Design Architecture Company Grows

October 14, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS —The architectural and interior design services of Via Design Inc., is found in high-end residential projects, professional offices, retail, restaurant and hospitality developments and restoration projects throughout West Michigan.

According to its founder, Valerie Schmieder, Via Design also offers custom furniture design services — mostly single, one-of-a-kind custom pieces — that are typically more in demand on the residential side.

Schmieder, an interior designer, founded the firm in 1989 and Brian Barkwell, an architect, joined as a principal in the company about six years ago.

Schmieder and Barkwell, however, had worked together for some time before that on a number of architectural projects.

For a number of years he was with another company that often collaborated with Via Design. The first project in which the two teamed up was for the interior design of Grand Valley State University’s buildings on the Pew Campus downtown.

“When I decided to go off on my own, I started collaborating more and more with Valerie,” Barkwell.

“It just made sense for us to partner up. We found that our work was better when we collaborated.”

Bringing the interior design and architectural services together under one roof, he said, allowed them to integrate all aspects of the design process to create custom building environments for their clients.

Traditionally, Via Design had been more involved in commercial projects. Over the past three years, however, business has been about evenly split between commercial and residential, Schmieder said.

More than 85 percent of Via Design’s projects these days involve both architectural and interior design services.

“Even though one project may lean more heavily toward the interior; interior architecture and interior design go hand in hand,” Barkwell pointed out.

“If we’re doing a restaurant, for example, it might be a totally interior space but it uses both disciplines.”

About a year ago, Via Design moved from just north of downtown to its new headquarters at 44 Grandville Ave. SW in the new Custer Office Environments building in the Heartside District.

“We just have always been downtown and have loved the whole feeling of being downtown,” Schmieder remarked.

The firm did the interior architecture for the Custer building when the 93-year-old, 54,500-square-foot warehouse was converted into an office building featuring a large furniture showroom.

“We developed the interior concept for how it worked architecturally inside the building,” Schmieder explained.

“That was fun because we wanted to preserve the old but give it a whole new updated image to the building.”

The result is a blending of contemporary aesthetics with the old factory’s historic features.

Via Design’s own office space in the building totals 11,000 square feet, all on one floor, which is more than twice the square footage of the firm’s former digs.

Parking is a little more accessible, too, Schmieder added.

The firm’s office space features a presentation room that includes displays of some of the company’s custom-designed furniture pieces and a spacious reference library that takes up half the floor.

The library houses furniture catalogues and samples of everything from fabric, carpet and tiles to hardware, lighting and plumbing.

“Our residential clients, especially, can have all their meetings down here, using our reference materials that are right on hand,” Schmieder noted.

“Our reps tell us that our library is the nicest library in town. We have both residential and commercial library resources.”

Via Design and Nucraft Furniture Co. received the Gold Award at the Chicago NeoCon show in June for a mural wall system Via Design designed for Nucraft.

The product is a highly flexible wall that support a variety of presentation formats, including even the most technology-intensive.

The Nucraft “Mural” product was designed to accommodate a wide array of electronic equipment, including plasma screens, projection systems, video conferencing cameras, sound systems, CPUs and laptops.

In addition to GVSU, Custer Office Environments and Nucraft, the firm has undertaken a variety of interior and architectural design projects for Alticor Inc., Ben Muller Realty Co., Terra Firma Development Co., Northway Family Dentistry, the former Old Kent Bank and numerous private residences in West Michigan, northern lower Michigan and Florida.

Via Design’s staff has grown to include 17 full-time people, including three licensed architects, two associate architects, five interior designers, two furniture designers, one resource librarian and four administrative and support staff.

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