London architecture firm Freehaus leads a holistic refurbishment of Bahlsen’s headquarters, modernizing an Art Nouveau-inspired building while celebrating the German cookie brand’s storied past.
The Leibniz Butterkeks, the butter biscuit that Bahlsen invented in 1886, is as approachable as it gets. Despite its status as a national treasure – its rectangular, 52-tooth form was hailed as a Monument of German Design by Munich daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung – the treat is meant to be a simple pleasure, comforting and welcoming. And when Bahlsen approached London architecture firm Freehaus to redesign its Hanover, Germany, headquarters, these were exactly the attributes it wanted to celebrate.
A cold, corporate aesthetic never suited Bahlsen. So the brand challenged Freehaus to rethink its Art Nouveau-inspired building, designed in 1911 by local architect Karl Siebrecht, to be more welcoming to the public. The London firm, which has a portfolio of sensitive restorations, consulted with the Bahlsen family to determine “what might constitute a Bahlsen welcoming and how this might manifest into a design.”
The firm focused on three key elements: the building’s stone facade, the vaulted foyer and the reception area. For all, the firm focused on creating a residential aesthetic. “Whilst the design approach maintains a level of refinement, we really wanted the spaces to feel like one was at home, to give a more grounded and relaxed air, informing the way in which visitors and staff might interact,” says Freehaus director Jonathan Hagos.
The vaulted foyer, formerly “dark and solemn,” was elevated through a mix of curated lighting, seating and display cases that show off artifacts from Bahlsen’s storied past. A lightweight rig supporting pendants lights, custom-designed by Hamburg’s Lux100, brings illumination to the foyer’s darker corners; Freehaus also included floor lamps by Artemide and Fontana Arte. Chairs and tables by Knoll, Bolia, Fredericia and Gerbruder Thonet Vienna further reinforce the residential appeal, inviting visitors to linger in the space. Doors and handles are clad in leather – an inviting, tactile touch.
“This approach towards the domestic informed all of our decision-making, from the warmth of the light and the choice of furniture to the height of the reception desk and the level of polish on the terrazzo floor,” says Hagos.
The terrazzo floor also features a motif that continually emerges throughout the project: the familiar form of the Leibniz Butterkeks. Tiny “biscuits” are embedded here and there in the floor, a giant one is mounted on the wall at the reception and the reception desk itself references the form of the equipment used to shape the cookies. Along with custom-made display cases depicting Bahlsen’s past – which required consultations with brand archivist Dr. Brigit Nachtwey and branding designer Mutabor – these “hidden treats” insert pieces of storytelling throughout the building.
Bahlsen also wanted to encourage visitors to peer into how the biscuit is made. So Freehaus reopened the boarded-over bay windows overlooking the production floor. The firm clustered booths around these windows, where visitors could gather and peer into the test kitchens below.
The brand’s goal to become more accessible was achieved: now, the building is open to visitors hoping to indulge in Bahlsen’s history. Delicious.