Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

Location: Chicago, IL

In Chicago’s historic Beverly neighborhood, a 100-year-old decommissioned firehouse is now the LEED Silver certified workshop and headquarters for Optimo, a producer of handmade hats with a cult following across the globe. Bolstering the company’s production capacity by a factor of 10, its new home further cements its dedication to local hiring and training.

Founded in Beverly on Chicago’s South Side in 1991, Optimo was originally located in a much smaller storefront location, producing about 10 hats per day. The company’s growth prompted it to find a new location to expand its capabilities and increase its connection with the community. In 2015 Optimo was able to purchase the firehouse for just $1, thanks to a city program that sold empty lots and vacant properties for little more than pocket change to incentivize adaptive reuse and development. Located within the 95th Street corridor adjacent to a Metra station, the firehouse is firmly in Beverly’s gateway. Once badly deteriorated and stripped of all plumbing and electrical, it has been reborn as an important piece of Beverly’s urban fabric.

The existing structure, at 7,700 square feet, allowed the program to be distributed across its three floors. The first is dedicated to manufacturing, while the second and third stories house, respectively, a design studio and Optimo’s offices. Overall, the design encourages efficiency and collaboration by organizing the manufacturing equipment and distribution of electrical, steam, and compressed air to maximize productivity and create a healthy workspace.

Inside, durable and long-lasting materials such as blackened steel, walnut, and cork deliver a contemporary industrial aesthetic. The team preserved remnants of the building’s former life, including the Chicago Fire Department plaque and marble from the original showers which was used in the construction of a new kitchen. On the second floor, porthole windows flush with the floor now fill the original fireman’s pole openings.

Additional information

Brian Lee, FAIA, LEED®AP, Design Partner

Jaime Velez, FIIDA, ASID, Director of Interior Design

Jeremy Bouck, Senior Interior Designer

Daniel Bell, Senior Technical Designer, Associate Director

Dennis Milam, Technical Designer

Rebecca Delaney, PE, LEED® AP, MEP Team Leader

Michelle Mirrielees, LEED® AP BD+C, Materials Specialist

Dickson Whitney III, AIA, Project Manager

Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing (MEP) Engineer (company name): Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

Woodwork (company name): Carpenter Corey

General Contractor (company name): Helios

Creative Consultant to Optimo: Richard F. Tomlinson II

Hardwood Flooring: Ace Flooring and Restoration

Metalwork: Bader Art Metal & Fabrication

Project and Process Management: Dave Crowell / Cotter Consulting

Radiant Heating: GRYF

Plasterwork: Hugo Sanchez

Project and Design Assistance: James Gorski / Bureau of Architecture and Design; Tim Thompson Design

Brass Front Doors: Tim Thompson Design


Candid Rogers, FAIA, Chair, Candid Rogers Architect, San Antonio, TX

Cornell Anderson, AIA, Fieldwork Design & Architecture, LLC, Portland, Oregon

Caitlin Daley, AIA, Buell Kratzer Powell, LTD, Philadelphia, PA

William T. Eberhard, AIA, Eberhard Architects LLC, Cleveland, OH

Peter MacKeith, Assoc. AIA, University of Arkansas, Fay Jones School of Architecture, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Image credits


Tom Rossiter


Tom Rossiter


Tom Rossiter


Tom Rossiter


Tom Rossiter