Cool Workspace: Rennie Group’s Remodelled Chinatown Office

See how a heritage space became home to a bustling real estate marketing and brokerage firm.

August 14, 2017

By Stacey McLachlan / Photo: Rennie Group

You’ve probably noticed the giant neon “Everything is Going to be Alright” sign that lights up Chinatown at night, but you may not have had a chance to peek inside the heritage building it’s attached to. That’s a shame, because the Rennie Group (and the attached museum, the Rennie Collection at Wing Sang) has transformed the space into an envy-inducing workspace that brings a modern vibe to their little piece of Vancouver history.

It’s the oldest building in Chinatown (built in 1889, with three additions added later), and Rennie Group worked closely with the city and heritage committee in the preservation of it. “The original owner came from San Fransisco and came up to work for the railroad as liaison with the Chinese labour force,” explains president Kris Rennie. “Over the years, the building was used as a rooming house, a school and a place to grow and sell opium.”

Because the city wanted the building facade maintained when the Rennie Group, a real estate sales and marketing company, moved in, “we worked hard to maintain and bring it back to what it could have been,” explains Carey Fouks, who does much of the design planning and layout at Rennie. In the back, they built a “building within a building,” to keep the “memory of the windows,” says Fouks. The original exterior wall, which is visible from the rooftop deck, features a row of windows now laid overtop of simple concrete.

Ultimately, though, the design isn’t all about the past… it’s about embracing the people who are working in it today, too. “We want everyone feeling as if it’s theirs to interact with in its entirety,” says Rennie.

Photos: Inside Rennie Group’s Cool Chinatown Office

 
The rooftop is the “one space where the office and museum overlap,” says Rennie. The neon Everything is Going to Be Alright sign by artist Martin Creed shines over the space where the staff gathers for barbecues and dinners throughout the year.


The board room is in what used to be a school room—you can even see chalkboard markings that have been preserved under glass. “It’s basically the way we found it,” says Fouks. “We just added some chairs.”


In the hallway hang artifacts that reference the culture or politics from throughout the company’s history, and tie in with Bob Rennie’s art collection that focuses heavily on race and marginalization. There’s a wall of Obama comic books and copies of Vanity Fair’s Africa covers. There are also moments that celebrate the company itself, like this colourful sales presentation from Olympic Village.


In the Park room, the staff gathers around an oversized picnic table for meetings. The parking garage is accessible through the back doors. “Carey got carried away with the signage,” laughs Rennie.


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There are punch-out spaces where different divisions sit, but the layout is mostly made up of communal spaces.


The fireplace is from the original design and was left in. Around the room, photos hang that document the building’s transformation. “We hired a photographer to come in every two months. At the end we had about 300 pictures to sift through,” says Fouks.


“These high tops by the coffee machine are where everybody grabs coffee and fruit in the morning to chat. It’s like our version of the water cooler,” says Rennie. The historic plaque is mounted right here in the kitchen.


About 190 people share this office, including an in-house baker who cooks up fresh cookies and scones all day long to keep the kitchen and seven board rooms well stocked.

 

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