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Firm bridges gap between renovation and preservation

You can see the work of the architectural firm Bunnyfish all over town but particularly in much of the new renovation projects downtown.

The firm has left its mark on the Inspire Theater, 107 Las Vegas Blvd. South; the Gold Spike, 217 Las Vegas Blvd. North; the casino’s Oasis; The Hydrant Club, 109 N. Ninth St.; the Bunkhouse Saloon, 124 S. 11th St.; and many other projects.

Most recently, it finished work on the John E. Carson Hotel building, 124 S. Sixth St., a former rundown hotel that has been converted into retail and office spaces. That’s also where you can find the firm, which was the last tenant to move in.

“We started more or less working in the coffee shop at Emergency Arts (520 E. Fremont St.) and then we moved into an 8-by-8 gallery room, then a 16-by-32, and now we’re here,” said Craig Palacios, who created the firm with partner Tina Wichmann. “We’re still settling in.”

The company has made a name for itself by dancing on the fine line between renovation and preservation. The company’s name is based on that concept. The term is a metaphor for an amalgamation. Its home building might be an example. From the outside, it’s hard to see what changes were made.

“The exterior is essentially the same,” Palacios said. “We repainted it the same color and got the sign working again. Inside, we did a bit more, doing things like adding the elevator.”

The elevator was added by removing several rooms. The goal was to make the second floor wheelchair-accessible. The firm also added a two-story, open-space lobby.

The firm also added a two-story, open-space lobby.

“Most developers don’t like to adaptively reuse buildings because it’s costly,” Wichmann said. “A lot of times, it easier to raze it and start over. Luckily, the people we’ve worked with downtown so far have been adamant about keeping the building.”

The firm doesn’t like to destroy the character of a building. It prefers to keep the exterior and bring its elements into the interior design changes. It’s a challenge to do this while modernizing the function of the building but one Wichmann and Palacios relish.

“We have to roll up our sleeves and figure out how to do it in a way that’s budget-minded and makes sense for our client’s investment,” Wichmann said. “We have to figure out how to do that while bringing the building up to code, making the spaces bigger, more functional and safe.”

The company recently renovated the Bunkhouse Saloon. The conversion of a parking area to an outdoor dining/hangout space/music venue seems obvious, but the work done on the building was more subtle.

“The Bunkhouse is a very beloved old saloon and a very cool music venue that crosses all the boundaries, from country to punk rock,” Wichmann said. “Nobody wanted to see that change. We added a top-notch sound system and expanded it 17 feet, but you’d never know that.”

Wichmann and Palacios are local, having met in architecture school at UNLV. They say their aesthetic isn’t something that comes from outside but is a natural extension of the city’s style.

“We don’t have our own architectural language here,” Wichmann said. “We borrow styles and buildings from other places. That’s how we end up with things like the Eiffel Tower and the Bellagio fountains. Our housing stock is borrowed from California style. What we do have in Las Vegas is what’s left over of downtown.”

Palacios lives in the John S. Park Historic District and sees renovations there that he finds unfathomable, such as mid-century modern homes with Grecian columns attached. When additional elements are added in Bunnyfish projects, the firm uses clean, modern pieces in which the form follows the function.

“In a lot of ways, we’re just making sense of what we have to work with and keeping history alive,” Wichmann said. “It’s a thing we haven’t done much of here in Vegas. We’re a wrecking-ball city.”

Contact East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 702-380-4532.

 

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