The Fig House; Before & After
Happy birthday, Fig House. Its been officially 1 year since we broke ground on this party/event venue in Highland Park. Writing down the process of this space in one post would be like writing cliffnotes of The Bible – its virtually impossible to really explain in detail how it went, plus my brain has blocked out a lot of it that had to do with inspection delays. To recap: about a year ago Steve Fortunato (founder/owner of RoomForty) asked me if I was interested in designing a venue called The Fig House in Highland Park. I said, snobbily, ‘nah, I don’t do clubs’ and he said, ‘I’ll buy you a coffee and convince you’. He seemed normalish via text and I do have a general philosophy of saying yes to risks, so I met with him and ordered the most expensive coffee they had. We chatted, he convinced me it would be good for my career, and he is probably right. Well, I ended up designing the space (with the help of Ginny and Dean), which took about 9 months to complete (mainly because of construction) and then 2 more months to shoot so I can finally show you the before/progress and the afters of The Fig House. This is a beast of a post, so y’all better listen up.
The Fig House is basically 4 different spaces – 1 large reception hall, 1 smaller brighter cocktail lounge that opens up to the courtyard, the courtyard which is called The Fort and the tasting room which is where RoomForty does all their tastings. I’m going to be documenting the process of each one separately, and so this one is the banquet/reception hall, otherwise known as ‘Big Fig’.
When I first viewed the space it looked like this terrifying yellow warehouse. The ceilings were low, there was only one weird light source (which faced a not so private street), and the flooring was covered in linoleum and layers oil and toxins and poison and dirt. I thought it was definitely a big job, but yeah, I had no idea exactly how big it was. That sounded like a weird voice-over for a design show that wants to you to tune back in after the commercial break. But you get what I mean – I was totally in over my head, but at the beginning I didnt’ realize how much.
Here’s the reverse view. I mean, it was massive, around 5, 000 square feet, empty and yet claustrophobic. The floor was this vintage linoleum in a turquoise color and it had a strong roller rink feel to it. Is this somewhere you want to get married? Nah, friends. This place was terrifying. My first instinct was to break it up with booths along the sides and create moveable brass shelving room dividers so it wasn’t so vacuous, but then I was told what the needs were for the space, which is really one big room that can house up to 300 people for dinner. So anything built-in wouldn’t work.
So first order of business … get rid of that claustrophobic ceiling … and hope whats under/above it isn’t garbage. So we tore it off. We were hoping for a less busy wood work situation underneath but still we were still happy with the fact that it was wood and not, you know, made out of styrofoam. You’ll also notice in this shot two dudes filling a river of cement. Well, unbeknownst to me (there was a lot unbeknownst to me) the plumbing had to totally be changed, updated, moved and reinstalled. So that sewer line had to move and then we had to refill it. This is the boring stuff that you spend all of your money on. I don’t want to disclose how much this project cost, but the decoration/furniture/lighting/accessories were literally only 1/20th of the budget. Most of it went to boring stuff like insulation and air conditioning.
You may also notice that The Fig House used to be two rooms (it was a bike shop in front and a bike mechanics in back) so we opened it up so the two rooms could connect. You can kinda see that in the back there – we demo’d out a wall and got rid of the disgusting little bathroom. Next we boarded up the windows. This was a tough decision and ultimately not mine. There was a really busy street out front there, and generally this space is for private events, and that wall would be the wall where, say, the speeches would be and the toasts, stage, etc, so having it be just a wall seemed like a good solution. Generally, though, I hate removing any natural light source. Thank god we ended up putting in 8 skylights instead – that way they can still have shoots/events during the day.
We wanted to add some millwork on the walls, something architectural around this huge space. Instead of doing the traditional rectangle pattern we decided to do these octagons because they are a bit more modern and edgy. So before we did the real drawings we drew it up on the wall, and then yeah, we found these stop signs at the site and just held them up for size/feel. Real pros over here. More on that later. Meanwhile we didn’t know that we were going to have to do this but we needed to totally sound proof this place. It’s probably the most boring tens of thousands of dollars you’ll ever spend. It required adding on a whole new structure on top the walls and then drywalling over it. So boring, it took such a long time and there is no pay off at all. We had to do it, but man I don’t think any of us were too excited about it. Its like having $200 for your outfit budget and buying $150 underwear no one will really see it except you, unless you are, you know a ‘fun girl’ and then maybe a lot of people will see it. But it’s just not where I want to spend my money – the sound proofing, not the underwear.
But finally, after a few weeks, we could re-dry wall. The thing about renovations is that if you didn’t have to deal with codes and inspections it would go so much faster. You need an inspector to pass off on every single step of the process and you can’t move forward until they do – the insulation inspection, then the electrical inspection and then the dry wall inspection and the nailing inspection and I don’t remember if we had to have the mudding inspected but basically if there are any delays with the inspection (which there ALWAYS are) then you have to wait to proceed which just puts the whole thing on hold. Its incredibly unsatisfying to not see progress week after week.
