Renovation of Sunbrella's original 1800s mill into a contemporary workspace called Sunbrella HQ preserves company's history; sets path for future
Sunbrella has come home: Sunbrella Headquarters, a space to foster innovation and collaboration, debuted on Monday, May 20 inside the renovated plant where North Carolina-based Glen Raven, Inc. first operated 118 years ago and famously wove the first yard of Sunbrella fabric in 1961. The new interiors of the 19th-century building blend the storied textile history of parent company Glen Raven and its founders, the Gant family, with modern architecture, designed by the team of architects at New York City-based TsAO & McKOWN, to provide Sunbrella’s passionate employees and business partners with an inspiring place to create.
The original 1901 building was the first production facility wholly owned and built by Glen Raven. Over the years, spinning, weaving and finishing moved to newer state-of-the-art Glen Raven facilities, positioning the original space for future possibilities.
Growth continued, and by late 2014, leadership began to envision what was next for Sunbrella’s corporate office space. Then-CEO Allen E. Gant Jr. and Chief Operating Officer Leib Oehmig — who assumed the post of CEO when Gant Jr. retired and became chairman at Glen Raven, Inc. in 2017 — decided to stay on the current campus and celebrate the history and legacy of the brand. Thus, the idea for a new HQ was born.
“We needed more space, but, even more importantly, we needed a place for Sunbrella to call home,” said Glen Raven Custom Fabrics Director of Outdoor Market Allen Gant III, who led a six-person project team from Glen Raven for the renovation. “It was a great time in the Sunbrella growth life cycle to provide the brand with its own space, and there was no better place to call home than its birthplace.”
The modern workspace will drive the Sunbrella brand into the future with a design intended to spur creativity in employees and visitors alike.
“This building sets a new standard for the space and entrepreneurship that is needed to be effective in tomorrow’s workplace,” said Gant Jr. “The world is constantly changing, and if a company does not have the capacity to change along with it, it won’t be successful in the future. We have to have the ability to innovate. This building encourages us to do that.”
In the finished space, occupants and visitors experience the brand’s history through architectural details, such as 118-year-old pinewood floor planks embedded with metal ring travelers dating back to the early years of production, exposed structural beams and original brickwork. Juxtaposed to these historical elements are more modern features, including a glass curtain wall that floods the front of the building with natural light, an on-site coffee shop and a vertical garden that extends between the building’s two floors. Sunbrella fabrics were incorporated throughout the facility: on upholstered chairs in common seating areas, as roller shades, as dramatic custom drapery at the top of the grand staircase and on the chairs in the coffee shop.
Described by Gant III as a magnetic, infectious group of social engineers, the team at TsAO & McKOWN spent months understanding the company’s history and culture; interviewing employees to learn how they would use the space day to day; ideating on how to build a space that was both functional and inspirational for the myriad roles of the team members; and ensuring it would be relevant for generations to come.
“Our approach is to always ask the questions ‘why’ and ‘how’,” said Calvin Tsao, partner at TsAO & McKOWN. “Aside from the contextual — the location, the weather, the building’s relationship to its surroundings — we try to understand as much as we can about the space by looking back at the company’s heritage and looking forward by having conversations with the people who will be using it for years to come.”
These conversations ultimately led to the finished product of a mix of traditional office space and open common areas that promote productivity, collaboration and inspiration for the 120 corporate-based and visiting global associates, as well as the customers and shareholders who visit.
“The completed project captures our history through the building’s patina and our future through the thoughtful placement of Sunbrella textiles,” Oehmig said. “This isn’t just a brick building; it’s where it all started. And now it’s a place to create.”
Looking to the future, HQ will continue to house Sunbrella’s best asset – its people. The bright minds of every discipline will be energized and inspired by the building’s storied history and will continue to honor the brand’s legacy and ongoing commitment to being one of the leading performance brands on the market and the trusted choice for years to come.