A Historic U.S. Post Office Is Transformed Into a Digital Agency’s New Modern Office
In 2015, Mobelux co-founders Jeff Rock and Garrett Ross purchased the 12,000-square-foot post office from the U.S. Department of the Interior and started transforming the building into a contemporary office, while also embracing its charming architectural details and historic narrative.
The Saunders Station post office was erected in 1937 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA), which called for a number of public buildings and roads to be constructed throughout the United States. On its opening day, the community of Richmond gathered to celebrate.
While creating a contemporary and functional workspace for their growing software development company, it was important for co-founders Rock and Ross to keep the integrity of the building intact.
"One of the keys to making sure this project was done right was that it retained its character, but that we were able to dovetail modern architecture into a historic structure," says Rock.
The digital agency worked hand-in-hand with Richmond-based architect Bob Steele of BOB Architecture, a modernist who also happens to be well-versed in historic rehabilitations. After 80 years of use, the Saunders Station post office was dilapidated and in need of some serious attention. Steele seamlessly restored the building, while thoughtfully blending original architectural details with new contemporary elements.
As a nod to the building’s past, Mobelux preserved the original PO boxes in the lobby, restored and expanded a long-lost skylight, and brought back to life the terrazzo floors, soapstone border, and marble wainscoting.
Another aspect of WPA-era construction was the Federal Art Project, a visual arts program that employed artists across the country to create public works of art. Through Mobelux’s research on the post office, they found out that during its heyday, Saunders Station was planned to have a Federal Art Project mural hanging in its lobby. However, due to controversy over the mural’s subject matter—the burning of Richmond during the Civil War—it caused a stir within the community and was never completed or hung.
Mobelux employee Johnny Hugel made it his personal project to track down the old mural and restore it to its proper home. Through the National Archives, Hugel found a high-resolution image of The Great Fire mural by Virginia artist Julien Binford, which Mobelux had digitally photographed and printed on an oversized piece of fabric that was stretched like a canvas. The mural now hangs where it was intended to 80 years prior in the lobby of Saunders Station, above the old post master’s office and bulletin boards.
Throughout the building, heart pine and maple floors were sanded down and refinished, while dinged-up plasterwork was repaired. Some aspects of the building were also reimagined. For instance, the mailing vestibule’s original steel double doors were removed and remounted on barn-style tracks, which now lead to a bright and cheery kitchen and break room.
The decor includes a mix of pieces by Herman Miller, quirky vintage items, and custom furnishings by Richmond’s John White of 510_architect. Mobelux’s Hugel hunted down vintage furniture and statement pieces to decorate the space, including an antique stamp machine and projector. Though an antique dealer, he sourced 75 vintage Herman Miller shell chairs in Mobelux’s branded orange color. Decorative elements like classic brass lighting fixtures from Schoolhouse Electric and quirky area rugs are found throughout.
"We are big fans of modern and contemporary furniture, but with the post office, we had to feather it and make sure we used classic furniture and simple lines," says Rock. "We wanted to keep the space classic without feeling overly decorative."
Even the smallest details shine bright, like the typeface. From the bathroom signage to stencils used in the parking lot, Mobelux’s creative director Rob Green employed their laser cutting machine. Two type faces were used throughout the building that are both timeless and era-appropriate at the same time.
Throughout the building, various independent and collaborative workspaces were created, giving employees several options on a daily basis. The main floor houses 48 open workstations, four private meeting rooms, and two larger conference areas.
The space also includes little pockets where employees can escape to do their work in private, including a library near the old vault and a nook near the staircase. The grand lobby was given a second use as a presentation space that can house 70 people. Upstairs is where Rock and Ross have their offices, off of a long corridor that connects to an old post inspector's walkway.
The entire building was wired for high-speed networking. "We had to infuse technology into an 80-year-old building for a new generation of work," says Rock. "This building has always been a platform for communication. Letters are a transmission of information, and we are also helping people build platforms to transmit information."
As a getaway for employees, the basement was transformed into a recreational space. "Culturally, it was very important that this was outfitted correctly," says Rock.
A theater dubbed "The Lux" houses a 120-inch projection screen, reference-quality audio, and two dozen chairs salvaged from Richmond’s recently demolished historic Westhampton Theater. Also in the basement, the old boiler room is now home to a billiards table and lounge area, which has become a popular place for employees to unwind mid-afternoon. The neighboring coal storage room was transformed into a cozy coffee bar area with two old coal shoots that are now skylights illuminating the once dark and damp space.