Our recent visit to San Francisco afforded us the opportunity to meet part of the team at Mission Bell, a millwork, reclaimed wood, and casework company based in Morgan Hill, Calif. Our first exposure came during our Work Design TALK, held at DPR Construction’s new space, which features an abundance of Mission Bell’s reclaimed material. The following day, we visited Mission Bell’s showroom, where we learned more about the company’s “Design Assist” process, which has won the favor of many top design firms that are creating some of the Bay Area’s most notable workspaces.
Below, Mission Bell’s Mike Bilinski tells us more about their work, and how they educate the AEC community on the architectural millwork process. Scroll for the interview and photos (and a history lesson!).
WDM: One of the coolest things about your product is the local California story behind each of the different types of reclaimed wood. Tell us more about the history of some of the wood. What is your personal favorite?
Mike Bilinski: Mission Bell’s foray into procuring reclaimed material was an effort to control the process of fabricating millwork assemblies with this material. Architects rely on the AWS (Architectural Wood Standards) for specifying millwork, yet reclaimed and salvaged woods are not addressed in the AWS. Reclaimed and salvaged wood is a very nebulous and “boutique-y” area. Some suppliers are reputable and others are not. Some suppliers are just middlemen. As a result Mission Bell began procuring our own reclaimed material, looking for wood with local stories and history, and quantities that allowed us to do multiple projects. We now have wide variety of reclaimed and salvaged wood in Mission Bell’s inventory.
This material imparts a sense of nature, place, and local history, and appeals to the sensory aspects of a workplace. This is increasingly important to companies that are focused on promoting human interaction and innovation.
My personal favorite is the Transbay Douglas Fir, because the story behind the Transbay Terminal Building in San Francisco is so unique and so local. The Terminal was completed in 1939 at First and Mission Streets as a terminal for East Bay trains using the newly opened Bay Bridge. In its heyday at the end of World War II, the terminal’s rail system served 26 million passengers annually with ten-car trains arriving every 63.5 seconds. After the war ended and gas rationing was eliminated, the terminal’s use began to steadily decline. In 1958, the lower deck of the Bay Bridge was converted to automobile traffic only. The Key System was dismantled and by 1959 the inter-modal Transbay Terminal was converted into a bus-only facility. A completely new Transbay Terminal complex is currently underway, and Mission Bell has been able to acquire Douglas Fir foundation pilings during the excavation process.
Another fascinating fact about the Transbay area of the city is that prior to the Gold Rush of 1849 it was the San Francisco Bay. After the Gold Rush the area was filled in with the abandoned ships and debris left behind by the “49ers.” Due to the tidal action of the bay, there is still salt water intrusion into the soil of the Transbay Terminal area. This tidal action gives the pilings that Mission Bell reclaimed a unique coloring from slight green/blue/grey and red mineral coloration.
It seems like Mission Bell is pretty popular with the tech crowd, and you’ve been able to capitalize on the boom of offices in Silicon Valley and now in San Francisco. Why do you think these young technology companies love your product?
Mission Bell’s popularity emanates from the intensive collaborative approach we take with our clients (the architectural and construction community) to achieve their clients’ (the tech-business community) visions, and goals. Mission Bell’s reputation in using Design Assist as a collaborative tool results in invitations to become involved early on, at a projects inception. By providing consultative guidance in detailing and reviewing the constructability of millwork assemblies, Mission Bell can make recommendations that optimize the material, function as needed, and keep with the aesthetics of the architect’s design intent.
Working in concert with design teams, the many technology companies that we have worked with appreciate our work in part because we have established a reputation of craftsmanship, service, and adept application of material, particularly with reclaimed wood. This material imparts a sense of nature, place, and local history, and appeals to the sensory aspects of a workplace. This is increasingly important to companies that are focused on promoting human interaction and innovation.
Tell us more about the product used in the DPR project — Redwood from Moffett Field and Douglas Fir from the original Transbay Terminal. Describe the product: what’s the appeal? Why did they choose it?
