The commission for Serta International’s new Chicago-area corporate headquarters didn’t begin with a lengthy RFP process. It started when a Serta executive walked into another office in a commercial development in Hoffman Estates, Ill., and asked the receptionist: “Who designed your building?”
The answer was Andrew Metter, of the Chicago firm Epstein | Metter Studio. He worked with the mattress manufacturer to create a structure iconic enough to serve as a world headquarters but pragmatic enough to address the day-to-day needs of a major corporation. The building houses operations and sales staff, showrooms, and the R&D facility where the company’s products are created.
Located on a sloping wetlands site in the Prairie Stone Office Park near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, the Serta headquarters is a suitably Midwestern exercise in horizontality—along the historical lines of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright. The bulk of the building is an S-shaped, single-story, post-tensioned concrete volume that seems to float on its recessed base. “We wanted to play with the idea of sleep being a world apart,” Metter says. To that end, the lobby is reached by walking up a ramp. The south end of the building rests on piers to maintain the horizontal baseline where the site slopes sharply down to a water detention pond.
The building façade is demarcated by a projecting lip of concrete at the top and another at the base; both run the length of the structure. The area within these “brows” is glazed to allow maximum views out and daylight in. Interrupting the glass expanse are five projecting bays, which add texture to the façade and create additional space within the narrow floor plate for executive offices and conference rooms. The largest bay houses a training room and cantilevers out 14 feet from the building’s base.
A two-story steel-framed structure on the east side of the building houses the R&D facility. Metter opted for steel over concrete here because “we wanted to achieve the aesthetic affect, and there were very functional considerations about efficiency and layout,” he says. “We needed large spans across big distances and a large height and volume, and that can really only be achieved with steel in any kind of efficient way.” Clad in channel glass to obscure the industrial interior, the structure features a roof canopy that covers the sole second-story element on the main building—a cafeteria and sunshaded roof deck.
The main building’s interior is split into two zones—public and private—by a frosted glass interior wall along the eastern edge. Most enclosed spaces are ganged up along the wall, leaving the rest of the floor for open office space. And open it is—post-tensioned concrete beams allowed for 47-foot clear spans, limiting the number of columns in the space. The finishes show a hyper-attention to detail, with Metter designing some of the drawer hardware himself to maintain the minimalist aesthetic.
A walk through the building sees the enthusiastic client updating the architect on maintenance efforts—like power-washing the roof deck to return the sun-bleached ipe to its original reddish hue—and how the building systems are running. The receptionists know Metter by sight, too, which—if past precedent holds true—might just lead to another project.