TheNorthern Light’s new building draws on maritime influences

Published on Thu, Aug 3, 2006 by Tara Nelson

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The Northern Light’s new building draws on maritime influences

By Tara Nelson

How do you incorporate colors of lush Pacific Coast forests and marine views while simultaneously paying tribute to the look of the Northwest canneries and Blaine’s turn-of-the-century theme?

That was the question put forth by The Northern Light owners Pat Grubb and Louise Mugar last July when they set out to create a new 7,000-square foot office space at 225 Marine Drive in Blaine. To accomplish that goal, they hired Zervas Group’s architect Mike Smith, builder Jim Strengholt of Strengholt Construction and local Blaine resident and interior designer Tiiu Kuuskmann.

Architectural design
Smith, whose firm designed the Port of Bellingham’s neighboring building on Marine Drive, said his main challenge was to design a structure that would complement the functionality of nearby maritime buildings and adhere to Blaine’s turn-of-the-century theme while maintaining a modern and comfortable work environment for the newspaper’s staff.

Smith said he set about this goal through designing the interior to be as open as possible and the exterior to have the look and feel of an early 1900s fish cannery with a modern emphasis.

To do this, Smith used a combination of wood and metal siding with blue, grey and white colors that are consistent with a nautical feel. A traditional, simple shed roof employs straight lines and clean angles representative of a web locker.

Inside, large galvanized steel ventilation systems, electrical conduits and sprinkler systems, as well as wooden and cast iron support beams are all exposed, lending a functional feel that is consistent with the maritime work environment.

“All surfaces are exposed and readily apparent as to their function,” he said.

Vaulted ceilings employ the exposed particle board of structurally-insulated panels, which Smith adds are “superior from a structural and environmental standpoint.”

The cross-bracing of the building’s centralized support beams also allows for more flexibility with interior layout.

“Traditional support schemes require rigid walls, which have limited flexibility,” he said. “With this layout, there are no interior structure bearing walls so we can accommodate any kind of floor plan.”

He added that the building’s rigid structure is also suited to its location on waterfront soil, which tends to have a high clay content. Smith said he accomplished this by using eight-inch concrete slabs in the foundations as opposed to the more conventional, thinner layers of concrete that tend to crack. The building’s stable foundation also serves as part of an earthquake bracing system, he said.

“Structurally, waterfront buildings are always sensitive to lateral shifting. Buildings like this can subside quite a bit, which is why this building is designed like a raft.”

Strengholt, whose recent projects include the Blaine school district’s administration building, agreed.

He added that recent federal building regulations require stringent measures to protect a building’s integrity in the event of an earthquake. Those added measures, such as several thousand steel bolts and heavy brackets, increased project costs significantly.

“It’s definitely added a lot of cost,” he said. “If we would have built this three or four years ago, we would have saved approximately $20,000. But it is a pretty rigid structure. These buildings are designed to give and not collapse.”

Inspired by surroundings
Kuuskmann said her inspiration for the apartment and the The Northern Light office came from the surrounding water and mountains.
“It was not our original directive for the end design, but as I worked with the clients, it became obvious that the surrounding nature of the Pacific West Coast was an integral part of the building’s architecture and hence an undeniable source of inspiration that could not be overlooked in selecting finishes and colors,” she said. “In both instances we strove to create a modern sensibility and to showcase the airiness the building has inherent in its architecture.”

Kuuskmann, who earned her degree in interior design from Parson’s School of Design in New York, said she was careful to select palettes that complement rather than duplicate the views that can be observed through the office’s many windows.

In the penthouse apartment, she said she used colors like “pale celery,” as a main color and a “woodlawn blue” as wall accents in the kitchen and master bedroom.

She said the end result was a color combination that lends freshness and softness to the rooms in a way that works successfully in all lighting conditions.

“It also has an enlivening effect on the space at night when illuminated with artificial lighting,” she said.

In The Northern Light office, Kuuskmann said she was challenged by the spaciousness and architectural design that utilizes exposed steel trusses that extend longitudinally through the interior to support the roof.
Another consideration was how to accommodate the variety of tasks that would take place in this office.

“Colors were assigned to walls not just as backdrops, but to convey three-dimensional forms starting and stopping at specific points,” she said, adding that the effect would add interest to the large space. “The massive exposed wood beams imbedded in walls gave us an opportunity to divide the loft-like space horizontally.”

Deeper, more saturated colors like rust were added to the lower half to emphasize the interior’s strong horizontal lines. Kuuskmann said this helped to create a more “human scale” to the lofty space and also accentuated the wood grain in the beams.

Lighter colors were added to the upper half of the space to accentuate the tall ceiling space and draw the eye upwards and reflect light flooding in through the windows there, she said.

Two shades of green were used on partitions to create a “calming sensibility.” Kuuskmann said she also liked how those shades echoed the green of west coast evergreen forests.

A brighter green was used in the conference room, which can be seen through a glass wall partition to create a more energetic – even brilliant – feel when reflecting southern light, helping to stimulate creative thinking for writers, marketing teams and graphic designers, she said.
For Kuuskmann, however, using color is all about following one’s intuition.

“One should never feel restricted by set rules; color should be used freely and creatively and in ways that help one experience a space optimally – both aesthetically and functionally,” she said.

Kuuskmann said she is available for projects ranging from commercial to residential and focuses on interior architecture, all the way from gutting space and designing from scratch to renovating existing space or designing new spaces. She said she also enjoys many other aspects of designing including furniture design, casework and built-ins, selecting materials and finishes, color consulting, furniture selection and space planning, window treatment and decorating, and furniture upholstering.
Kuuskmann can be reached at

Future expansions
The Northern Light editor and publisher Pat Grubb, said he expects a second phase of the new building to begin sometime within the next two years.

The second phase of the project will include an additional 8,000-square feet, adding to a total of 15,000 square feet for the completed project.
The construction of the second phase will require the demolition of the former newspaper’s office next door.

Grubb said he’s very pleased with the project.“Everyone is really happy with how it turned out,” he said. “We had great people in the construction and design. We also love all the extra space.”

The building also includes a 1,200-square foot penthouse apartment featuring three bedrooms, two bathrooms, granite countertops and 270-degree views of both Drayton Harbor and Semiahmoo Bay, as well as commercial spaces for lease from 350 to 2,000-square feet. For more information about the apartment or leasing business space, contact Grubb at 332-1777.