You might already know we’re big advocates of preserving old buildings whenever possible, but did you know we renovated our own building? This space was a dive when we bought it, but we undertook the challenge for a couple of reasons: We wanted to invest in the City of St. Louis by purchasing our own building here, and a comprehensive renovation could show off all of our services, including architecture, interior design, tax credit research, and construction management.

Our first home was in Maplewood. As the firm expanded from one to twelve employees in a short two years, it wasn’t long before SPACE was bursting at the seams. After outgrowing our original office, half the staff spilled across Sutton Avenue into another storefront, an office we dubbed The Annex. Our leases were coming due, and despite looking at a soul-sucking recession on the horizon, we decided to be bold (or crazy — you decide) and buy anyway.

4168 Manchester is a former tape factory, and one that had been vacant for over ten years when we bought it. This was a good news/bad news situation: we picked it up for a song, but we had to invest a lot of money to bring it back to life. Thanks to a combination of the Missouri Historic Tax Credit, federal historic tax credits and Brownfields Tax Incentives, we were able to undertake such an ambitious renovation.

It was grisly. The entire building had to be gutted, and an exterior brick wall was collapsing. Ever the optimists, we saw this as an opportunity to create a space that could serve as an office, but also a venue for community events and gallery openings. SPACE Constructors was taking on more fabrication jobs, and this new building provided ample space for a 1,000 square foot workshop. Perhaps the most ambitious component of the renovation was the energy system. Since we’re advocates of eco-friendly design, we engineered a one-of-a-kind environmentally-friendly heating and cooling system that utilizes cooling fins, solar thermal panels and geothermal wells in the parking lot. Inside, we preserved as much of the original visible structure as possible, including the wood ceiling and steel support beams. The large kitchen serves as a cheerful breakroom during the week, but it also provides a spacious area for entertaining guests for special events. In addition to the obligatory men’s and women’s bathrooms, we also included a large bathroom with a shower for staffers who bike or run to work.

After the four-month renovation, we were ready to show off our new home at our annual Cinco de Mayo party in May of 2010. We’re glad we undertook such an ambitious move for a number of reasons — many of which were outlined earlier — but with regard to our clients, the renovation process has helped us be better stewards when our clients are suffering through a major renovation. Since we did it ourselves, we can offer insight and advice in a way some other firms cannot. Pictures are worth a thousand words, so here are before and after images of the space. (And a bonus picture of a snake we found during demo who arose zombie-style from the dead. Then had babies. You’re welcome. )