Merchandise Mart on the Move

Design described as "fifty shades of gray"

Nicole Crews, September 17, 2012

An architecturalAn architectural rendering of the south side of the 15th fl oor of the Merchandise Mart showcases what interior designer Gary Lee describes as a “dark, dramatic, smoky corridor that focuses on the showrooms and recedes so it doesn’t detract from the furniture.”
CHICAGO - The merchandise mart, the world's largest commercial building and fine design Mecca, has unveiled renderings and floor plans of the newly dedicated casual space within the design center.
     The new corridor of floor 15 as well as the designer lounge and corridor on the 14th floor are being designed by acclaimed interior and architectural firm Gary Lee Partners.
     The designs pay homage to the Mart's classic Art Deco architecture while looking forward with a modern sensibility. "The lighting is dramatic and very smoky and gray," said Gary Lee, president of the firm, of the corridor. "The idea is to place the emphasis on the individual tenant and let the halls be minimal. The look is born of ombre with gradations of gray and it creates a beautiful shopping experience."
     The move and renovation represent a strengthened commitment to the casual industry, according to Mart executives who have also announced record leasing as 20-plus casual showrooms re-signed their leases - seven past the ICFA contract that expires in 2017.

Gary Lee
Gary Lee, president of Gary Lee Partners, describes the design scheme for the new fl oors as “Fifty Shades of Gray.” Lee, who started the fi rm in 1993 after earning an illustrious reputation and numerous awards for his interior and product designs, has groomed his team of architects and designers for more than a decade. “The strength of the work — our legacy — is that we see the smallest detail as representative of the entire project. And we keep working until it is a seamless, elegant whole,” he said. A rich portfolio of projects has earned Lee accolades and awards that include the prestigious Interiors Designer of the Year and membership in the highly selective Interior Design Hall of Fame.
The Merchandise Mart’s Lounge Entrance as envisioned by Gary Lee Partners. “This is by no means a fi nal rendering,” Lee said, “but you can rest assured that the future designer lounge will be chic and modern and a great place to regroup, meet clients and take a break.”
The Merchandise

     "This is a great opportunity for the industry," said John Brennen, executive VP of MMPI. "We are consolidating three half floors to a floor and a half and they will have a signature look designed to specifically showcase the furniture."
     Brennen says this relocation will create an easier shopping experience for buyers at the annual International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market and the designers that shop the Merchandise Mart Design Center on a daily basis. In addition, the move will allow an additional 10% growth of the industry in 2013. "You'll be seeing a new look for the industry," Brennen said, "clean lines and uniform storefronts on the 15th floor."
     In total, the Merchandise Mart completed negotiations and signed contracts for more than 60 residential home furnishings and casual furnishings tenants that will be relocating from floors 15, 16, 17 and 18 into new spaces. Many will be relocated to a newly-renovated 14th floor, which will exclusively house Design Center tenants, previously occupied by gift industry leaseholders. The 15th floor will be dedicated to casual/outdoor tenants.

The 6th fl oor of the Merchandise MartThe 6th fl oor of the Merchandise Mart
The 14th fl oor of the Merchandise MartThe 14th fl oor of the Merchandise Mart
The 15th fl oor of the Merchandise MartThe 15th fl oor of the Merchandise Mart
The 16th fl oor of the Merchandise MartThe 16th fl oor of the Merchandise Mart

     "MMPI's parent company, Vornado, has invested significant funding and resources to move and build out completely new spaces for the relocated casual tenants," Brennen said. "These record-breaking leasing efforts and lease extensions past 2017 represent an industry-wide commitment to the Merchandise Mart and reaffirmation that the Mart is the business hub of the casual furnishings industry."

     The relocation of the casual industry is part of the larger reconfiguration of the Design Center at The Merchandise Mart into four floors - Floors 6, 14, 15 and 16. More than 115 showrooms, representing 2,500 of the finest product lines, will span these floors, featuring the best in luxury home furnishings, outdoor furnishings, rugs, lighting, fabric, accessories, art and more.

     Casual showrooms currently reside on floors 15, 16 and 17. The casual showrooms will remain a part of the Design Center and the reconfiguration will provide a more concentrated, easily navigable showcase of the top brands in casual furnishing design by dedicating two floors to its premium outdoor furnishings tenants.
     "We eagerly look forward to our industry consolidating our Mart showrooms on the 15th and 16th floors, which will provide more traffic on fewer floors, and serve our customers more comfortably," said Bob Gaylord, president of Agio International.
     "For years, Pride Family Brands has been committed to maintaining a major presence within the Mart and are excited about the renewed focus that is being given to our category with the redesign of the showroom floors," said Steve Lowsky, president of Pride Family Brands. "With the relocation, Pride will hold a prominent position on the newly designed 15th floor and offer our buyers an 11,000-sq.-ft. space with expanded features for showcasing our products."
     The relocation will begin following the 2012 International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market, Sept. 20-23. The moves and renovation are expected to be completed before the end of the year.

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