Renovating late ’80s office buildings for a 21st century workforce

Stephanie Kirkpatrick Office Renovating Article CREWMemberBy Stephanie D. Kirkpatrick, IIDA, Director of Interior Design, Niles Bolton Associates


Many well-located, well-built, ’80s-era office buildings dot metro Atlanta’s most popular office destinations. With much useful life ahead, these expensively constructed buildings are coming due for updating to reflect the expectations, needs and tastes of Gen Y and Millennial workers.


Ideal renovations have a number of objectives that help the properties maintain a competitive advantage in a bustling real estate market. Some goals are functional, aimed at creating spaces that accommodate changing, mobile working requirements and mandates for accessibility. Other goals are aesthetic, reflecting modern color and material preferences as well as technological progress in light, energy and water efficiency.


Buildings constructed in the late 1980s and early 1990s share many of period features:

  • Absence of accessibility features, as many buildings from this era were completed ahead of the enforcement of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Renovations must now satisfy federal and local ADA mandates.
  • An opulent, “clubby” ambiance that employed extensive use of dark stone, wood and brass accessories.
  • Paint colors and other finishes in dark, saturated tones, especially dark green.
  • Ornate fixtures such as elaborate chandeliers in lobbies and abundant gold-toned metal hardware.
  • Under-utilization of public spaces, especially in lobby and outdoor areas.
Kirkpatrick Office Renovating 2

3445 Peachtree before renovation

Updating the look and functionality of buildings from this era requires attention to certain factors, including:

  • Maintaining consistent aesthetic tone throughout the building, from street façade to lobby, elevators, restrooms and corridors – an attention to the “processional.”
  • Updating features while respecting the building’s structural integrity and original vision.
  • New uses for existing spaces that an earlier era didn’t require, or recasting outmoded space for new roles. Amenities such as fitness and meeting spaces are common.
  • Balancing desired space densities with available building systems and means of egress.
  • Keeping renovation budgets under control.
Kirkpatrick Office Renovating

3445 Peachtree after renovation

Modern preferences and work styles now trend to brightness, light tone, clean lines and efficient, flexible spaces. Here are some popular renovation solutions:

  • Add lighter, brighter colors, and shades of white, gray, beige, and neutrals, perhaps with small jewel-tone accents.
  • Transition dark wood to lighter wood tones where wood is used.
  • DI-NOC film from 3M, for example, can cost-effectively cover heavy, dark surfaces to change the look of nearly any finish in areas distanced from touch or close inspection.
  • Gold-toned accents are replaced with sleek, silvery stainless steel. Where hardware is not frequently touched, this can be accomplished with a chemical bonding solution that coats metals to change the color.
  • Automated systems in bathrooms save water and reduce surface contact. Not only is this more hygienic, but many modern office workers prefer bathrooms with touchless efficiency.
  • LED lighting is now more cost-effective than ever before. LED fixtures reduce maintenance costs, improve energy efficiency and reduce potential for eye strain. Color temperature ratings must be carefully planned for compatibility, however.
  • Ornate light fixtures can be replaced by sleeker, more efficient sources with direct/indirect functionality.
  • Lobbies and outdoor spaces should serve as more than “pass-through” portals. Areas where impromptu meetings can occur are standard in building common areas now, reflecting the mobility of modern work.
  • Create roof spaces with green elements and outdoor common spaces that provide break and meeting opportunities.
  • Include more open and flexible office space that supports technological capability and enables mobile, collaborative work habits. Wi-Fi access is critical.


The work that the Niles Bolton Associates team did at 3445 Peachtree – formerly known as Two Live Oak – serves as a good case study. At the start, the building lobby contained acres of heavy granite as well as loads of dark, red-toned wood. The ambiance was dark and gloomy.


Its renovation enhanced the street entrance, starting with a new, head-turning identity. Most of the dark wood, heavy moldings and outmoded detail were removed, resulting in a much brighter, lighter space with clean lines and contemporary ambiance. Great care was exercised to respect the original design, but the update infused it with smartly consistent character that includes accessible, modern features.


As with 3445 Peachtree, the timely renovation of 25- to 30-year-old office properties is an excellent opportunity to refresh prime office space in respectful ways that attract highly desirable tenants at premium rates. Accessible, flexible, efficient functionality enveloped in bright, open, contemporary ambiance extends the appeal of older properties to a 21st century business generation.


Stephanie D. Kirkpatrick, IIDA, is Director of Interior Design for Niles Bolton Associates. She has been a member of CREW for most of the past 25 years. Stephanie has worked on both sides of design, as designer and client. Her experience includes Lenox Plaza, Buckhead Plaza, One Live Oak and One and Two Buckhead Plaza, among many others. Repositioning office buildings is a specialty both for Stephanie and Niles Bolton Associates. Stephanie is also a regular guest lecturer for Georgia Tech’s Construction Marketing course.

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Author: CREW Atlanta

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