Opening up the Design Exchange in 2011

The creative buzz in Pawtucket will be getting louder when Lerner Ladds + Bartels moves to a historic mill building at 161 Exchange Street. The office will be relocating from our roots in Providence just in time to celebrate our 75th anniversary in 2011. Partners Chris Ladds and Kathy Bartels recently purchased the building and are planning a complete renovation, creating 15,000 square feet of available office and retail space. The west wing building is the last piece of the puzzle in rehabilitating this important area of Pawtucket; once the renovation is complete, the complex will collectively be known as the Design Exchange.

Morris Nathanson, principal of Morris Nathanson Design, envisioned the Design Exchange as a consortium of designers, craftspeople, and artisans. The name of the complex was crafted for its dual meaning as a collaborative exchange of design ideas at an arts-centered location on Exchange Street. The proposed renovation project will complete Nathanson’s vision.

Through our relocation, we're emphasizing our commitment to building restoration, adaptive reuse, and design collaboration. We will be occupying the top floor of the four-story building. Partner Kathy Bartels notes, “The existing space is raw enough to put our stamp on it and call it our own.” Chris Ladds mentions that it provides the loft-like spaces that are conducive to a collaborative work environment. He adds that, “Collaboration is a big part of our practice… it will be strengthened in this kind of studio setting.”

With floor plates at 5,000 square feet, the size of the building is a perfect fit for us; we hope to find like-minded creative professionals to fill the second and third floors. “The goal is to attract creative professionals to the Design Exchange to forge opportunities in collaboration under one roof. Graphic designers, engineers, marketing strategists - these are all design disciplines that would thrive within a creative neighborhood.” Others in the area include Morris Nathanson Design, The GAMM Theatre, Fuller Fine Jewelry, Orange Square Design, and the Pawtucket Armory Center for the Arts.

Even though our current location in the College Hill neighborhood of Providence has served us well, we have outgrown the Queen Anne Victorian house owned by our late partner, Steve Lerner. “It’s been an asset to have a space where we could expand or contract as needed. It’s also been great being in this location, but for some years now, we’ve been bursting at the seams,” says Bartels.

We started a search for the perfect building some fifteen years ago. Although our ultimate goal was to remain in Providence, we ventured to East Providence and Bristol before finding a place to settle in Pawtucket.

Despite the complication in financing and renovating an existing mill building, we steered away from purchasing a plot of land and constructing a new building. “The firm is really committed to the redevelopment of urban land and we saw this as the perfect opportunity to practice what we preach –sustainability and environmental responsibility,” Ladds said. Proximity to the highway, access to public transit, and a walkable community add to the appeal of the location.

The project could not have succeeded without the tireless help from several people. John Garrahy and Paul Harley, of the law practice Moses & Afonso, assisted the partners tremendously in shepherding the project through multiple closing agendas, including the complicated tax credit program.

Ray Bourcier at DEC Consulting Company is the project manager for the renovation of the Design Exchange. Bartels commented, “Hiring Ray was a great decision. We’ve developed a strong relationship with him through our projects at Brown University and the Moses Brown School and we know he can handle the project while we stay focused on our current clients and projects. He also provides us with a friendly reminder, at times, to take off our architect hats and put on our developer hats.”

Jim DeRentis of Residential Properties, formerly chief business officer at BankRI, will be marketing the leasable space on the second and third floors of the Design Exchange to prospective design professionals. The general contractor, Case Construction, has begun construction and will bring the project to life with historic mill character and state-of-the-art building systems.

In the coming months, the Design Exchange will develop a website which will include video tours and floor plans at