Cool Spaces: Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds

By Madoline Markham, BHM BIZ

Tammy Cohen and Richard Carnaggio wanted a space where they could both work and live, and that’s what they created in the railroad yard on 1stAvenue South just west of Red Mountain Expressway.

After outgrowing the office space they had used for their architecture firm’s first 10 years, they came across the property. It had stored railroad ties and other industrial items for years, but at the time, it was overgrown and filled with rabbits and owls. The firm, Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds, would design not just its office for the land but also the other two adjacent parcels: a row of townhomes and an office building.

For their own building, Cohen and Carnaggio wanted to stick with the aesthetic of the warehouse district. Concrete walls create a simple 60-by-80-foot box, with a courtyard space behind it and a separate building with personal garage and storage for the office. Inside, the concrete walls were left exposed, as were steel beams in their burnt red color. The industrial tone complements the space’s view of Sloss Furnaces and trains running by on railroad tracks—their favorite part of the space itself. 

The insulated concrete walls are also energy efficient, and elsewhere on the property a cistern collects rainwater that later waters the plants in the courtyard. Even with 16 people on staff and three people living upstairs, they only create one bag of trash a week thanks to recycling efforts.

The west side of the building faces the parking lot, so small windows were placed at higher levels so that their view shows city buildings, not cars. On the east and north side, floor-to-ceiling windows provide a panorama of Sloss Furnaces past the courtyard on one side, and of a long rectangular pool outside the other. It’s these views that the architects get from their open workspace. Partners have private offices, but the sliding glass doors to them always stay open, helping maintain the feel the partners intend for it.

The office also displays works by local artists. A conference room table was designed by Lauren Lee Samford with a wooden base made by Luttrell Woodworks. Behind the table are rotating perforated display panels for hanging rendering illustrations that were made by metal sculptor Rick McCrary of McCrary Studios. The other conference room features a shroud of naked residential forms created by artist and University of Montevallo professor Scott Meyer, a friend
of Carnaggio’s.

Along the hallway just past a reception desk also made of concrete, framed photos show off the firm’s completed projects, including Over Easy, the Five Points Chick-fil-A, Soho in Homewood, and the City Federal Building. They are currently working on 20 Midtown and the new Publix downtown as well as Box Row in Avondale.

Signature design elements are also sprinkled throughout the office. Two white panels in the sample library not only cover the storage behind them but also act as white boards, and wallpaper in a workroom area with a server, 3-D printer, and other equipment made of “slats” of old movie posters.

To round out their work-and-play vision, Cohen and Carnaggio live on the second floor of the office space with their teenage son. Their labradoodle and terrier mix come downstairs to hang out, and their employees can bring their own dogs. Overall, it helps create the relaxed atmosphere they want, with areas for people to meet randomly and a landscaped outdoor space for them to sit or eat their lunch. 

The firm holds an annual field day before July 4, and at any time staff can go to the pool area with an outdoor kitchen. Each staff member is assigned to plan a birthday party for one other, and they personalize it to them—not just a generic cake that every other employee has. 

“We are a family,” Carnaggio says. “We are selective about who works with us. Everyone is involved in our lives.” 

Article originally published by BHM BIZ.