Sleepless in Seattle

Until recently, 30-year-old Carl Hoffman had only retail experience under his architectural belt. So he had to do some convincing to secure the renovation contract for Blu, a nightclub in Seattle. “Just like retail design, a club has to have its finger on the pulse,” he proclaimed to his prospective clients. They agreed. Hoffman’s firm, Container, got the job, and Blu got a fabulous face-lift—a sleek standout in the capital of grunge.

Hoffman preserved the one-story building’s existing aluminum cladding but added a dotted appliqué to the windows. Inside, he divided the single-story space in two. For the 2,000-square-foot front room, the client requested an illuminated dance floor; Hoffman responded with sturdy aluminum grating over fluorescent tubes, then hung a video screen above. Sheet vinyl covers the surrounding floor.
The room’s focal point is, naturally, the bar. Behind is a wall of up-lit tinted-blue frosted acrylic, to which Hoffman attached custom MDF shelves. The bar itself, faced in backlit blue frosted acrylic and topped with stainless steel, curves around a sidewall to form the support for the waist-level parapet of a mezzanine balcony.

“If there’re only walls to lean against, the mood becomes dull,” says the architect. An eye-catching stairway, fitted out with risers of fluorescent-lit white acrylic, leads to the 1,000-square-foot rear lounge. Here, Hoffmann applied a basic retail principle: Make the back of a space visually enticing to draw in the customer. In this case, he employed a lowered ceiling of acoustical stretch vinyl with a silver-gloss finish, a bar with an up-lit clear-embossed and frosted-acrylic top, and brushed-aluminum stools.

Completing the project taught Hoffmann an essential difference between store design and club design. “In terms of sturdy treatments, retail is a step above residential,” he says. “Clubs are a whole other level.”