'You try getting consensus from 50-plus attorneys on color palettes'


Firm’s space redesign invokes Detroit past, present, and future

Detroit is in Kerr Russell’s DNA. The firm has been located in Detroit since 1874, and they have been at the table for so much of the beautiful, rugged, scrappy city’s history. They have been in Detroit when it was cool, when it was not, and when it was again, and they could not be happier to see the dynamic resurgence, across industry and across culture, which Detroit has now achieved.

Just as Detroit has reinvented itself while honoring its past, it was important for Kerr Russell to reimagine their physical space—both for the benefit and well-being of colleagues and to provide a welcoming environment to clients—while staying true to the firm’s core values.

Stephen McGraw is a member of the firm’s executive committee, and his practice primarily involves defending and prosecuting matters in litigation for professionals. He notes, “This was such a collaborative effort, and the partners involved really went above and beyond to make this happen. It was important to all of us to reflect this city and our place in it. Detroit is special to all of us, and creating a space which reflected that, welcomed our clients and potential recruits, and provided a comfortable environment in which to do our work was essential.”

Brandy Mathie, member—whose practice addresses all aspects of real estate law, including real estate development and financing, with substantial experience in the areas of acquisitions, dispositions and leasing—helped facilitate the firm’s space planning efforts. Work
included a redesign of the firm’s public spaces, including the lobby, as well as a refresh on all attorney offices.

“It wasn’t easy. You try getting consensus from 50-plus attorneys on color palettes,” Mathie laughs. “But it was completely worth it. We worked together on a task, very different from our day-to-day legal collaboration, and we learned more about our respective tastes and interests. I am very grateful to Steve for being an advocate for this work and for articulating a clear vision for what we wanted to achieve as an organization.”

Kerr Russell Members Catherine Edwards and Daniel Schulte also played integral roles in the process. Edwards’ practice covers a broad range of litigation matters, concentrating primarily in the areas of medical malpractice defense, commercial litigation and employment litigation. Schulte serves as administrative partner of the firm, and his practice involves representing healthcare professionals in state regulatory matters, including disciplinary and other licensing disputes with the State of Michigan, and federal regulatory matters including fraud and abuse issues. McGraw notes that Schulte, “as administrative partner has really supported this effort and driven us to keep going because of the value these changes bring to our culture.”

It was important to the group that this effort held a modern sensibility, while acknowledging the storied past of a law firm over 140 years old. “We have smart, interesting people here who do great work. We wanted our space to reflect that, to be inviting, and to be Detroit ... without resorting to clichés about ‘The Motor City,’” explains Edwards.

The team worked with Mandy Lark of Lark Interior Design to identify art that would be consistent with this approach.

“We didn’t want it to be predictable. We wanted traditional and sophisticated, yet relatable,” observes Lark, who started her career in banking downtown and made the leap to interior design when she started her own company eight years ago. “We wanted to look to local artists, and we wanted to invoke iconic Detroit. I remember when this building [Ally Center, formerly One Detroit] was only half-occupied and Kerr Russell was one of very few tenants, so it is great to see such vibrancy all around.”

For the original art photography lining Kerr Russell’s newly refurbished walls, Lark turned to Detroit’s Sooney Kadouh, who provided imagery both immediately recognizable (e.g. Belle Isle, Guardian Building) and more esoteric. In describing his aesthetic, Kadouh notes he focuses on what makes the region “so unique ... landscape, architecture, hard work, and of course, a lot of adventure.”

In framing these images, Lark took a novel approach. “I didn’t want to do the obvious black and white with black frames. I wanted to create a warmer wash, so we went with a sepia tone and a softer earth tone metallic in the framing. We also created a bit of ‘forced perspective’ to create a bit of drama around the images with matting that was larger at the bottom than on the sides and top.”

That sense of adventure and of appreciation for Southeast Michigan is evident throughout Kerr Russell’s hallways now, and the firm looks forward to sharing the new artistic additions with clients, guests, and future colleagues.

“We are very pleased with our updated space,” notes Schulte. “Detroit has contributed greatly to the firm’s history of success.  It’s nice to be able to express our appreciation this way.”
Photos by David Frechette