A New Home for the Washington Design Center?

After 10 months of agonizing, searching, and meeting, meeting, meeting, the Washington Design Center showrooms finally seem to be coalescing around a new permanent location, smack in the middle of downtown DC.

Welcome to Franklin Court at 1099 14th St. NW, where the Washington Design Center will have its own entrance on L Street. Move-in is slated for March, 2014:

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While a handful of showrooms are leaning toward space in Georgetown, the majority of those I spoke with today indicated they are going to 14th Street. Cassidy Turley, the real estate broker working on behalf of the showrooms, issued a letter of intent to the building management Friday night, unanimously approved by the WDC steering committee that’s been leading the new property search since the Museum of the Bible purchased the current building last July.

The letter outlines what showrooms will receive in return for signing a long-term lease; showrooms have been asked to indicate their intent as to whether or not they want to move by next Tuesday, and then sign leases by the end of June.

“It’s a new beginning—I think it’s a wonderful shot in the arm,” said Ann Lambeth, co-owner of J. Lambeth & Co. and a member of the steering committee. With the new CityCenterDC going up a few blocks away, and the thriving 14th Street design district just a stroll in the other direction, she said, “We’re the apex of that L. This really is the new design district. It’s the happening part of town.”

That’s welcome news for everyone at the Southwest location, which hides behind a jungle of government-agency buildings.

The sad green awning hasn't been replaced in at least 20 years for lack of budget; and those flag poles  haven't seen flags on them in years for the same reason.

The sad green awning hasn’t been replaced in at least 20 years for lack of money; and those flag poles haven’t seen flags on them in years for the same reason.

“Federal Center Southwest was always out of context,” said steering committee member Kevin Fusting, co-owner of Galleria Carpets. Franklin Court “is a beautiful space, it’s a glamorous building, and you’re downtown! It’s exciting!”

Eleanor McKay, co-owner of Niermann Weeks, whose president, Justin Binnix, is on the steering committee, echoed that sentiment: “I’m so excited to be going into a building in a decent neighborhood,” she said.

The neighborhood, in return, is excited to have them as an addition to the mix of business, arts and culture that already populate the city’s core. The advent of CityCenterDC, with its huge mix of condos, restaurants and retail will “for the first time in decades really make downtown a retail destination,” said Rick Reinhard, deputy executive director of the Downtown DC Business Improvement District. Between that and the 14th-Street design corridor, he added, the Washington Design Center at Franklin Court “really links them very well.”

To that end, he said, “We have volunteered our services to assit with marketing the design center.”

The letter of intent specifies that the new design center space will occupy the building’s entire second, third and fourth floors, and additional space on the first floor will also become available. Just as at the current WDC, showrooms will have glass storefronts, and they will also have access to the building’s Plaza level for product display and events, just as they do in the current WDC lobby.

But unlike the current cramped and windowless WDC, showrooms will be able to use Franklin Court’s huge atrium, lower lobby and—wait for it—rooftop terrace!—for events at no additional charge. And the second-floor spaces, Lambeth told me, have floor-to-ceiling windows.

Visitors to the new design center will continue to mingle with federal employees who are headed to other parts of the building’s 11 stories, but the letter of intent makes it clear that even if a showroom leaves one of the floors designated for the WDC, that space will only be offered to “like tenants” in the design trade, but NOT to “large retailers of home furnishings” who would compete with the trade-only business model.

Although showrooms will remain largely to-the-trade, meaning you have to be a designer or architect to purchase directly from them, Lambeth told me that the new location will be a big positive because it will give new visibility and access to everyone. “There are tremendous possibilities for being more accessible and open and available,” she said, “so people are more aware of what’s going on.”

But as I mentioned earlier, not everyone is on board. The Georgetown Business Improvement District is still fighting to get at least five WDC showrooms (plus some New York companies who would be new to DC) to move to 1025 Thomas Jefferson Street, on the corner of K Street.

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Holly Hunt is leaning in that direction, and Poliform|sagartstudio also indicated they would go there if they had to decide right away (their current lease is not up for several years). A call to Baker’s WDC showroom number went to a voice mail at the Georgetown retail store, so I’m guessing they’re going to stay put in that single location.

