Uniquely Designed

by Simon Gonzalez
March 2018

The three buildings are within 2.5 miles of each other along the Eastwood Road corridor. All are eye-catching.

One looks like a classic Bald Head Island home or guesthouse, complete with cedar siding and a welcoming porch. The second is a solid, three-story building characterized by warm red brick. The third is a modern, sleek structure with lots of gleaming black brick and green-tinted windows.

Three buildings with three distinctive styles. All give passersby a strong visual architectural clue about what to expect inside.

110 Dungannon Boulevard

The "beach-side guest home" sits at the gateway of Autumn Hall, a residential community a couple of clicks west of Wrightsville Beach. The architecture conveys a homey atmosphere, ideal for customers of anchor tenant Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage.

The new building serves as one of the gateways to Autumn Hall. That was foremost in Mark Loudermilk's mind when the senior associate at Becker Morgan was tasked with the design.

"Right behind it is these high-end residential homes," he says. "We wanted to tie into that, and not make it feel like a glass-and-steel office building. We wanted it to have some of the language a residential building has."

These days, homes in Autumn Hall adhere to what is called Cape Fear Heritage Architecture. The guidelines and specifications call for "coastal Carolina vernacular architecture with such details as low brick walls, standing seam roofs, detailed metalwork, ubiquitous porches, deep overhangs, and outdoor rooms."

But in 2009, when Loudermilk began working with Mike Brown of development company Cape Fear Commercial, there were few homes in Autumn Hall and those guidelines didn't yet exist.

When we first started working on the building there weren't a lot of houses in Autumn Hall," Loudermilk says. "So we thought why not go to Bald Head? We felt like Autumn Hall and Bald Head have some similarities."

The trip to Bald Head Island provided inspiration and direction.

"We spent several hours looking at architecture," Loudermilk says. "There were even some things in the ferry terminal we liked, like the nickel-gap-depth wood siding in the lobby. We thought that would be cool. We also looked at some of the commercial buildings on Bald Head. Even those have a certain feel to them. There's nothing there that feels like a glass-and-steel office building. It has a real relaxed, residential feel to it."

Those influences are evident. The building, completed in 2017, looks and feels like an oversized beach house.

"We asked ourselves, 'How do we take this two-story, 25,000-square-foot building in front of these residences and make them feel connected?'" Loudermilk says. "That's why we put the cedar siding, the porches, the metal roof, the cupola, to make it feel residential. We said, 'Remember what we saw at Bald Head?' That's what we were trying to create here. We wanted to make it feel like it was a gateway to a residential area."

The emphasis on tying it to the residential area made it a perfect fit for Sea Coast Advantage, which was looking for a larger building to house agents and its corporate headquarters.

"The design is a great fit for us," president Tim Milam says. "It's bright and welcoming and has a warm coastal theme that runs throughout the space."

The outside shell was finished when Sea Coast Advantage came on board. Loudermilk had roughed in an interior design that included multiple tenants. But the real estate company took over about 18,000 square feet of the building.

We had to design it for flexibility," Loudermilk says. "The buildings originally were designed with hallways with offices on either side for different tenants. We didn't anticipate Sea Coast would rent 75 percent of the building. It helped them to feel like they are in a neighborhood."

Sea Coast occupies all of the second floor and most of the first. The company dictated an interior design that includes a spacious, welcoming lobby where visitors can turn to the left and enter the reception area or take the wide staircase to offices on the second floor.

The headquarters includes offices for corporate and administrative staff, IT, accounting and marketing personnel, offices, cubicles and flex space for agents, smaller conference rooms where agents can meet with clients, and larger spaces that house the Sea Coast Real Estate Academy, which offers courses for prospective and existing agents from any firm, and the Success Center, a training program specifically for Sea Coast Advantage agents.

"Sea Coast gave us a program. We need this many offices, we need a real estate school," Loudermilk says.

The building also houses Alpha Mortgage, Don Bullard Insurance and Herrington Classic Homes.

The only non-real-estate related tenant is Drift Coffee, a coffee shop and caf?. "The owners there had a lot of input," Loudermilk says. "Those guys traveled all over the world looking at coffee shops. We drew exactly what they wanted."

Having a coffee shop at the corner of the building is a perfect fit, adding to the neighborhood feel first envisioned.

"It all worked out in the end," Loudermilk says. "It all came together."

1411 Commonwealth Drive

The tall, brick edifice is an impossible-to-miss sight at the busy intersection of Eastwood and Military Cutoff. When Raleigh-based North State Bank was looking for a new building for its Wilmington branch, it was a no-brainer.

"The location was the driver," says Jonathan N. Krieps, chief operations officer at North State. "It's a great corner to be on. And the building itself has such a presence on that corner."

The building, designed by former Wrightsville Beach architect Philip Sharpe, was in the planning phase when North State entered the picture.

"We got involved during the planning process when we knew it was available," Krieps says. "We asked for a few changes to get it to our specifications."

That included the warm, red brick that characterizes the building. It was in keeping with the neighborhood, and perfect for the company.

"The design was one that fits in with the surrounding buildings yet makes a statement of longevity and strength with the red brick and high arch on the front," Krieps says.

