling chairs, drafting-style stools and desk chairs, most of the desks were built by our team, and many computers are mounted on variable height desk supports that can be raised for standing and lowered for sitting.”
Exterior Hardie board blends nearly seamlessly with the original clapboard, and the charming red metal roof speaks to the 1920s as well. Solar panels mounted on the roof wouldn’t have been seen back then, but neither, most likely, would the dramatically reduced energy use to illuminate and heat these spaces.
Above and beyond the new office space resides a corporate culture grounded in a spirit of cooperation, caring and community. For those who bike or walk to work, there’s a full bathroom and shower, and for the musically-inclined ~ which is not a job requirement ~ there are Friday jam sessions. A healthy corporate culture embraces teamwork to achieve the company’s mission and contributes positively to client impressions, quality and reputation. Shelter Alternatives embodies a commitment to excellence throughout the company that is inherent in its success.