When Hillshire Brands went looking for a new headquarters, it could have squeezed its staff into a couple of floors in the Willis Tower or any number of other standard-issue downtown office buildings.
But what fun would that be?
Instead, it renovated a 60-year-old art moderne West Loop structure that was originally built to house a lithograph company.
Hillshire Brands leases the building from Sterling Bay, which renovated the exterior, added windows and had the roof replaced during a massive reconstruction process that wrapped up late last year.
From the outside, the 400 South Jefferson Street location is a streamlined brick-and-glass design. Inside the building, architects Perkins+Will combined environmentally sound elements and quirky highlights to create a unique space specifically for Hillshire.
“For us it came down to looking for a unique building with a campus feel,” said Brian Hunter, Hillshire’s vice president of real estate and facility services. “The executives said ‘Let’s find something unique.'”
That’s certainly what they got. The interior is an open space with modern amenities, but it includes visual cues to remind employees this isn’t a cookie-cutter office building. One example: Wide load-bearing columns that flare at the top.
After just over a month in their new home, Hunter said employee feedback has been very positive. He pointed out some of the non-traditional design components as he took me on a tour of the building.
The wood paneling in the main lobby is rough-cut unfinished pine, which is reclaimed and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified. The facing wall is made from rough-cut steel.
At the rear of the elevator bank is a statue of a giant hog named Elvis. It’s a sculpture once owned by Jimmy Dean (who was pals with the real Elvis Presley), and an homage to one of Hillshire’s brands.
There are other unusual displays of art in the building, including the original Hillshire Farms sign that once stood in front of founder Fritz Bernegger’s farm. There’s also an iron door to nowhere — it’s a remnant of the building’s past life that is now a design element.
Each floor includes a comfortable lounge area for employees to have lunch or just hang out and chat. On the third level, there’s a modern demonstration kitchen area that the Hillshire team has dubbed the “Rachel Ray Kitchen.”
Across from that space is a glass wall with the names of each employee inscribed on it. Hunter said it was added to make the staff feel at home in their new building.
There are traditional meeting rooms, but also a number of spaces carved out of hallways for impromptu meetings. The latter — which Hillshire calls “backyards” — are lit with LEED-certified fixtures and wall-sized dry-erase boards for brainstorming sessions.
Another meeting room has a wall and trim made from colorful rustic slats of wood. It’s a distinctive visual element and a perfect example of adaptive re-use. The wood was salvaged from the old water tower that was removed from the top of the building during renovation.
While Hillshire Brands has a long history and deep roots in America’s farming tradition, its new home is modern and quirky enough that any Silicon Valley entrepreneur would feel right at home. Elvis would approve.