Major Changes Hit Chicago’s Merchandise Mart
The Merchandise Mart, the world’s largest commercial building and hive of design activity in Chicago, has received praise for recent renovations to its Design Center and welcomed a handful of new showroom tenants (Knoll Luxe, Quadrille, Tufenkian Artisan Carpets, Bradley, Mamagreen, and Paul Ferrante).
The revamp—the Mart’s first major changes in 30-plus years—was considered essential for meeting the needs of today’s shelter industry, according to management company Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc. and sister company Vornado. A ceremony took place in February 2013 to unveil the new 14th and 15th showroom floors, as well as a consultation-conducive amenity center called Lounge 1447.
“The Merchandise Mart has been a hub for the architecture and design community for decades—not just for those practicing in the Midwest, but for professionals across the continent,” says Gary L. Lee, president of Gary Lee Partners and Atelier Gary Lee, who designed and executed the renovations. Lee’s own atelier resides within the building, and his “tenant” status made him particularly well suited to the task. “The Mart provides a central place for accessing resources and supporting the exchange of knowledge and ideas,” he says. “It is a place where people from all disciplines and specialties connect with vendors, manufacturers, designers, and peers. ”
The Mart’s 60-plus showrooms now occupy four floors (now on 6, 16, and the revamped 14 and 15), creating a more concentrated and streamlined experience for shoppers and buyers. Lee has moved his eponymous showroom, Atelier Gary Lee, from the 18th floor to the 14th floor. The modern improvements include new lighting as well as increased square footage for new and existing vendors.
In addition, Lounge 1447 is a fresh and designer-friendly concept, complete with meeting space, workstations, café and wine bar. This lounge is the new center of activity for the Mart’s “Designer-On-Call” program, which connects consumers with exclusive, to-the-industry items. “The addition of amenity space like Lounge 1447 is an example of the Mart’s commitment to improving and evolving to meet the needs of the design community,” Lee adds. “It’s the first of its kind in the nation, and aims to make a designer’s visit more enjoyable, productive, and social through its concierge services and elegantly designed conferencing facilities, café, and lounge.”
Designers have welcomed the changes with open arms. Showrooms are enthusiastic about presenting their wares within smart, new space, and visitors and tenants are buzzing about Lee’s work.