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La-Z-Boy makes itself at home in new Monroe headquarters

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    La-Z-Boy’s new headquarters features a reflecting pool, a waterfall, and glass so workers can view the outdoors and the natural light can flood in.

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    Chief Executive Officer Kurt Darrow, on the steps leading down to the main atrium, said this new headquarters ‘screams style, fashion, design, and a company looking to the future.’

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    Maumee resident Holli Fortney, a senior interior designer, stands at an adjustable workspace at the La-Z-Boy headquarters. She can use the same space while seated too.

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    A modern La-Z-Boy chair is encased in glass at the entrance of the La-Z-Boy headquarters.

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07b1lazy-3

La-Z-Boy’s new headquarters features a reflecting pool, a waterfall, and glass so workers can view the outdoors and the natural light can flood in.

THE BLADE/LORI KING
Enlarge | Buy This Image

MONROE — If La-Z-Boy Inc. chief Kurt Darrow had doubts that the furniture maker’s new $60 million, international headquarters was state-of-the-art, they were erased by Google — not the Internet search engine, but the actual company.

Executives from Google Inc.’s Ann Arbor operations recently visited La-Z-Boy’s gleaming new offices in Monroe to talk business and tour the three-story building that workers began occupying in mid-March.

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“They came in here and walked around and after they got done they said, ‘We think you have out-Googled Google,’ ” Mr. Darrow, La-Z-Boy chairman, president, and chief executive officer, said laughing.

It is not surprising that officials from Google, a company known for its progressive, worker-friendly environments, were impressed.

Nestled in a serene savannah of tall oaks and boasting high-tech features and the latest in worker productivity trends, the new home of La-Z-Boy on 40 acres is a showcase that the venerable furniture company can be proud to show. It also is expected to contribute mightily to the company’s vision for its future.

“This building screams style, fashion, design, and a company looking to the future,” said Mr. Darrow, who presided over an official unveiling of the headquarters on Friday. “As good as it was for a long time, our old building had us looking like we lived in the past.”

The single-story elongated building at 1284 N. Telegraph Rd., which La-Z-Boy operated out of for 88 years, couldn’t be more different from the new steel, glass, wood, and brick complex at 1 La-Z-Boy Dr., which is partly in the city of Monroe and partly in Frenchtown Township.

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That former headquarters, Mr. Darrow said, was designed as a furniture store and a factory and was never designed to be the office it became.

At 200,000 square feet, the new office off Stewart Road has 5 percent less space than the former offices a quarter mile away.

But it has far greater usable space, hosting 500 employees in finance, sales, marketing, and information technology. It also houses a call center and La-Z-Boy’s senior management.

And its design, high-tech features, and amenities seem to put it ahead of any existing headquarters in Michigan.

“It is one of the top cutting-edge buildings probably, at least, in the Midwest,” said Dan Tabor, a recently retired principal at Toledo’s the Collaborative Inc. and head of the La-Z-Boy project’s architectural team. “I can’t say what’s going on in New York or the West Coast, but there’s nothing like it in the Midwest.”

Constructed by Rudolph/​Libbe Inc. of Toledo, which stayed on a 19-month schedule despite two harsh winters, the front of the headquarters features a reflecting pool and a waterfall.

A glass entryway leads to two large building sections that are connected by a large three-story high atrium that serves as cafeteria seating, a casual work setting, and a locale to generate interaction among work departments.

“I’ve seen some [IT] people that were in one end of the older building for 10 years, and at the north end of the old building for 10 years we had marketing, and they’ve finally met each other because there’s this big atrium and that gathering place in the middle of the building has just become a beehive of activity,” Mr. Darrow said.

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The third floor, which is smaller than the first two, houses 15 executive offices and conference rooms, including a glass-enclosed board room known as The Founders room. 

The third floor also has one of three outdoor patios — one for each floor — complete with comfortable outdoor furniture and Wi-Fi service.

The building, which soon hopes to be silver level LEED-certified, was constructed using large amounts of glass to permit natural light. But indoors, the facility has LED-lighting throughout and a system of window shades controlled by a central computer that monitors indoor temperature and the amount of light coming in.

Each floor is raised two feet from the base to make a place for electrical, heating and air conditioning, electronic cables, and other infrastructure, resulting in fewer walls and a more open environment.

Working with specialists from another Michigan firm, Steelcase office furniture, the interior lets an employee from any department work anywhere in the building.

