Thursday, May 4, 2017

Third Life: Westport, CT

Four years ago I reported on the sale and redevelopment of several historic post office buildings in Fairfield County, Connecticut, including the 1935-6 building in the wealthy coastal town of Westport. On the way to Rhode Island last weekend I decided to check in on the Stamford, Westport, and Fairfield former P.O.s to see what's changed. I was particularly intrigued to re-visit Westport after seeing this interesting Google Street View image taken last October. A restaurant had replaced the post office here, and that's not a restaurant!

Post 154, a high-end restaurant whose name reflects the building's address at 154 Post Road East, opened at the former post office site in August 2013 after an investment group paid $2.35 million for the property in 2011. The restaurant faced a glut of culinary competition and closed after two and a half years, despite what were termed tasteful renovations (including the addition of a "serene" patio) and generally positive reviews, such as this one in The New York Times. Westport Now reported soon after that developers had come up with a brilliant new idea to turn the closed restaurant into... you guessed it, a new high-end restaurant!

Let's just say that plan didn't work out very well.

The former post office's new tenant is Design Within Reach (DWR), a modern furniture store. Long-time readers know I'm generally not a fan of the sale and conversion of public buildings into what are effectively retail enclaves for the wealthy. What I will say is that in this instance the re-purposing of the old Westport post office results a space more open and inviting than any other renovation I've seen to date, and I'm very grateful to the staff for letting me poke around and admire the new life that DWR has breathed into the building.

Here's a look at the front of the building now:

Allow me to present some photos. First is taken from the main entrance, where your eye is immediately captured by a nearly 100-light installation called Light Cloud. In the background you can see the 30-foot-long color spectrum Swatch Wall. Light Cloud leads you down the staircase from the center of the main floor, where postal counters used to be, to the showroom's lower level. The second image was taken looking up from the staircase.

Downstairs, as upstairs, features an unadorned ceiling with exposed beams and pipes painted white. As such the space reminds you of the building's roots; but they don't detract from the space's modern feel. Both floors are bathed in light from a variety of fixtures. Each corner feels lively, with each room vignette coming across as intimate yet vibrant.

Many of the fixtures enable incredible textures by way of the interplay between light and shadow. To wit: these clocks and this room vignette.

Here is the deck space originally created for Post 154.

Look closely, such as along the rear wall behind the building, and you can see some vestiges of the facility's original function. Here, loading dock numbers with doors since walled in.

Here's another look at the primary floor space.

All in all, at least in my view, Design Within Reach creates a compelling re-purposing of the post office building through an innovative rethinking of the building's interior space.

'Til next time!

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