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Plenty of law firms are playing musical offices, searching for signature space to convey a particular message about their firm culture or personality. But few these days make the decision to move into and renovate historic space. Although such a decision can present an opportunity to meld the past with the present, there are numerous practical challenges that need creative solutions. Renovating and adding to a historically designated building isn’t for the faint of heart, especially when it comes to incorporating 21st-century technology into a 19th-century building. One law firm, however, recently took that plunge and emerged from the renovation process relatively unscathed. Of course, one lawyer and the architect involved both admit that the renovation process wasn’t always easy. Heller Ehrman, a law firm that has its roots in San Francisco, moved into its new Washington, D.C., home, at 1717 Rhode Island Ave. N.W., just a little more than a year ago. Originally, the historic portion of Heller Ehrman’s new home was a town house built in the late 1800s. This one is particularly notable in the legal world as a result of some of its former residents, including Henry Cabot Lodge and Supreme Court Justice Edward Douglas White, who penned the famous Standard Oil antitrust case in the early 1900s. The firm knew there were likely to be bumps in the process because of various restrictions relating to the restoration and renovation of a historically designated building. But Brent Rushforth, a Heller Ehrman shareholder, convinced his firm that it was a risk worth taking. He says his firm ultimately made the move because the shareholders felt this historic building would give their firm the image they were looking for — something that could make them stand out in a city brimming with lawyers. “We liked this space because we felt the historic nature was consistent with the message of Heller Ehrman as the oldest law firm on the West Coast,” says Rushforth. The result is that the firm has “a really historic building that has been outfitted for a modern law practice.” Although most of the zoning and historic preservation issues had been worked out by the site’s developer before Heller Ehrman decided to make this the home of its new Washington offices, Rushforth and the architects who worked on the project admit there were plenty of other challenges that popped up during the process that called for creative solutions. For instance, attorney offices were put in a new structure constructed directly behind the historic town house. But the firm wanted to turn the town house portion of the project into conference rooms and teleconference centers. That created huge challenges in integrating the necessary technology. Plaster ceilings, for example, had to remain intact — no dropped ceilings or access panels allowed. Carolinn Kuebler, one of the architects with Studios Architecture who was primarily responsible for the project, says to solve that technology-access problem, they had to create separate maintenance closets outside of the historic area, in the space built to connect the historic part of the building with the new construction. These closets would house the “guts” for all the state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment. Consequently, the conference rooms would remain historically accurate. And then there was the elevator. Not a problem at all when you’re building a new high-rise, but, obviously, elevators weren’t contemplated back in the days of Henry Cabot Lodge. There wasn’t room to house the necessary machine room below or above the elevator shaft, as is common practice in a new building. So Kuebler says they had to convince the

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