Indeed, for all the high-end fashion, beauty, and home-design chains, M Street could easily be called DC’s Rodeo Drive or Michigan Avenue, so it would make sense for any luxury showroom to move nearby.

Ultimately, according to some documents that were shown to me, the steering committee decided Georgetown wouldn’t work for the majority of showrooms because (among other things):

a) there aren’t enough rentable square feet to fit everyone;

b) the property doesn’t have any freight elevators;

c) nearby parking lots tend to fill up early in the day; and

d) many showrooms want to stay together for purposes of synergy and for the convenience of designers who want one-stop shopping.

So for those of you who want to plan your design-shopping itineraries for next year, here’s my survey of where showrooms expect to be going. (Keep in mind that no one has signed any leases, so this list could change. I will update this post most likely at the end of June, which is when the brokers are asking showrooms to have signed leases in.)

 

14th Street: 

AmericanEye (furniture)

Brown Jordan at AmericanEye (outdoor furniture)

Art Gallery at the Washington Design Center. (Owner Joe Hakimi will also open a location near Georgetown Cupcake in Georgetown, thus covering all his bases)

Century Furniture

Duralee (fabric, wallpaper, furniture)

Edward Ferrell + Lewis Mittman (furniture)

J. Lambeth & Co. (includes the Fabricut showroom)

Galleria Carpets & Rugs

Hines & Co. (furniture, fabric, wallpaper)

Kravet/Lee Jofa/Brunschwig & Fils (fabric, wallpaper, furniture)

Michael-Cleary (furniture, fabric, wallpaper)

Niermann Weeks (furniture, fabric, wallpaper)

Osborne & Little (fabric)

Pindler & Pindler (fabric)

The Rist Corporation (includes the Zoffany fabric showroom, carries wallpaper as well)

Robert Allen (fabric, wallpaper)

Scalamandre (fabric, wallpaper)

Stark Carpet—they expect “to be with the crowd,” but have not committed 100-percent

 

 

GEORGETOWN 

Holly Hunt—leaning that way (furniture, fabric, wallpaper)

Poliform|sagartstudio—looking at various locations  (furniture, closet systems, kitchens)

 

UNDECIDED

Arc|Com Fabrics

Charles Ray & Associates, Inc. —not going to 14th Street OR Georgetown, but looking to keep a presence in DC (furniture, fabric)

Cowtan & Tout (fabric, wallpaper)

Donghia (furniture, fabric, wallpaper)

Farrow & Ball (paint, wallpaper)

Holland & Sherry (fabric)

J. Asher Carpet Couture

Patterson, Flynn & Martin (rugs, carpets)

Schumacher (fabric, wallpaper)

 

The only ones I couldn’t reach were Henredon and an individual to speak on behalf of Baker, so I will update this post when I hear back.

Many people praised the persistent efforts of steering committee members Lisa Kravet, Ann Lambeth and Kevin Fusting to keep showroom reps informed and on track. Having worked at the design center, I understand what a gargantuan task that probably was. I’m just pleased that we’re getting close to a point where we’ll have an answer to the contant questions that have been pouring in ever since it went public that the building at 300 D St. SW will one day house a Bible museum.

So, NO — designers won’t have to go to New York or Chicago to do their shopping. And they will soon be able to take their high-end clients to a bustling city neighborhood where the dining options extend beyond Potbelly’s and Starbucks—great news all around.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Barbara Sibona says:

    I am looking forward to the new DC design center. Being new to this area and having had New York as my previous design base, I am pleased to hear that transportation and parking will not be an issue. Clients who wish to visit the showrooms do not want to be run all over town. Not only is their time important, but so is mine. Getting around in New York to the many and scattered showroom locations, was a chore which often took a whole day. This often caused me to confine my business to a few well chosen manufactures, in one location. I truly hope that those manufactures and vendors who are still sitting on the fence, see the advantages of being in one beautiful location with like businesses. I can’t wait for spring!

