The Art of Distraction

Client comfort influences design choices at divorce firm

The Daily Report

When you stroll through the corridors of Kessler, Schwarz & Solomiany, there are no portraits of button-down managing partners staring down from their paneled perches. There isn’t even any paneling.

Instead, there are a half-dozen lithographs by Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based artist David Schluss. His subjects, all clowns, have their heads thrown back, their eyes squeezed tight by spasms of laughter, their caps askew and their polka-dot outfits splashed with color.

The upbeat collection, purchased by Randall M. “Randy” Kessler, offsets the often somber atmosphere of the divorce firm. So do vivid holographs by Israeli artist Ygal Agam, colorful prints by pop artist Peter Max and a lithograph of “My Petunia Could Lick Your Geranium” by Theodor Seuss Geisel—Dr. Seuss himself.

The artwork is not the only eye-catching element of the Kessler, Schwarz & Solomiany office. Situated in the Centennial Building, 35 floors above Marietta Street, the firm boasts impressive views of downtown Atlanta, including every landmark from Turner Field to Centennial Olympic Park.

A ‘Happy and Light’ Atmosphere Founded in 1991, Kessler, Schwarz & Solomiany has remained in the same location for 13 years. The current office design took shape just six months ago, following two major expansions that, together, added 5,900 square feet to the firm’s space.

As part of the first expansion, completed in 2001, the firm removed a conference room, giving visitors to the reception area an unobstructed view of downtown. It also expanded glass panels in select outer walls to enhance openness and admit natural light.

At the same time, the firm redecorated the entire office, bringing in new artwork and replacing fluorescent lighting with recessed fixtures and incandescent bulbs.

“We wanted a distinctive look that was more modern and upbeat,” Kessler said.

Having chosen the firm’s artwork himself, Kessler took charge of decorating. In addition to creating an “uplifting, happy and light” atmosphere, his goals were simple: He wanted a look so unusual that no one entering the office would say, “This reminds me of an office I’ve seen somewhere,” and he wanted the space to have a “wow” effect on visitors.

Kessler calls the result of his efforts “the art of distraction,” adding that the artwork and panoramic views are uplifting to his clients.

Balancing Openness and Privacy

Openness is a hallmark of the Kessler, Schwarz & Solomiany office. During the second expansion, overseen by Atlanta-based design consultant Jennifer Treeter, the firm installed glass walls in six new offices, repeating a design element from the first expansion.

While the airy atmosphere can be uplifting, it also can create anxiety for some clients who feel “on display.” For example, the interior wall of Kessler’s office is partly glass. While the design allows natural light to pass into interior workstations, it also provides a partial view into the office.

Clients were uncomfortable with the lack of privacy, and, as a result, the firm added partitions to the workstations, obscuring staff views of Kessler’s office. The firm also began holding initial client meetings in private conference rooms.

According to Kessler, clients quickly adjust to the sense of openness in the office, and they enjoy the décor. In at least one instance, however, the firm’s artwork brought Kessler face to face with someone who wasn’t a fan.

While attending an art auction several years ago, Kessler noticed that the auctioneer slammed the gavel with far more force when Kessler bid than when other attendees bid. Following the auction, Kessler asked the auctioneer about what he had noticed.

“You represented my ex-wife at the divorce hearing,” the auctioneer told him.