Shay Hughes said challenges included preserving the building’s general historical character to stay compatible with the neighborhood, while adding personal touches to make the space a welcoming environment.
“This place actually has more living space than office space,” said company CEO Jason Hughes, Shay’s husband. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen an office done up in this way, and I’ve been in the real estate business for more than 25 years.”
After the breakup of the brokerage firm Irving Hughes in early 2011, Jason Hughes went scouting for what would eventually be home for his new firm, which primarily represents office tenants.
Hughes Marino paid $1.8 million for the Front Street property, and in mid-2011 set out to renovate the building for what originally was conceived as a contemporary but relatively standard business space.
Home Away From Home
Over the course of six months — which Jason Hughes said consisted of “many 15-hour work days” — the renovation evolved into the equivalent of a custom residential remodeling project, as he and Shay put more emphasis on making the space a home away from home for employees and visitors.
Completed in December, the reconstruction cost around $2.5 million, with another $1 million spent on furniture, fixtures and equipment. The tab was about double the budget that operators had originally envisioned, but they consider it an investment in the future.
“We originally were going to stay with the concrete floors, but decided they would feel too industrial and went with nice oak floors,” Jason Hughes said. “It would have been easier to not worry about the special countertops or the stainless steel appliances and just go with stuff from Home Depot.”
“But we needed to have something that we want to live with for the next 20 or 30 years,” he said. “We’re not looking to move out anytime soon.”
Working with general contractor Suffolk Roel and the Gensler architecture firm, Hughes said he and his wife made it clear from the start that they wanted to evoke the feel of “old Seattle” — in the vein of what is seen at places like Starbucks Corp. — but also mesh with specific local elements like the nearby Little Italy.
Truckloads of Brick
Authentic brick was trucked in to give the exterior a more historically correct look than the aging stucco surfaces that had been applied in prior renovations. “The place really hadn’t been touched since around 1980,” Jason Hughes said.
The quick completion allowed the company to take advantage of a federal tax program allowing businesses to deduct certain depreciation and other expenses related to capital investments, before it expired at the end of the year.
Jason Hughes said the project has also applied for Silver certification under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, and there will be savings in energy costs over the long run.
After formally opening at the new location in April, Hughes said the firm now has twice the space as it had in its former site, and there is ample room throughout the building to add to its current workforce of 25.
The office design, he said, reflects a desire to connect with the general community, and also send a message about how he wants the company to conduct business.
“Real estate is normally the kind of cutthroat business where the person you most need to watch out for is the guy in the next cubicle over, in your own office,” Hughes said. “We went for a different feel here.”