IVYLAND, PA - Looking for more comfortable and creative spaces, marketing agency Group G Direct has moved into a 98-year-old Colonial Revival brick schoolhouse at 99 Willard Avenue in this tiny Bucks County community.
First, though, says Geff Rapp – one of Group G's two senior managing partners whose first names start with the letter G – the agency, with close cooperation from Ivyland Borough, renovated and repurposed the 1,300 square feet of space. It spent about $50,000 in the process and has a long-term lease.
"We left a barn and went old school," explains Greg Olenski, the other senior managing partner. For the past 15 years, Group G's offices were in a converted hayloft in Warminster above a carriage house attached to a barn.
"We never had clients there," Greg says. The day after our open house, we had two clients here at Ivyland. It's very gratifying to have a place to call our own."
Primarily relying on handy, creative family members and relatives with special skills to make the renovations, Group G Direct:
• Completely gutted the old schoolhouse, which sat empty for about three years. Workers repainted the walls in neutral earth tones, applied dark blue to the doors and trim, covered the ceiling tiles with chocolate brown, and re-finished the hard rock maple wooden floor.
• Installed pheasant stone veneer around a column at the entrance, and in several offices as well.
• Created an impressive stone water wall inside the reception area, complete with a large letter G in the company's Garamond typeface.
• Built several offices incorporating large wall cutouts several feet below the ceiling to provide natural light and connect the space with the main reception area.
• Used a reclaimed barn door from a local Ivyland neighbor for a conference room exit, plus a conference room table created from a wooden boxcar. The table weighs over 500 lbs.
• Developed a retro kitchen that includes vintage metal cabinetry, 1950's-looking appliances and a boomerang Formica pattern with diner trim. It's topped by a retro lighting fixture with blue stripe matching both the color of the refrigerator and microwave (and a 1955 Ford Thunderbird).
• Poured a custom concrete countertop in the large bathroom that is designed to accommodate a wheelchair.
• Installed 65-inch wall-hung, high-def Samsung infrared-connected TV monitors in several key areas (without visible cable boxes).
• Landscaped the exterior and installed new exterior doors.
Antique Gunlocke chairs provided by the mother of Scott Sinkler, a founding partner who died of cancer in August 2004, help dress up the reception area. A tribute to Scott, with photos of the early days, also has a prominent spot in the room. "He would be proud of us," Greg says.
Group G Direct holds an annual golf tournament in Scott's honor each August, and has raised over $45,000 for the American Cancer Society.
To add just the right finishing touches to the schoolhouse, Group G purchased vintage black floor registers, old clothing hooks for the coatroom, office light reproductions, and 1-lb. oil-rubbed bronze doorknobs. The agency also turned an old 1940's chalkboard into a combo chalkboard/whiteboard. The unique board enables employees to use any agency open space for impromptu meetings and discussions.
Rapp, an Ivyland resident who knew the schoolhouse was empty and had a vision about how to effectively use it, kept asking the Borough Council what was happening with the building.
But turning Geff's dream into reality was not easy.
The schoolhouse had been sold to the consolidated Centennial School District in the late sixties, for $1, used as an alternative school for many years, and then left vacant for several years.
The borough wanted the schoolhouse, known first as the Ivyland School and later as the Dorothy Henry School, mostly for the open space that went with it.
In 2012, Ivyland bought the school and adjacent property under an open spaces county grant. The purchase tremendously expands Ivyland's park area, which runs all the way from the schoolhouse to the borough building.
"It completed that huge piece of property, which is Borough Park," says Robert Severn, Borough Council President. The renovated school "has become a real asset. It's a real win-win, and a nice, sensitive reuse of the schoolhouse," he says.
Salvatore DiPaolo, Council Vice President and Chairman, Parks and Recreation, agrees. "The building was icing on the cake. It's a beautiful thing," he says, praising Group G Direct's attention to detail. "There was a lot of close communication, shared responsibility and a high trust level."
Ivyland, the second smallest borough in size in Pennsylvania at 0.35 square mile, has one of the largest collections of Victorian houses in the state. Most of the borough is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
"We try to cherish our things and preserve them," Sal says.
Leading the renovations for Group G Direct were cousins Rich Levey and Dennis Levy, who spell their last names differently but work really well together.
"It was a bit of a mess when we got here," Geff says, "but it really came together." Helping the professionals along the way was a large cast of family members.
The agency also purchased materials from about 25 different vendors, most of whom Geff located online.
To make sure the building has a strong energy flow, a Group G Direct employee enlisted the help of a friend knowledgeable in feng shui. She gave it her enthusiastic approval.
Group G Direct, which has six full-time employees, and a network of over 20 marketing professionals from Oklahoma to Rhode Island, approached the schoolhouse renovations the same way it does any other project.
The agency finds good people, agrees on objectives, and lets them do their jobs. This reliance on a network of on-call talent has helped Group G Direct weather the usual ebbs and flows of the marketing business, especially after the 9/11 attacks and the recent recession.
Geff is really pleased with the agency's new workspace. "People want to come in now. It doesn't feel as much like work when you are here."
Greg agrees. "We wanted something unique and really went back to the future. We started Group G out of Geff's kitchen. Fifteen years later, we are back in Ivyland."
About Group G Direct:
Group G Direct, which opened its doors in June 1998, is a privately held direct response marketing agency. From its headquarters in Ivyland, Pa., Group G Direct serves major U.S. clients, such as: Home Depot, Huntington Bank, Purple Heart, Wells Fargo, UnitedHealthcare and more. Annual billings range from $1 million to $2 million.
SOURCE: Group G Direct
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