Dan Gilbert, the CEO of Detroit-based Quicken Loans, has poured a billion dollars into revitalizing Detroit’s downtown. Quicken's offices in the Federal Reserve building were designed by Melissa Price and were so well-received that Quicken spun out her services into a separate business, DPop, which focuses on innovative office design. Quicken cleared out two decrepit vaults, turning them into conference spaces.

The one pictured here once served bank customers with safety deposit boxes, which now serve simply as decorative walls. “Our philosophy was, don’t touch anything if you can avoid it,” says Andrew Lemanek, another DPop designer.

The team brought in furniture and added chandeliers.

“We wanted it to feel like some old fancy dining room in a mansion. The words I kept using were, ‘As gaudy as humanly possible,’” Lemanek says with a laugh.

Puzzle pieces adorn the walls of this white-washed conference room, for which the film 2001: A Space Odyssey served as a guiding star. “I’ve heard it described as an operating room,” Lemanek admits. “It’s definitely very sterile and clean.”

A Quicken team that finalizes mortgage deals inhabits this basement vault in the Federal Reserve building; it likely once held pallets of cash.

“I see a door like that and I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s awesome. Let’s put people in there and make it work,’” says Lemanek. The real headache then came for the architects, who had to figure out how to get heating and cooling to work in a space with such thick walls. “The design makes it cool and fun,” says Lemanek. “We didn’t want people to feel like it was in a basement.”

Rather than try to resist or obscure the exposed piping that runs along the ceiling, Price chose to accentuate it by creating bright, pipe-shaped patterns that run along the floors. “The brighter the better,” says Price. “The colors are wickedly bright.”

In designing the DPop kitchen, Price and Lemanek encountered these old concrete columns, which retained spray-painted markers they assume date back to the original assembly of the building. Price cites a desire to “stay pretty true” to “what the building was and how it was intended to be viewed and used,” even as its use has been transformed for a modern tech company. “The rawer and nastier, the better,” says Lemanek of some of the touches he and Price have left visible.

At these Quicken offices at the Chrysler House, Price purchased a pool table built into an old car chassis. “Someone asked Melissa, ‘Can we get this pool table? Because its really awesome.’ She said, ‘Okay.’ And that was it. Not much of a story,” laughs Lemanek. “Some things we do are just for team member happiness,” says Price, noting that almost all visitors to the site insist on snapping a photo of the pool table. “It’s funny,” says Lemanek, “because it’s the Chrysler House, but that’s a Ford Mustang chilling out in the room.”

At these Quicken offices at the Chrysler House, Price purchased a pool table built into an old car chassis. “Someone asked Melissa, ‘Can we get this pool table? Because its really awesome.’ She said, ‘Okay.’ And that was it. Not much of a story,” laughs Lemanek. “Some things we do are just for team member happiness,” says Price, noting that almost all visitors to the site insist on snapping a photo of the pool table. “It’s funny,” says Lemanek, “because it’s the Chrysler House, but that’s a Ford Mustang chilling out in the room.”

In cleaning out this space for the company Doodle Home (owned by Jennifer Gibert, Dan’s wife), Price and Lemanek found a movie projector that was “probably 80 years old,” says Lemanek. (The building, M@dison, used to be an old theater.) A restorer was able to get the projector back into working shape. “It’s my favorite part of the job,” says Lemanek, of first entering into a ruined place that he and Price hope to restore to the kind of order you see here. “I feel like a little kid. It feels like an adventure.”

In a way, the spaces they enter are like that restored projector, concurs Price (or like the restored fountain shown here): “It’s out of control, the amazing things we find. It’s awesome for us to go back to that, to celebrate it, to give it new life. It’s a real privilege.”

Some Of The Most Amazing Startup Spaces In America Are In Detroit

DPop, an office design firm spun out of Quicken Loans, specializes in reclaiming abandoned spaces, combining the remnants of old Detroit opulence with bold startup chic.

Detroit’s woes are well known; so too, are the efforts of some entrepreneurial spirits to revitalize this once-great city. Dan Gilbert, the CEO of Detroit-based Quicken Loans, has poured a billion dollars into Detroit’s downtown, as Chuck Salter reported in Fast Company Magazine last year.

With Gilbert’s interest in making the old new again, it should come as no surprise that the offices of Quicken Loans—as well as the offices belonging to some of its related, Detroit-based companies—are physical manifestations of that interest.

Melissa Price is an employee of Quicken Loans, having helped to design its office spaces. When other Detroit businesses became impressed with her work, Quicken spun out her services into a separate business, DPop, which focuses on innovative office design.

Andrew Lemanek and Melissa Price

Together with Andrew Lemanek, another DPop designer, Price has made her mark across downtown Detroit, with highly stylized office spaces that are part startup-chic, part classic Motown. But before you look at the following photos, put out of your mind the phrase some design-oriented tourists sometimes apply to some of the visible signs of Detroit decay: “ruin porn.”

“That’s a lazy approach to experiencing our city,” says Price. By breathing new life into defunct spaces, Price’s projects give the lie to the idea that Detroit landmarks should be dismissed as “ruins” at all, no matter what state they may currently be in.

Click through the slide show above to learn what motivates Price and Lemanek as they envision the future of Detroit’s workplaces.

[Image: Flickr user Nick Keppol]

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1 Comments

  • Nicole Jacobs Arnold

    That's awesome. I love seeing these old buildings transformed into such positive, vibrant spaces. You should see what Hello Innovation has done with the old Globe Building. I'm partial to their Lego conference table. ;)