Longevity and strength are just the messages North State wants to convey to its customers. But it also wants them to feel at home. That became the mandate for the interior.

When people walk into our building, we want them to feel comfortable, like being in their living room at home," Krieps says. "We also want to reflect the surroundings of the area we are in. The artwork, wall colors, carpet and furniture are all chosen to reflect the local community."

Raleigh-based designer Brenda Bateman was tasked with creating that feeling.

"The idea was to have a warm, welcoming residential/commercial environment," she says. "It's important that their customers feel welcomed and not just walking into a sterile environment. It should feel welcoming and warm."

Customers walk into a large, open lobby that manages to resemble a high-end hotel while communicating warmth through an intimate sitting area and d?cor that includes a large curio cabinet.

It's a large lobby -- how do we make that feel like a home?" Bateman says. "We created the sitting areas. That large piece that's the focal point when you walk in is a warm piece that can be accessorized."

The check-writing stand and the tellers are to the left.

"You need the check-writing stand," Bateman says. "It's a place that's convenient to the customers but we didn't want to block the view to the sitting area that gives the warm feel."

Offices are entered through a hallway that begins to the right. There are no open desks in the lobby.

"A bank isn't a place to socialize," says Sabrina Stephens, senior vice president, market president and someone who has been around the Wilmington branch since it opened in 2008. "We wanted to give our customers some privacy."

The bank's headquarters is in Raleigh but the d?cor is strictly coastal, reflecting the proximity to Wrightsville Beach.

"That was intentional," Bateman says. "We don't have the coastal look in Wake County. We wanted to have the beach flavor. The colors and the woods are lighter. Even the desks, in the offices, are a little bit lighter wood than the darker woods used in Wake County. I used blues and greens throughout just giving the flavor while maintaining the official office look. The colors, the lamps and the artwork used give us that beach flavor."

108 Vision Drive

Custom Colors vice president Caroline Johnson says the two-story building at the corner of Eastwood and Vision is a perfect fit for the company with the motto "the psychology of color."

It's eye-catching, just the thing a retail establishment needs to attract customers. The creativity of the design hints at the creative possibilities inherent in the paint and flooring selections inside. There's ample space upstairs for the corporate offices.

"We've got a lot of compliments. It's very contemporary," Johnson says. "We get more walk-in traffic here."

The building arose not because of a vision for a new corporate headquarters for their five stories, but because of necessity.

The company was happy with its store/corporate headquarters on Market Street near the intersection of Military Cutoff Road. But the city's plans to extend Military Cutoff to the Wilmington Bypass included an overpass where the building stood. The city purchased the land, forcing business owner Nancy Dombroski to look for a new location.

The company purchased the lot fronting Eastwood, occupied by a car wash, and hired architect Philip Humphrey to design a new building.

"They just said we need a two-story building," Humphrey says. "I drew what I thought worked best. They loved it the first time."

Humphrey took a dual-pronged approach, imagining a building that would convey the message of creativity while fitting into the surroundings.

"I had two goals," he says. "One goal was to represent the elegance of paint, and of custom colors. The second was to complement the Audi dealership across the way. I thought it would help if it had a more modern look, rather than something like Low Country. And because that area just kind of has a spattering of stuff, it was an opportunity to try a more modern look than in a neighborhood filled with bungalows."

The high-traffic area was a perfect location for a paint store, but the small lot size proved to be challenging.

"It was a pretty tight piece of land," he says. "There was a car wash, a drive-though car wash. That definitely dictated the two-story building, retail store below and offices above."

That meant building up instead of building out. It meant an outside staircase leading to the offices on the second floor that wouldn't take square footage away from the paint store. It meant a balcony to house the HVAC units -- an element dictated by space limitations that provided the benefit of a place for employees to get outside and enjoy the weather on nice days.

"We put that on due to the building size restrictions," Humphrey says. "It's a deck and a mechanical space."

While dealing with the constraints of space for many decisions, Humphrey took full advantage of the freedom afforded him to design a stunning exterior that would fit into the neighborhood.

It had to be in harmony with the coolness of the Audi dealership," he says. "That's eye-catching for sure."

He designed a two-story front that features black brick and dark green-tinted glass that looks gray when the light catches it.

"I love black brick," he says. "That brick has a flash to it. Sometimes bricks will be a monotone color, but this has a texture to it and it catches the light differently. The glass is classic Solex green that's been around for ages. It's on iconic buildings, like Inland Steel in Chicago. That's just a classic green color."

The corner location and the glass-fronted building afforded the ability to design spacious, bright offices. Direct sunlight in a coastal climate dictated another decision.

There was a need to put sunshades on the front wall, because of where it's facing," Humphrey says. "I did some sun studies. During the summer months it's going to keep the majority of the direct sunlight out of the building."

Being a franchisee of Benjamin Moore dictated many of the decisions downstairs.

"The designs come from the home base," Humphrey says. "There's one wall downstairs that they paint the color of the year. This year it was a reddish color."

With the permission of headquarters, he was able to get a little creative with the floor and ceiling.

"We could have easily hung acoustic ceiling tile and fluorescent lights, but we left it open and the concrete floor exposed for a different aesthetic," he says. "It's a paint store, so it should look a little on the industrial side."


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