  2. What great news! My design office is less than a block away from this new location. I lobbied hard for this. Georgetown is really a couture and tourist destination. I dread having to go there. There is nowhere to park. Besides the new location having a parking garage, there are many garages in the area, due to the concentration of hotels and office buildings around it. For Metro riders, there is a Metro stop only a half block away. Parking at the current facility has always been challenging.

  3. Barbara Potter says:

    Hello Jennifer,
    We just read your post and question to Heather. She was referring to Scalamandre’s Third Floor on the Scalamandre website. It’s where they dump the old designs and where they sell Stark. It has nothing to do with the DC Design Center. Personally I don’t care if the center is on 14th Street or in Georgetown because our clients are more interested in the bones of the project and rely on our firm (we have offices in DC, Baltimore and a small office in Manhattan). The bigger concern should be the shrinking of customers wanting to use designers, not exactly the location of the showroom space. I find that the DC Design Center is lacking in sufficient space to house and display the brands properly, so hopefully the upcoming move with help to revitalize the mid-atlantic. Have you been to Atlanta, Florida, Dallas or Los Angeles lately? The design centers there have undergone very similar issues. For the most part, the showrooms have consolidated and what is left is a mere shell of past glory days. New York has become the center in which the showrooms update their spaces and show their designs to the best, most opportune advantage.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Heather, have you ever been to the current DC Design Center? Well, when you walk in there, you are also walking into a federal building. FEMA, the Small Business Administration, and the Dept. of Homeland Security are just a few of the tenants there. So I’m not quite sure what your talking about regarding security in the new building? I also don’t understand your reference to Scalamandre. It’s on the 7th floor, not the 3rd Floor, but it is right next to Stark. At any rate, have a great trip to NYC.

  5. Heather Pollard says:

    Georgetown would be the far better option for the higher end makers – say, Stark, Colefax and Donghia.
    Who really wants to go to 14th St. Not me and certainly not my clients and customers who have expressed concern about being in a Federal building due to security and privacy concerns.
    My customers are people who want privacy and security. Eventually a Pottery Barn or ZGallerie or similar will go into the 14th street space because there has been such a reduction in companies and concentration of brands.

    Scalamandre Third Floor is selling Stark overstocks.
    What’s next? Schumacher selling last season’s Zoffany?

    It really doesn’t matter to me because I can call the showroom in New York or make the trek with my clients. They would much rather be in New York anyway.

  6. Gary Inman says:

    thanks for the update Jennifer, this is great news!

  7. Art on The 7th Floor
    Art on The 7th Floor was one of our many outreach exhibits. It’s my favorite project I’ve put together. I received a phone call from the manager of the Washington Design Center, Duncan Gilkey and was invited to visit the Washington Design Center in May. Duncan asked me to put an art exhibit in one of their spaces. I have a reputation for taking over empty spaces and installing temporary art exhibits around Washington, DC. Little did I know this would be a 45,000 co-op gallery and instead of lasting one month, it lasted 3 and a half years. They offered me two spaces that were 4,000 & 5,000 square feet on the 7th floor. It was all office furniture but everyone had moved out. They left 45,000 square feet of empty space and I said I would take all of it and turn it into an art fair for two months, September & October, which gave me all summer long to pull it together.
    I contacted artists and art dealers in the Washington, DC area. Some of the artists came from the Torpedo Factory. I also invited artists and dealers from NYC and Richmond. We opened in September at the same time the Design Center had their opening of fall fabric and furniture. We sold directly to architects, interior designers and to the public. We allowed any non-profit to have a fundraiser, lecture, graduation, and we even allowed theater performances at no charge. One special fundraiser we had was for children with Aids in memory of Jeff Bender given by the Bender family. The Washington Design Center loved Art on the 7th Floor so much they wanted me to move to Chicago and create it there. I decided not to move to Chicago but they went on to create an art fair called Art Chicago which brings in thousands of people every year. This project gave me the confidence to put together a larger project called The Millennium Arts Center. I will always be grateful to Duncan Gilkey, the tenants at the Washington Design Center and the management of the Merchandise Mart.

Trackbacks

  1. […] empties out so the owners can start transforming it into a Bible museum. (See my previous posts here and here on the saga.) Most of the showrooms will be moving to Franklin Court at 1099 14th St. […]