New life in old walls - shabby workshop becomes charming office

Before: a run-down workshop and laundry. Now: a modern office packed with charm. FOJAB has helped real estate company Hamiltone Fastigheter breathe new life into a run-down industrial building in Markaryd. 

Staff were in tears when CEO Elijah Hamilton presented his idea to transform the dilapidated shack into the company's new headquarters.

Architect Anders Lundin at FOJAB, however, was enthusiastic.

- We saw the potential straight away. This could be a fantastic space with a unique feel. It was also in line with how we want to work at FOJAB: to avoid demolition and instead use and develop existing structures and turn them to their advantage.

The starting point was an industrial property of 22,000 square meters at the entrance to Markaryd in Småland. A large paved area with a few different warehouse and workshop buildings previously used by the Swedish Road Administration.

- The building was awful, both inside and out. Dark and cramped," says Elijah Hamilton.

However, the ambition of the architect and property owner was to make as few interventions as possible and keep the workshop feeling.

The surface layers have been replaced, the roof and floor have been additionally insulated, and geothermal heating and solar cells have been installed. The large doors of the laundry room have been converted to glass panels and the existing windows have been cut down to full height.

The old laundry room has been transformed into a modern co-working environment with both open spaces and rooms where you can close yourself off. In the center of the building, in what used to be the workshop, there is a large social room with a wood-burning stove, a sofa group and a large table where everyone can sit. Like a living room, but in office clothes.

The building's history is clearly present. Many details remain, such as an old traverse in the ceiling, a large electrical cabinet, a desk and a typewriter. The office furnishings from the previous office have been retained, while the social areas, meeting rooms, entrance and other open spaces have been furnished with second-hand furniture.

- The decor is locally rooted with an earthy color and material palette inspired by the Småland forest nearby. The large dining table is made from an oak tree that grew not far from the site. Some of the furniture is locally produced from a furniture manufacturer with a factory in Markaryd, says Kristin Henriksson, architect at FOJAB who has been responsible for the interior design.

Hamiltone Fastigheter moved in in January and two more companies are renting space. But there is room for more, and curiosity about the redevelopment is high.

- We've created something that didn't exist before in this location or even in this neighborhood. It will take some time to build the brand around the building, but we hope to recoup the investment once the office is fully leased," says Elijah Hamilton.

What is the deal for those who want to transform rather than build new?

- The business idea is to take something old that nobody wants and turn it into something that many more people want and are willing to pay for. In this case, we had low entry values that made it possible to cover the costs. Of course, it's more work to transform an existing building than to demolish and build a new one, but in return you get an environment that is completely unique," says Hamilton:

- We have an office that is highly appreciated by our employees, but also by our visitors, customers and partners. These are values that need to be included in the calculation, even if you may not initially calculate them.

The demand for transforming buildings will only increase, says Hamilton. Energy consumption is a big issue for tenants. It is more difficult to rent out premises in the older stock that has not been updated with energy-efficient measures.

- "Property owners with energy-hungry buildings will either have to sell to someone who can convert them, or do it themselves," he says.

There are certainly property owners who can shrug off the extra work and costs of renovation and transformation, Elijah Hamilton believes, especially if they cannot immediately see the potential.

- "Property owners are generally not very visionary," he says. They manage rather than change. But I would really encourage other property owners to get help from someone who can!

- "There are probably a lot of properties that the owners don't think are worth anything, but which can become unique places that people are prepared to pay a lot for. As architects, we have a trained eye and a special competence to see the possibilities," says Anders Lundin at FOJAB.