After 10 months of agonizing, searching, and meeting, meeting, meeting, the Washington Design Center showrooms finally seem to be coalescing around a new permanent location, smack in the middle of downtown DC.
Welcome to Franklin Court at 1099 14th St. NW, where the Washington Design Center will have its own entrance on L Street. Move-in is slated for March, 2014:
While a handful of showrooms are leaning toward space in Georgetown, the majority of those I spoke with today indicated they are going to 14th Street. Cassidy Turley, the real estate broker working on behalf of the showrooms, issued a letter of intent to the building management Friday night, unanimously approved by the WDC steering committee that’s been leading the new property search since the Museum of the Bible purchased the current building last July.
The letter outlines what showrooms will receive in return for signing a long-term lease; showrooms have been asked to indicate their intent as to whether or not they want to move by next Tuesday, and then sign leases by the end of June.
“It’s a new beginning—I think it’s a wonderful shot in the arm,” said Ann Lambeth, co-owner of J. Lambeth & Co. and a member of the steering committee. With the new CityCenterDC going up a few blocks away, and the thriving 14th Street design district just a stroll in the other direction, she said, “We’re the apex of that L. This really is the new design district. It’s the happening part of town.”
That’s welcome news for everyone at the Southwest location, which hides behind a jungle of government-agency buildings.
“Federal Center Southwest was always out of context,” said steering committee member Kevin Fusting, co-owner of Galleria Carpets. Franklin Court “is a beautiful space, it’s a glamorous building, and you’re downtown! It’s exciting!”
Eleanor McKay, co-owner of Niermann Weeks, whose president, Justin Binnix, is on the steering committee, echoed that sentiment: “I’m so excited to be going into a building in a decent neighborhood,” she said.
The neighborhood, in return, is excited to have them as an addition to the mix of business, arts and culture that already populate the city’s core. The advent of CityCenterDC, with its huge mix of condos, restaurants and retail will “for the first time in decades really make downtown a retail destination,” said Rick Reinhard, deputy executive director of the Downtown DC Business Improvement District. Between that and the 14th-Street design corridor, he added, the Washington Design Center at Franklin Court “really links them very well.”
To that end, he said, “We have volunteered our services to assit with marketing the design center.”
The letter of intent specifies that the new design center space will occupy the building’s entire second, third and fourth floors, and additional space on the first floor will also become available. Just as at the current WDC, showrooms will have glass storefronts, and they will also have access to the building’s Plaza level for product display and events, just as they do in the current WDC lobby.
But unlike the current cramped and windowless WDC, showrooms will be able to use Franklin Court’s huge atrium, lower lobby and—wait for it—rooftop terrace!—for events at no additional charge. And the second-floor spaces, Lambeth told me, have floor-to-ceiling windows.
Visitors to the new design center will continue to mingle with federal employees who are headed to other parts of the building’s 11 stories, but the letter of intent makes it clear that even if a showroom leaves one of the floors designated for the WDC, that space will only be offered to “like tenants” in the design trade, but NOT to “large retailers of home furnishings” who would compete with the trade-only business model.
Although showrooms will remain largely to-the-trade, meaning you have to be a designer or architect to purchase directly from them, Lambeth told me that the new location will be a big positive because it will give new visibility and access to everyone. “There are tremendous possibilities for being more accessible and open and available,” she said, “so people are more aware of what’s going on.”
But as I mentioned earlier, not everyone is on board. The Georgetown Business Improvement District is still fighting to get at least five WDC showrooms (plus some New York companies who would be new to DC) to move to 1025 Thomas Jefferson Street, on the corner of K Street.
Holly Hunt is leaning in that direction, and Poliform|sagartstudio also indicated they would go there if they had to decide right away (their current lease is not up for several years). A call to Baker’s WDC showroom number went to a voice mail at the Georgetown retail store, so I’m guessing they’re going to stay put in that single location.
Indeed, for all the high-end fashion, beauty, and home-design chains, M Street could easily be called DC’s Rodeo Drive or Michigan Avenue, so it would make sense for any luxury showroom to move nearby.
Ultimately, according to some documents that were shown to me, the steering committee decided Georgetown wouldn’t work for the majority of showrooms because (among other things):
a) there aren’t enough rentable square feet to fit everyone;
b) the property doesn’t have any freight elevators;
c) nearby parking lots tend to fill up early in the day; and
d) many showrooms want to stay together for purposes of synergy and for the convenience of designers who want one-stop shopping.
So for those of you who want to plan your design-shopping itineraries for next year, here’s my survey of where showrooms expect to be going. (Keep in mind that no one has signed any leases, so this list could change. I will update this post most likely at the end of June, which is when the brokers are asking showrooms to have signed leases in.)
Brown Jordan at AmericanEye (outdoor furniture)
Art Gallery at the Washington Design Center. (Owner Joe Hakimi will also open a location near Georgetown Cupcake in Georgetown, thus covering all his bases)
Duralee (fabric, wallpaper, furniture)
Edward Ferrell + Lewis Mittman (furniture)
J. Lambeth & Co. (includes the Fabricut showroom)
Galleria Carpets & Rugs
Hines & Co. (furniture, fabric, wallpaper)
Kravet/Lee Jofa/Brunschwig & Fils (fabric, wallpaper, furniture)
Michael-Cleary (furniture, fabric, wallpaper)
Niermann Weeks (furniture, fabric, wallpaper)
Osborne & Little (fabric)
Pindler & Pindler (fabric)
The Rist Corporation (includes the Zoffany fabric showroom, carries wallpaper as well)
Robert Allen (fabric, wallpaper)
Scalamandre (fabric, wallpaper)
Stark Carpet—they expect “to be with the crowd,” but have not committed 100-percent
Holly Hunt—leaning that way (furniture, fabric, wallpaper)
Poliform|sagartstudio—looking at various locations (furniture, closet systems, kitchens)
Charles Ray & Associates, Inc. —not going to 14th Street OR Georgetown, but looking to keep a presence in DC (furniture, fabric)
Cowtan & Tout (fabric, wallpaper)
Donghia (furniture, fabric, wallpaper)
Farrow & Ball (paint, wallpaper)
Holland & Sherry (fabric)
J. Asher Carpet Couture
Patterson, Flynn & Martin (rugs, carpets)
Schumacher (fabric, wallpaper)
The only ones I couldn’t reach were Henredon and an individual to speak on behalf of Baker, so I will update this post when I hear back.
Many people praised the persistent efforts of steering committee members Lisa Kravet, Ann Lambeth and Kevin Fusting to keep showroom reps informed and on track. Having worked at the design center, I understand what a gargantuan task that probably was. I’m just pleased that we’re getting close to a point where we’ll have an answer to the contant questions that have been pouring in ever since it went public that the building at 300 D St. SW will one day house a Bible museum.
So, NO — designers won’t have to go to New York or Chicago to do their shopping. And they will soon be able to take their high-end clients to a bustling city neighborhood where the dining options extend beyond Potbelly’s and Starbucks—great news all around.