The inside story on what went into designing downtown Farmington's new brewery

Construction is well underway at the site of downtown Farmington’s soon-to-be newest brewery, Heights Brewing. The husband-and-wife team of Ryan Kavanagh and Shawn MacDonnell have made the big step out from a home brewing operation and into the old Page’s Food & Spirits building, where they’ll make and serve a variety of seasonal and mainstay beers, and offer smoked meats and more. Unique to their menu are gluten-free beers and food items, which adds an extra layer of foresight in designing the new space. That results in two distinct grain mills, one for standard beers and one for gluten-free. Exhaust systems will even remove particulates from the air.

It’s a new set of challenges for the team at DesignTeam Plus, which is impressive considering that the Birmingham-based design firm has more than 17 (and counting) breweries in their portfolio. This is also a more urban setting than the firm is typically used to, which creates additional challenges – and opportunities.

Downtown Farmington is experiencing significant investment in its public spaces, with the Farmington Road streetscape project making that corridor more walkable and pedestrian-friendly, and pocket parks popping up wherever the city can squeeze them in. DesignTeam Plus has incorporated that emphasis on public spaces into their own project, as we’ll soon find out.

We spoke with Harold Remlinger, co-owner of DesignTeam Plus and the architect of record for the Heights Brewing project, and Shari Stein, co-owner and Principal Interior Designer for the firm.

L to R: Thea Donahue (Senior Designer), Jacob Bonacorsi (Senior Designer), Shari Stein (Co-owner DesignTeam Plus, Registered Interior Designer), Harold Remlinger (Co-owner, DTP, Licensed Architect), Jo Alter (Senior Project Manager, Senior Designer)Metromode: How would you characterize your design for Heights Brewing’s new home?

Harold Remlinger: It's kind of a collaboration between the owners and ourselves, because as part of our design process we always ask the owners to provide us with three adjectives that describe their brand. What they came to us with was Delicious, Decadent, and Local. So we looked at materials that were timeless, but also that fall under the decadent side of things – being of very nice quality, appealing, interesting. Materials that are always drawing people back in to take a look at what's going on as things are changing. 

Shari Stein: We also took our whole team to downtown Farmington and walked the streets, in the early phase of design, to get the flavor and flair of the farmers market, the artwork, the murals, to integrate all of that into the interior environment.

Harold: And as to the delicious aspect, that fell mostly on the client side with the styles of beer that they're producing, the gluten-free beer that they're going to be producing as well as the smoked meats and foods that they're going to be serving. They challenged us with designing the brewhouse and the kitchen to accommodate those gluten-free items. I feel that we've created an interesting space that's inviting – the street frontage with the windows opening up and the large glass garage door so you can see the brewhouse from the street. And that's how we're tying in the local aspect, that we're actually interacting with the public as they are going by. The brewery is located within The Syndicate area, which allows for open alcohol in public areas. We tried to embrace that. They also wanted to pay homage to Page’s restaurant because that’s what was in that building for almost 37 years beforehand. And prior to that it was the Stein Haus, which the community really remembers well, too. When comments were coming back on our Facebook posts about this project, a lot of people liked looking back and reminiscing about their days in the 70s going to the Stein Haus. So it's funny that it went from the Stein Haus to Page’s and now back to beer with a new brewing company. We tried to preserve the street frontage facade, but add in custom awnings that will be backlit, which then creates interest and is visually appealing to basically create wayfinding so that people know exactly where they are downtown.

Shari: So we preserved the brick but are giving it a modern flair.

Metromode: To piggyback off what you said earlier about taking the staff downtown and walking around and drinking it all in – forgive the pun – what were you struck by downtown and how was that incorporated?

Shari: One thing is the murals downtown. They have some really cool murals on the buildings downtown and our employees really wanted to embrace that. We have a custom wall covering that we’re doing for Heights.

Harold: It’s a sort of mural on the inside of the brewery that maps out the different styles of beer, and other southeastern Michigan breweries’ styles of beer, as well. Even Farmington Brewing Company will be recognized on the wall of Heights, to get that local brewers’ culture and the connection between the community of microbreweries.

Shari: It’s kind of like a brewery map, if you will.

Metromode: Given that your firm has designed so many Michigan breweries now, how does this one fit in? How is it uniquely itself?

Shari: We view each one as unique because we really cater to each particular client. It’s all about their personality; we’re not just cutting and pasting. So with every single client, it's all about personality and flair. 

Harold: I think this one is probably the most urban setting of breweries that we've done. A lot of our breweries have been out in rural areas and on their own property. This one is landlocked, it has zero property lines, and it's in an urban downtown. So we really have to focus on the connection to the streetscape. How do people interact with it? And what's the circulation for delivery? And how that affects what goes on. So I think that would kind of make this one a little bit more unique as you’re in this very urban downtown setting.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Heights Brewing is located at 23621 Farmington Rd. in downtown Farmington. Visit them online for updates on their expected September opening. And visit DesignTeam Plus online for a peek at their portfolio of Michigan breweries and more.
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Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.