All great design starts with problem-solving: In the case of Sunbrella’s new headquarters, the company was simply out of space for its growing brand. Parent company Glen Raven tapped TsAO & McKOWN, a New York City-based architecture firm recognized in both the Interior Design Hall of Fame and Architectural Digest AD100, to help seamlessly integrate the brand’s past with its future.
When it came to finding space in Burlington, N.C., Sunbrella Director of Retail & Consumer Products Allen Gant III, who spearheaded the project for his family’s business, knew where to look: across the street. A turn-of-the-20th-century mill across from current Glen Raven headquarters was the first production facility entirely owned and built by the family. (If the name sounds familiar, it’s because the Gant family invented pantyhose in 1958.)
The approach was nontraditional in that the firm called on employees for interviews, workshops and more, even before a contract was signed. Gant explains, “The future is just as important as the past, and this was a critical moment to inject energy, passion, and modern workplace design into the heart of Sunbrella’s business, giving our teams an awesome place to work and giving the Sunbrella brand a home to thrive and grow into over the next 140+ years!” Functionality was important, as was keeping the integrity of the original structure. The metal ring travelers—used to process yarn—were left embedded in the 118-year-old pinewood plank floors, and original structural columns still support the building. Glen Raven gave TsAO & McKOWN the room needed to explore, create and innovate, in turn helping Sunbrella employees do the same every day.
The result of the collaborative project? One-hundred thousand square feet of light-filled rooms; exposed brick, restored thanks to a neighboring mill made from the same bricks. There’s even stadium seating facing the glass curtain and a re-landscaped courtyard, as well as two internal gardens made possible by the influx of natural light to help employees find balance and work with focus. Everything upholstered is done in Sunbrella’s best-in-class performance fabrics, known for their resistance to fading, staining, mildew and everyday life.
There are the requisite coworking spaces, but done with intention. They feel more social than forced, which helps foster creativity and innovation. The design is intuitive and empathetic to what the modern worker needs, all with playful touches harking back to the brand’s DNA (think custom stools made from rolls of Sunbrella’s acrylic-polyester felt, roller shades and sweeping custom drapery panels). Gant notes, “There is no question that my favorite aspect of the project is the stunning moments where the original materials and natural patina shows through. The mix of materials from 1900 and 2020 creates an authentic and incredibly harmonious foundation for the design of the space. In a world where almost everything can be bought, you can’t walk 10 feet in this space without seeing a texture or a surface or an element that has weathered and changed over 120 years and that absolutely can’t be found or purchased anywhere else. It is uniquely our own and beautiful in its own way.” And this project has fostered a fruitful relationship for both sides: TsAO & McKOWN is working on a ground-up visitor’s center and footbridge to connect the three existing Glen Raven buildings into a campus. The modern take on the building might seem light-years away from the 100-plus-year-old mill and the 138-year-old parent company, but the building was reimagined for longevity, durability and sustainability—just like Sunbrella’s fabrics.