Award-winning international design firm Ware Malcomb recently completed new “experience centers” for Toyota Financial Services. The project consolidated 29 dealer service locations into two regional offices—one in Chandler, Arizona, and the other in Atlanta. Their goal? To reinforce Toyota’s brand identity while capturing each area’s distinct look and feel. Featured prominently in the project was lighting by Vibia—Martin Azua’s Halo Lineal and Circular pendants and Ramos & Bassols’ Duo luminaire.
Leading the interior design was Ware Malcomb studio manager Sarah Walker. We spoke to Walker about curating a brand story for Toyota, designing during Covid, and how Vibia lighting provided a common thread that unified the aesthetic in both locations.
Would you give the name and job title of the designer in this project?
Sarah Walker, Studio Manager, Interior Design was the lead designer on the TFS West and TFS East projects. I was supported by an amazing interior design, branding and workplace strategy team working in collaboration with Toyota Financial Services, our general contractors, consultants, engineering partners and furniture vendors and manufacturers.
Please tell us what kind of projects you typically do as a designer?
Ware Malcomb designs a diverse set of projects including commercial office, corporate, industrial, science & technology, healthcare, retail, auto, public/institutional facilities and renovation projects.
I’m proud to have been at Ware Malcomb for over 15 years and worked on many different project types across North America including workplace, auto, retail and hospitality, among others.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
I design with my clients’ goals and visions in mind, so no two projects are alike. For example, the TFS experience center West and East projects had the common design goal of natural professionalism. Each project is unique and connects aesthetically within its region, all while achieving our client’s goals. The West project included a coastal vibe while the East project encompassed vibrant colors to exemplify a rich heritage.
What was your brief in the TFS DSCE project?
Our team provided the workplace strategy, interior architecture & design and branding design services for the project.
Toyota Financial Services is undergoing a consolidation of over 29 dealer service centers into 2 regional offices. Our task was to enhance company culture and support both employees and business objectives. The aesthetics needed to reflect the natural professionalism of Toyota’s brand yet align with a regional look and feel. With environmental performance woven into their DNA, sustainable considerations were looked at for all aspects of the project whether it be highly efficient building systems or repurposed furniture. To reinforce the sustainability impact, we curated a brand story and tour path for all visitors and employees to appreciate.
For continuity, Duo was used in the design of a private dining space within both TFS spaces. This space was an extension of the main breakroom that was separated by a garage roll up door. With the garage door folding into the underside of the ceiling, we needed a surface mounted fixture that was unique, aligned with the project’s overall aesthetic, and would also connect to the wood veneer detailing throughout the space.
The architectural skyline of the open office was an important factor in the design challenge. We needed a fixture that was design forward, would allow for flexibility to connect with the regional look and feel but still connect to each other.
Halo allowed us to do this and aligned with the overarching design aesthetic of natural professionalism. The offices needed to connect but not feel replicated. For TFS West we used Halo’s circular option to communicate the soft and coastal design vibes, and for TFS East we used Halo’s lineal option to exude more of a bold design statement.
Both of these dynamic lighting solutions helped our design team create a common thread throughout the spaces, and both projects. They not only added to the beautiful aesthetic but created dimensions and layers to the overall design.
What was the biggest challenge for you with this project?
Due to the timing of both TFS East and West projects, COVID-related travel restrictions posed a challenge. The whole project team collaborated throughout to perform site walks typically held in person, virtually. We even conducted point and position installations virtually to ensure the design intent was carried out in the final project.
We also encountered some supply chain challenges due to the ongoing pandemic. In some cases, the general contractor placed orders in advance to mitigate any delays.
Overall due to the coordination and seamless collaboration between all project parties and the TFS team we were able to execute two highly successful projects.
Where do you get inspiration for your work?
The ever-changing world around us reminds me to always embrace diversity and provides constant motivation to refine my craft. Every day is seen as a new day. Every client has a new set of challenges and opportunities. I have the privilege to inspire change for others in a positive way by elevating their experience through the built environment.
Design heroes past or present?
What would the Chicago skyline look like without the talent of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe? He influenced an entire generation that defined design vocabulary for what we know as mid-century modern architecture. His “Less is More” philosophy translates into all of his masterpieces. Many of us use this philosophy as a guiding principle in our current design approach. The intentional forms and elegant simplicity are elements I have been drawn to from a very young age and continue to appreciate his masterpieces any opportunity I get.
Does being a woman in design inform your work, and if so, how?
Yes. It is important that we build a positive, supportive community that fosters the growth and empowerment of women. It is very important to me to create this type of environment to support my team members, friends and family and build an inclusive environment together.
We must have confidence and intention with our design solutions. The designs must also be thoughtful and meaningful statements of our personal brands.
One quote that inspires me is from Audre Lorde, “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.” It is a powerful statement that informs my design inspiration.
Favorite cities for design?
I don’t have a favorite city. Traveling in general is a passion of mine. Experiencing new cultures and diversity opens our minds to shape our perspective on how we define the future. The world has so much to offer whether it be the historical value Europe shares or the progression of the domestic US.
Favorite building in the world?
I am drawn to any masterpiece designed by Mies, especially the IBM building in Chicago. I have gotten lost for hours eating lunch near the IBM building, gazing up just mesmerized by the articulation of the geometry of this modern wonder.