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Hazel Tree creates Akron-centric design for ‘The Generator’ at Bounce Innovation Hub

September 9, 2018

Hazel Tree creates Akron-centric design for ‘The Generator’ at Bounce Innovation Hub

AKRON, Ohio – Hazel Tree Design Studio principal Karen Starr is applying a city-centric approach to the design of the first floor of Akron’s Bounce Innovation Hub, aptly named “The Generator.”

The 30,000-square-foot space in the former B.F. Goodrich plant will showcase artifacts that speak of Akron’s essence without a museum feel and will point to the city’s future, she said. And much of what visitors will find when the space opens next year will have been created or repurposed by Akron artists.

“It’s of, by and for Akron,” Starr said in an interview with cleveland.com.

Bounce, which officially opened in April, is slowly filling the nine floors of the old tire plant with entrepreneurs, inventors and innovators, from individuals to startups. It’s designed to attract investors, businesses and other partners to help support and develop the companies.

The facility also will offer workshops, training and other services for anyone interested in applying innovation to strengthen the region and create jobs.

But the most public area of Bounce will be the vast first floor, which will include an event area and a café.

For the first-floor design, Bounce CEO Doug Weintraub wanted a firm that understood innovation and creativity, he said, but also had the fortitude to get the work done within budget.

Weintraub wants people walking through the door to immediately know they had arrived in Akron. Having grown up in Akron, Weintraub wants to include elements of iconic businesses, people and events that make up the essence of the city.

“All arrows pointed to Karen,” he said. “This is a great place to show it all off. I don’t think she’s ever had a chance like what we’re doing on the first floor. It’s a blank slate.”

Over the past couple months, Starr and her team have toured the Goodrich smokestack building adjacent to Bounce, tagging artifacts she wants to repurpose. She’s working with Akron artists on furnishings and décor. She’s chosen rubber flooring for the events area so it’s versatile enough for whatever is planned there. She also is designing a “bounce room,” which will involve exercise balls and trampolines.

Starr also just set up a work space at Bounce, for Hazel Tree’s work with the first floor and to serve as gathering place for Akron artists.

With construction set to begin, Bounce will host a grand opening for the first floor, in the first quarter of next year, Weintraub said.

Hazel Tree served many residential and commercial clients over the past decade. The company just completed work on several outdoor spaces at the University of Akron and was chosen in 2017 to design Akron’s Lock 2 Park for the Akron Civic Commons project.

“To be asked to do what I do for a living for the community at large was like a dream come true,” Starr said. “It’s a different way of thinking about design, because everyone is your client.”

Hazel Tree designed the giant holiday tree at Lock 3 Park in 2017, and is already at work on this year’s tree.

“That was important for the artistic community as a whole,” she said. “To have an artist be contracted by the city to bring something to life for the city.”

Hazel Tree also was asked to design Curated Storefront, a 2016 Knight Arts Challenge winner that aims to showcase buildings that are abandoned through ongoing, curated exhibitions.

Hazel Tree is housed in an historic building at 143 West Market St. near downtown Akron. Starr continues a line of interior designers who have worked from that site -- the late interior designer John Mazzola, whose friend, sculptor Don Drumm, left design elements all around the building and Kevin Royer, who owned NORKA Futon for decades there.

Hazel Tree came about nearly a decade before Starr had planned to set up her own shop. In 2010, she and Jon Haidet, an art framer, were celebrating an especially good week when her interior design business was only weeks old. The pair ran into Royer, Haidet’s friend, who offered to lease them the building.

The pair jumped at the opportunity. Since then, in addition to the couple’s work space, the building has been used to showcase the art of local artists.

“We became a space for people who didn’t really have a place to sell their work, to sell their work, which was lovely,” she said.

Now, with more places available locally for artists to sell, and the art economy growing stronger in Akron, Hazel Tree is evolving back to a design showroom.

“We are getting back to our roots,” she said. “We’ll always be artists’ representatives and the showroom will always sell the work of furniture makers and lighting makers, because that’s not really what you see elsewhere, and that’s really our specialty.”

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