The ultimate rehab

The historic red brick power plant in Cedarburg has been transformed in recent years into a creekside home office for Kubala Washatko Architects Inc.

The local firm cleared gigantic gears, industrial chains and extension cranes to open more than 4,000 square feet of sheer space into a unique, but comfortable, working atmosphere.

“A lot of clients say they never knew a building in Cedarburg could be like this,” said company principal Tom Kubala. “Because it’s got such amazing dimensions in a single space, people are immediately struck and feel this is really cool.”

Dramatic lighting, recycled hardwood and steel beams were included in the project designed to be simple and straightforward, with a goal to steer clear of drywall or plastic laminant. The layout focuses on industrial-strength quality with pieces that are modified and muscular. 

“When you walk in, you feel it as a live place,” said Kubala, who incorporated the original 25-foot ceilings and industrial steel sash windows. “The windows are the heart and soul of this structure. We spend a lot of time working indoors. Not having a connection to the outdoors would be like a prison. So the daylight and view adds to the whole feeling of the space.”

Aside from the windows, much of the original power plant has been salvaged. The redwood walls came from the power plant’s exterior cooling towers.

“The towers were kind of falling down, and as part of the agreement, we razed them, saved as much as we could, planed the wood and used it,” Kubala said.

A steel staircase leading to the mezzanine makes use of natural light, as pencil-sized holes have been drilled through the steel plate backing, allowing the light to filter into the entryway. The mezzanine, with individual office spaces, overlooks a common area.

“If you don’t have a variety of work stations, people can’t gravitate to where they feel most comfortable. So we created alcove-like places, window spaces and tree house spaces,” Kubala said, using the in-house slang for the mezzanine.

Other subtle items adding to the industrial strength of the building include broken tile mosaics in the bathrooms and near the water cooler, the staff lounge is next to the front door and doubles as a café and waiting area, a visible metal ladder extends from the mezzanine to a trap door in the roof, and 30-inch deep steel beams run the width of the ceiling, which is made of southern yellow pine hardwood and Douglas fir. Metal brackets, which held a crane rail in the power plant days, remain evenly spaced and welded to the walls.

Lighting throughout the building varies from original warehouse lights that drop from the ceiling, to heavy-duty street lights supported by bare wood, steel cables and pulleys. The glassed-in conference room features goose neck lighting, salvaged from a demolition project years ago at Bayshore Mall in Glendale.

Flood lights blend in along the west wall and create a form of up-lighting of space in the evening hours.

“It’s not homogenous lighting. It’s really kind of dramatic,” Kubala said.

Natural light during December also generates a unique effect.

“In the late afternoon in the winter, while the creek is still unfrozen, the sunlight bounces off the water and onto the ceiling, and it’s just kind

of moving around, and there are some really neat things that happen because of the windows,” he said.

Functionally, the space works well for a staff of 31, despite initial reservations about noise.

“We were afraid it would be a loud place because it’s so open,” said Kubala, who worked with John Sauermilch of Sheboygan as the carpenter contractor. “What we found was because the materials were left exposed, there aren’t any flat surfaces, and each pane of glass is wet-set at a slightly different angle, all the sound gets diffused, resulting in the ideal acoustical environment.”

The layout of the Kubala Washatko office is a reflection of the company’s business philosophy: to make everyone feel included. Kubala said the openness eliminates the cloistered feeling of a typical office, and clients feel like they’re on the edge of what’s really happening.

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