Departments, such as finance or marketing, are assigned “neighborhoods” where most workers gather. But every desk — which can be raised or lowered at the push of a button to a seating or standing level — is first-come, first-serve, and a worker merely inputs a code on the phone to receive all calls at that desk. 

As work projects overlap, it isn’t unusual for finance or sales employees to camp out in the manufacturing “neighborhood” or vice versa.

“You’re building a building like this for employees today that are 30 to 35, not for people my age,” said Mr. Darrow, who is 60. “ And they work differently and we have to get used to that. The other thing you don’t want to do is you don’t want to bring your bad habits and perhaps a culture that was not as progressive.”

Going high tech

Changes have meant going mostly paperless, eliminating cubicles in favor of lockers, and having banks of drawers to store documents and other personal work items.

“I love the fact that you can go anywhere and just plug in and work,” the chief executive said. “We work on projects and we work in teams, and I think we come to better decisions when we are cross-functioning.”

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Chief Executive Officer Kurt Darrow, on the steps leading down to the main atrium, said this new headquarters ‘screams style, fashion, design, and a company looking to the future.’

THE BLADE/LORI KING
Enlarge | Buy This Image

La-Z-Boy is the third-largest furniture maker in the United States with $1.3 billion in annual revenue. It has seven manufacturing plants and 315 La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries stores in the United States and Canada. It is best known for its recliner, but the company makes a variety of sofas, chairs, sectionals, tables, and outdoor furniture.

At its new digs, the company invested in a high-tech system for its meeting rooms with large screen TVs — some on walls, some on the sides of tables, some hidden in furniture — that can project images from nearby laptops and have teleconference speakers in the ceilings. Securing these meeting rooms is via an electronic buildingwide scheduling system.

Among the amenities are a second-floor self-serve coffee bar, kitchenettes, patios, a cafeteria, a free daily selection of fresh fruit, an employee store with a small selection of sundries, a walking path through the forest, a fire pit in the main outdoor patio, and a growing list of concierge services.

All of this, Mr. Darrow explained, should help the firm in hiring. 

“At the very minimum, if all things are equal, this building could be a great tiebreaker when recruiting people,” he said.

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Maumee resident Holli Fortney, a senior interior designer, stands at an adjustable workspace at the La-Z-Boy headquarters. She can use the same space while seated too.

THE BLADE/LORI KING
Enlarge | Buy This Image

In the woods

A company that sells “comfort” couldn’t build a new headquarters that wasn’t comfortable, so the building features several alcoves, complete with La-Z-Boy recliners and furniture for employees to relax. The alcoves are being filled with mementos of the company’s history, some of which date to its 1927 founding.

The CEO’s favorite feature is a “Knolling Wall,” which artistically features the parts of a deconstructed La-Z-Boy recliner.

When Mr. Darrow approved building a new headquarters, he wanted to make sure it wasn’t on a busy road and he wanted “a massive amount of windows” because the old building had too few.

Secretly, he said, the company looked in Ann Arbor and Toledo for suitable sites, but the firm opted to stay in Monroe once it found it could buy 120 acres, including the 40-acre wooded headquarters site on the nearby campus of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Mr. Tabor, formerly of The Collaborative, loved the setting and with his team designed a “contemporary classical” building that integrates with the natural surroundings to take advantage of natural light.

07b1chair

A modern La-Z-Boy chair is encased in glass at the entrance of the La-Z-Boy headquarters.

THE BLADE/LORI KING
Enlarge | Buy This Image

“It’s timeless, it’s classical, it’s warm and welcoming,” Mr. Tabor said. While contemporary in style, Mr. Tabor said, the building has commonality with famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas of designing buildings in harmony with their environment. Mr. Tabor called it “near the top of my list” of favorite projects in his 36-year career.

Said Mr. Darrow: “...When you can look out every day at the woods, and see the deer and the patios that we have and all that, all these little extras make the building special.”

This update to the headquarters was in keeping with the company’s persistent effort with its retail partners to keep their stores updated, plus it means many more corporate events will be held at the company’s base of operations.

Next week, for example, the company will host 225 customers from outside North America for a four-day conference in Michigan — the first time it has ever done so.

“You’re creating an atmosphere here. Do you really need a waterfall? Do you really need a patio? I said, ‘No.’ If you just want an average place you don’t need any of this. But if you really want to impress people, and you want to engage people and surprise people, some of this stuff is necessary,” Mr. Darrow said.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.

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