After two years in a temporary office setup, design firm 3North has made its new home its own.
The local architecture studio recently completed its renovation of 4015 Fitzhugh Ave., the former Boy Scouts of America building beside Malvern Avenue that it leased and moved to in 2021.
The six-month project, which wrapped up last fall, had been planned since the move and carried over through a change in the building’s ownership, from Dave McCormack’s Waukeshaw Development to Stan and Emily Anderson, who purchased the two-story building from Waukeshaw in 2022.
Taking cues from the building’s mid-century design, the renovation opened up the previously walled-off interior spaces of the 13,000-square-foot structure, which was built in the 1950s for Virginia Mutual Insurance Co. (now Alfa Insurance).
The upstairs was converted into a large workspace for 3North’s 30-plus designers, along with breakout areas and alternate work rooms and offices. The downstairs includes an interiors studio and is anchored by a large meeting room that doubles as a community event space, complete with an adjoining kitchen for catered events.
The ground floor also includes a display space for Page Bond Gallery, a local art gallery that is based at 1520 W. Main St., next door to a past 3North home – 3 N. Lombardy St. – that spawned the firm’s name.
The renovation scored top building-rehab honors at this year’s Golden Hammer Awards, giving 3North founder Jay Hugo and his team what he described as rare license to revel in their work.
“We’re typically fairly modest about these sorts of things, but we really just flat-out nailed it on our space,” Hugo said.
“It just works. From a practical day-to-day standpoint, it is a light, bright, creative, flexible space that just adds energy to what we do,” he said. “We’ve been in a lot of great offices over the years, but this one is far and away the most inspiring for what we do. It’s a pretty great place to be.”
Having moved from the Tredegar Iron Works complex when CoStar Group bought its previous home there, 3North occupied the Fitzhugh building’s ground floor while renovations got underway on the top floor, then moved upstairs as the project progressed downstairs.
Whiting-Turner was the general contractor on the project, which also involved Lu+Smith Engineers.
Used to basing its designs on the desires of its clients, the renovation presented 3North with an opportunity to call its own shots but also a challenge in deciding which design approach to take with its own space.
The company conducted its own design charette and approached the project as it would its commercial contracts, said 3North’s Daniel Strait, who headed up the effort. He said the firm’s time in its temporary downstairs space benefited the project by giving the team time to experience and become familiar with the building firsthand.
“We would put things on paper and wander up and look at things,” Strait said. “I was pleased with how similar it was to a lot of our client processes.”
Added Hugo: “We always want to honor the history of a place. In this case, there are great mid-century bones to the property, so we did want to be respectful to that, but we also didn’t want to be entirely bound by it.
“We wanted to acknowledge that we have a worthy chapter here ourselves and that deserves its own identity, so it really is a melding of looking at it backward and looking at our own identity in the future.”
Beyond the firm’s own space needs, Hugo said it was important to provide the community space so the building could be opened to and shared with the public. The event space has played host to a master’s thesis event for VCU’s Department of Interior Design, which has also held a second event there, Hugo said.
“In so many office spaces, people make purpose-built spaces for their own business function, and I think sometimes that ends up losing a dynamic energy, a little bit of variability that adds to creativity and adds to the life of a place,” he said. “We encourage community groups to use it for board meetings and whatnot. It just adds energy for everybody.”
Adding to the downstairs space is Page Bond Gallery, which rotates art displays and hosts speaker events at the building. The gallery, which operates out of 1520 W. Main St., changed ownership in September, with new owner Ashley Millen taking over for Page Bond, who established the gallery in 1999. Page’s husband, Sandy Bond, is a principal emeritus at 3North.
Hugo put the renovation cost at $1.3 million. The project was supported by a tenant upfit allowance that Hugo said rolled into 3North’s lease, with the firm paying for the rest.
Started in 1998 in Hugo’s attic, 3North is entering its 26th year and has grown to include a second office in San Francisco. It’s currently designing projects across the Southeast. Notable local projects include the Richmond Amphitheater venue under development uphill from Tredegar.
3North’s focus areas include hospitality, commercial, single-family and multifamily residential, civic/cultural, and educational facilities. Hugo said the firm typically handles six or eight projects at a time. In 2020, it released a book, “3North Houses,” highlighting its residential work. In town, work has included a renovation of a home in Hampton Gardens that sold last year for over $6 million.
In recent years, Hugo has shared the company’s ownership with nine of his colleagues, a move he acknowledged sets the stage for eventual succession but also is meant to better reflect 3North’s ethos.
“I’d always talked about it as ‘our firm,’ and I fully believe in it that way, but until it actually became our firm, we needed to walk the walk,” he said. “The expanded ownership has really brought new buy-in and commitment and shared purpose, I think. It really has aligned people more than they have ever been before. It’s been a big change and a really great strategic move.”
Born in Ashland, the UVA grad with a master’s from the University of Pennsylvania said he has no immediate plans to retire but will be leaving 3North in good hands when he does.
“I feel like I will be working with and for the firm for as long as I can,” Hugo said. “I think in design and architecture, when you have that wisdom and experience, you want to apply it, but you also want to be energized by youth and idealism. I will be here for the foreseeable future. I’m not going anywhere.”
As for 3North’s new home, Hugo said a goal was to energize his team into returning to the office after years of remote and hybrid work during the pandemic. With the new space, he said that goal is being realized.
“As we’re all trying to encourage people to come back to the office, our philosophy around here is not to mandate; it’s really to make the office a compelling place to be, in all ways,” Hugo said. “It really has drawn people back to the office more organically than may have happened in other situations.”