With offices scattered from California all the way to China, Kaye Scholer has become one of the top litigation firms in the world. Headquartered on Park Avenue in New York since 1958, the company earned the title as the longest, continuously occupying, commercial office tenant in the city, which ultimately sparked its decision to relocate to a new space. After careful consideration, one of the world’s top design and architectural firms was enlisted, helping create a fresh, new home base for the company using a range of porcelain tile and stone.

“Kaye Scholer had been in one place and built their business there for many, many years,” explained Linda Jacobs, studio director and senior associate at Gensler in New York, NY. “The existing location hadn’t kept up with the evolution of their firm, which is really progressive and interesting. Existing facilities had been ‘stuck in time’ for a long time.

“When they initially approached us, we studied other locations,” Jacobs went on to say. “We were looking for modern office buildings where they could express the goals in other ways they hadn’t been previously able to.”

After extensive research, Jacobs and her team selected 250 West 55th Street, a three-year-old contemporary structure with LEED Gold certification. Encompassing an open floor plan with no columns and floor-to-ceiling windows that allow for infinite natural light, the building is steps away from Columbus Circle and Central Park, serving as a pristine location.

Aside from creating a modern environment, the design team was also tasked with crafting a more collaborative environment for employees and clients alike. “It’s a law firm so they had requirements for closed spaces, meeting rooms and client spaces, however, the main goal was to have the new premise show the spirit of their organization,” said Jacobs. “Some characteristics of the building that appealed to them were the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, 10-foot-high ceilings, a special floor where we were able to get in the cafeteria and a coffee bar which has even higher ceilings that are 12 feet. It was a really tremendous change from their previous environments which were dark, small and enclosed.”

Uniting all of the elements

The layout of the headquarters incorporates two main floors of amenity space and 11 additional floors above, which are dedicated to attorney offices and meeting rooms, according to Jacobs. “The use of stone and tile material was mostly focused on the amenity floors, the third and fourth floors,” she said. “The reception area is on the fourth floor. We considered how to stack the floors, but because there is a terrace on the lower floor, that’s where we decided to place the main gathering areas, which also has extra ceiling height.

“After doing many different studies, we also introduced large interconnecting stairs to further open up the visual connection and allow these two floors to work as a team,” Jacobs went on to say. “We decided to put the cafeteria on the lower floor because it would be great to have access to open windows.”

Bringing a vision to life

For the majority of the project, a marble-inspired porcelain tile from Atlas Concorde’s Marvel collection was utilized. Embracing a glossy sheen with subtle gray veining throughout, the “Calacatta Extra” tiles were employed for all flooring in the reception area, conference center, cafeteria and elevator lobbies.

“We selected this tile for the floor because we wanted to be able to link together both floors,” explained Jacobs. “We wanted to link the two floors together with a beautiful hard surface flooring that we could run monolithically. The Calacatta material provided a durable product with a beautiful aesthetic, suitable for high traffic, and also very attractive from an economic standpoint.”

Jacobs described how any material could’ve been used for the flooring, from terrazzo to natural stone, because a depression of six inches was created. “We [ultimately]chose the floor tile because it’s thin and could go into both installations equally well,” she said. “For example, we could start on the floor without depression and transition into the bottom floor with no transition. You can’t do that with all materials.

“One of the objectives of this space was to have your eye move through the spaces and bounce around from material to material,” Jacobs went on to say. “That’s partially the reason why the tile was installed in an ashlar pattern. The linear quality brought your eye from open space to natural light.”

The stairs, which are a stark contrast to the stone-inspired tile floors, are the only natural facets of the new office. “We used natural granite slabs because we preferred to see the full thickness of the stone,” said Jacobs. “We don’t think tile is as appropriate in that situation. We had to detail it in a different way, so by introducing this natural material in a different color, we were able to link the two together, but also use the specified materials for their inherent natural properties.”

While stone-inspired looks were used for most of the new space, the feature wall near the reception area was created using Glass Fiber Reinforced Gypsum (GFRG), a composite of high-strength alpha gypsum with glass fibers, which can be factory molded into virtually any shape or size. Similar to a traditional plaster casting, this wavy, 3D-like material, supplied by Formglas Products Ltd., adds a contemporary vibe to one of the main areas.

“All materials were meant to embody openness, light, reflection, collaboration, interest and modernity — streamlined modernism,” explained Jacobs. “By using Calacatta on the floor, a high-gloss lacquer on the wall in the cafeteria, finished wood with high-gloss and a dark finish in the elevator lobby, they all complement each other and are not in conflict.”

The finished product

The new headquarters, which was completed two years ago, took a little less than two years to create, between the design and installation. Along the way, Jacobs encountered some minor issues, since the building was renovated and not new construction, which were solved with the help of the structural engineer. “Because we were really trying to maximize ceiling heights, a lot of coordination of above ceiling surfaces was required so we could really keep them high,” she explained. “Also, we introduced the large interconnecting stairs, so there were some technical aspects of designing stairs in the corner of the building. There was cutting and opening in the corner, so we worked closely with the structural engineer to properly support the building, not just the stair.

“Whenever you introduce a large, interconnecting stair in a large opening, you always have challenges,” Jacobs added. “But, being the stair was positioned in the corner, we had some interesting structural challenges to overcome.”

Despite the minor structural challenges, Kaye Scholer’s new headquarters was finished in a timely manner. “The construction went very smoothly, considering the amount of complementary materials we were installing,” said Jacobs. “We had a really successful result with the plaster, and also a really good outcome with the shiny matte ceiling which was tricky to coordinate.”

Throughout the entire process, Gensler worked around the clock to ensure the product scheming throughout the space was seemingly natural, from incorporating all mechanical functions in one sleek strip along the ceiling to framing the coffeebar in the cafeteria with a perforated metal installation. “We really like to help a client envision a space holistically,” said Jacobs. “We work pretty tirelessly in the background to help achieve it so when we do it well, it looks effortless.”

Aside from local awards, the office has received international praise, including the Commercial Grand Prize at this year’s edition of the Ceramics of Italy Tile Competition, sponsored by Confindustria Ceramica and the Italian Trade Commission.

“We feel very fortunate that we’ve been recognized for the effort,” said Jacobs. “We really liked collaborating with this client and are pleased they’re enjoying the space so much. One of the goals of the new cafeteria was to make everyone feel welcome — attorneys, staff and support — and when we go over to the building at lunch time sometimes, we see it’s working exactly how they wanted it to. Everyone is enjoying the space. It helps them bring their work to the next level for their clients.”  

Kaye Scholer Headquarters
New York, NY

Architect: Gensler, New York, NY

Installer: Port Morris Tile & Marble Corp., Bronx, NY

Tile Supplier: Atlas Concorde S.p.A., Modena, Emilia-Romagna, Italy (Marvel collection in “Calacatta Extra”); Formglas Products Ltd., Toronto, Ontario, Canada (wavy plaster tile on reception wall)

Stone Supplier: Nemo Tile Co. Inc., New York, NY (granite slabs for stairs)