The Redwood used in the DPR project was reclaimed from Hangar One at Moffett Field, one of the world’s largest freestanding structures. Larger than six football fields, it has long been one of the most recognizable landmarks of California’s Silicon Valley. The entire canopy of this structure was lined with old growth tongue and grooved 2 x 6 Redwood, believed to be 2,000 years old. The Douglas Fir used on the project was reclaimed from the Transbay Terminal. Similar to the Moffett Field Redwood, this is also old growth material.
The appeal of it is multi-faceted: Companies are environmentally conscious and reclaimed wood enhances LEED Certification for their projects, it’s incredibly beautiful, and it has a rich local history and stories that connect with people’s hearts.
The material was chosen during a Design Assist process with DPR, FME (DPR’s architect), and Mission Bell. This process allows the architect to collaborate at the front end of a project when the aesthetics and design intent can be discussed, and recommendations can be made that help the contractor maintain the target value of the design. Millwork preconstruction managers consult and bring constructability and material application expertise to the collaboration. The collaboration process on this project took place in Mission Bell’s San Francisco showroom, where we maintain a library of veneers and reclaimed wood for the design assist process, and where we were able to present material that fit FME’s design intent.
Tell us more about the Mission Bell process. An architect comes into your showroom to look at wood samples. They pick one. What happens next in terms of design and construction?
It’s a collaborative arrangement in which we become partners with the design team providing consultative guidance in detailing and constructability of millwork assemblies. Mission Bell’s working showroom is located in San Francisco’s financial district, in close proximity to many of the AEC companies we work with. These design firms have come to think of and use of our space as an extension of their office. We maintain a library of reclaimed wood and veneer, as well as dissimilar materials (like acrylics, solid surface, metal, glass, etc.) that are used to create millwork assemblies. This library is essential in the design assist process as we go through the review of design development drawings, renderings, inspirational photos, and pictures. We recommend various material applications based on our experience. The rapport that we have with our vendors helps us keep us abreast of the latest material innovations. Every design assist project is unique. For some projects we simply make material recommendations; other projects involve complex constructability engineering solutions mock-ups and BIM models. Mission Bell handles preconstruction, estimating, project management and BIM in-house. Working through the complexities of millwork assemblies at the front end of projects, and establishing the correct information, enables our projects to be successful.
What’s the most innovative way a client has used your product?
One of the most innovative ways our reclaimed Moffett Redwood was used was for a project with Motorola Mobility, a technology company located directly adjacent to Moffett Field (the source of the material, and the allure of the local story). This project consisted of multiple floors with “themed” areas, one of which was a nautical theme. The architect had Mission Bell create a sailing ship’s mast, which covered a structural column.
What’s on the horizon for Mission Bell? Any big, exciting workplace projects? What’s the scope of your work for the Apple Spaceship? Any new sources for reclaimed wood that you’re excited to take advantage of in the future?
This year has been very exciting for Mission Bell. The quality and quantity of complex projects continues to increase as firms in Silicon Valley are expanding and creating locations in San Francisco. In the SOMA, Transbay, and Mission Bay Areas alone there are 25 new high-rises being constructed.
Mission Bell declined to bid the Apple Spaceship project because it would have consumed our entire manufacturing and installation capacity for the duration of the project, at the neglect of the rest of our client base. We are confident that there will be residual work coming from the Apple project in the form or smaller projects and assisting out of area firms with installation.
Mission Bell has a new division of the company that is focusing on reclaimed wood purchasing and milling. We are creating a network of sources as demolition companies and other wood recyclers have learned of our interest and creativity in using Reclaimed Wood. Mission Bell just recently purchased the original “Ferry Morse” seed barn processing building, and dismantled it, reclaiming approximately 75,000 board feet of Redwood and Douglas Fir, plus many other assemblies like doors, windows, machines, and more.
Check out this video for more on Mission Bell:
This product profile was sponsored by Mission Bell.