But alas. We mudded the drywall which means basically making the cracks between the drywall go away. This an extremely laborious and therefore expensive process, which is why people normally just spray on orange peel to cover all the imperfections. But it’s just not what we wanted. There were just days that it felt like we were going in reverse – that the space was becoming more and more destroyed with totally digression.
But then one day … progress happened. Once the drywall was finished (with all the proper electrical behind it), we could paint and add the millwork.
Then we primed and painted which was just a massive job which was thousands of dollars and took weeks. We did this room in Mere Green by Farrow and Ball and I LOVE it. Its so happy but sophisticated, moody yet gender neutral.
We applied the millwork which we put on top of the wall (stay tuned for that post) and I just LOVE how it turned out. Custom millwork is insanely expensive so we kinda just did our own thing which was a risk to do in a space that needs to look high-end, but honestly it looks super high-end and was totally inexpensive. Going rogue folks. Renovation, guerrilla style.
And lastly, once everything was done getting painted the sconces got installed. We used LampsPlus sconces which I love and dispersed them throughout the space. The chair rail by the way is a ledge that you can put candles or flowers on – or lean against when you are smashed. We did a custom depth (again with the guerilla style) and the size and scale of it really fit the space.
These are just terrible iphone photos, but after we finished hanging the art we saw the space finally being pulled together. As far as the finishes (my specialty) we had created a mood board and general design plan months ago that looked like this:
And so now it was time to make that happen.
But first, and here is the real dirty embarrassing stuff, we did a series of renderings throughout the process to help guide us in the right direction. For one reason or another things changed constantly – maybe it was because of budget, maybe it was because of changing needs or maybe it was because it just looked TERRIBLE once the idea was on paper, but either way these are the progression of the renderings. It’s just crazy to see where we came from and how it turned out. I mean this first rendering was HIDEOUS. The client was interested in having a rustic farmhouse feeling, and I tried to incorporate it in an elegant way, but it just wasn’t right in at all.
Here we showed how the other space was going to have a different feeling/color/design. But since the we exposed the ceiling beams and they were so heavy (just not very far apart) which is why we decided to paint them white. They also weren’t pretty wood, it looks kinda pretty in the rendering but it would have needed to be stained, anyway. We also played with the moulding having a brass detailing all over it – always a fun idea but might have felt a bit too glammy and would probably have been too expensive to pull off in a high-end way.
Here (below) it started looking better. We cladded the bar in copper in rendering one until we realized that there was absolutely no way we could afford that in the budget.
But we found some copper tile in the scallop shape that we toyed with using, but ultimately decided against it. We originally thought that the smaller room (with higher ceilings) would be the dining area (for wedding receptions, parties, etc) and the larger/darker area would be the lounge-y area, but then one day we realized this was the opposite of what it should be.
So we flipped it and it started making more sense. We also brought the stained glass pattern from the huge doors to behind the bar (without color in this shot) and toyed with putting deco mirrors in the main space as well as the back space. The tables were custom-made by a dude here and the chairs were ‘first year’ chairs meaning cheap and inoffensive but most people are renting/bringing in their own chairs when they have events. These could work if they needed and would be good outside for the ceremony. (They have since changed).
Back to art being on the walls which is more exciting and the bar detail is there. Its starting to come together.
Then looking back the other direction we were going to do more mirrors but then we realized that there were some electrical boxes on that wall that couldn’t be moved and no permanent mirrors could be placed over it. Lots of fun little surprises like that. This is when I started to not like the white chairs in there. They were just getting too much attention for $20 chairs.
It’s so funny that this room, which took the bulk of the budget and so much time, doesn’t really have a too dramatic before and after. Besides tearing down the ceiling and painting the space it doesn’t look like we did too much. But we did – it was all just behind the scenes stuff, under the cement stuff, behind the walls.
I love this room for a huge reception/dinner/dancing situation. Its right next to the lounge area which is my favorite and I can’t wait to show you. I’m going to do a whole separate post on that, but you can kinda see it in this shot. It’s a totally wonderful place full of color and light and just pure happiness. Not to say that I don’t like this larger darker room, I do, but I’m a furniture/decor girl and since its mainly a banquet hall and a high-end one, we weren’t going to do a ton of different tables. The dining chairs are just affordable chairs that we thought were a good solution for now because you can use them outside for ceremonies as well as inside, although many people just bring in and rent their own dining chairs. And since we needed 200 of them they needed to be affordable and these guys were $15 each.
This is really just a sneak peek into the money room. The room that makes me so happy every time I see it. It has Teresa’s Green on the walls from Farrow and Ball, by the way. That amazing stained glass is by Judson Studios.
The sconces to the right are from Lamps Plus and the blue photograph on the left is Max Wanger. Ryan Phillips and Mike Kelley did a killer job shooting it and I can’t wait to show you pics of the other side of the space. I’m just crazy for it.
So that’s ‘Big Fig’, stay tuned for the lounge area, bathrooms, The Tasting Room and the just finished (but not shot yet) courtyard. Its been such an insane project, friends, that we are super proud of. What do you think? For bookings (for anything – wedding, party, photo shoot, events, head over to The Fig House website