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New division booked with wide range of projects.

JBHM finds niche in interior design

Several years ago, the powers that be at Johnson Bailey Henderson McNeel Architects noticed an interesting trend in corporate Mississippi: combined with the advent of technology and the move away from the traditional image, people were changing the way they did business.

So the award-winning Tupelo-based architectural firm, with offices in Jackson, Columbus and Southaven, added an interior design division that is booked with interiors projects well into 2002.

“There’s a need to change spaces for many reasons, most recently to accommodate new technology, and we saw the interior design division as a great opportunity,” said Wenbren J. Everhart, ASID, IIDA, of JBHM’s Jackson office.

Headed by JBHM partner Richard McNeel, AIA, the design division has one interior designer on staff in the Tupelo office, which primarily handles school projects, and two interior designers on staff in the Jackson office, which mainly caters to corporate work.

“We’ve had an interior designer on staff for several years, but we began aggressively expanding our services beyond design and construction two years ago, when architectural firms in general were experiencing a construction slowdown, and we’ve been very successful acquiring interiors projects,” McNeel said.

The interiors design division has been a perfect fit for the firm, McNeel said.

“The procurement of interior design solutions is vastly different in commercial versus residential,” he said. “I tell people it’s a right brain/left brain job. On one hand, you have to be very creative, but on another, there are a lot of problem-solving and engineering details to contend with. We bid packages for substantial discounts.”

Ironically, perhaps, more interior projects have come as a result of the recent economic slowdown, McNeel said.

“Some companies are growing in the number of employees, but have delayed adding more space because it increases overhead, or because additional space is not available at their current location, so they’re looking for ways to maximize space,” McNeel said. “Through systems furniture placement, for example, they can accommodate more workers. Also, many companies have moves or shuffles every year because of their corporate philosophy. We’ve seen a continuation in that market, such as combining divisions for better efficiency, which may mean moving employees from two areas to one, and that creates interiors projects.”

On the afternoon of a phone interview with the Mississippi Business Journal for this article, McNeel was busy handling details and coordinating schedules with contractors and representatives of McGlinchey Stafford, a law firm located in downtown Jackson that recently acquired more space on an adjacent floor. At the same time the firm wanted to unify the look with the main lobby and a stairway that connects the two floors, McGlinchey Stafford also wanted to change its image, McNeel said.

“We asked them if they wanted the button-down, old lawyer green and blue leather look and they told us emphatically ‘no’,” McNeel said. “They wanted a more transitional look, so we’re going with more contemporary woods, stone and granite material that’s still recognized as warm and traditional. We won’t go with heavy chrome mold or tufted chairs.”

The McGlinchey Stafford project is representative of the trend in professional firms subtly yet progressively changing from deeply rooted traditional imagery of the south, McNeel said.

“In the Deep South, people have been in the comfort zone of traditional imagery for a long time, but with international growth in Jackson, such as WorldCom and Nissan, I’ve seen a much more progressive, transitional approach,” he said. “People are traveling around the country and picking up on designs in other regions. For instance, computers have affected design so much in the last few years. I was in New York several weeks ago, and saw an exhibition on ‘work spheres’ in a museum that was dedicated to integrating technology into the workspace, and none of the furnishings were traditional. Change is happening slower in Mississippi, where we work with a palette of design ideas. There’s not one direction that will be universal to everyone here.”

Because the interiors industry is fashion-based, with origins in Europe, interior design clients — male and female — are taking note, McNeel said.

“Just as fashion styles change every year, so do the fabrics and textures,” he said. “Designers in carpet mills, wallcovering companies and paint companies pick up current trends in the fashion industry and make them available to the interior design business to use for our clients. At the same time, our clients are seeing it, too, and it’s interesting how this one big industry starts with fashion in Europe.”

In the last two decades, advanced technology has tremendously improved offerings in the carpet industry, McNeel said.

“Have you ever seen carpet that has a run in it like a hose? Clients get upset if they buy carpet that ends up looking like that fairly quickly,” he said. “Fibers available today are so much more resistant to stains, and wear and tear. For example, in the newsroom of The Clarion-Ledger, we used carpet tiles with very tight weaves so that if ink gets spilled on a tile, or if it gets really dirty, it can be swapped with a carpet tile, say, under a filing cabinet. You can’t do that with carpet that’s rolled and stretched.”

JBHM is assisting the Madison County Economic Development Authority with the interior design of the training building that MCEDA will provide for the new Nissan plant in Canton.

“Nissan doesn’t want the interior to be all high-tech and slick,” Everhart said. “They want an atmosphere that’s conducive to training, yet is comfortable and progressive-looking.”

Finishes, furnishings and artwork soften the “techie” look, Everhart said.

“Blending technology into the office decor is a common request,” she said.

Other interior projects in the mill at JBHM include the renovation of the pharmacy and maintenance building at the Mississippi State Hospital in Whitfield.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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