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Mansion Renovated into Children's Museum


The restored Stager-Beckwith mansion—a four-story historic site on what was Millionaire’s Row in Cleveland, will reopen its doors as The Children’s Museum of Cleveland (CMC) on Monday, November 6.

In this space, CMC quadrupled the size of its former University Circle location. To reinvent its brand and transform the mansion into a hands-on, play-and-learn environment, CMC engaged in a team of architects and designers, including Richardson Design, an interior and graphic design consultancy.

Collaboration with the creative teams during the CMC project was integral for creative problem-solving to address infrastructural repairs, wayfinding, use of materials and interior design techniques (playing with scale, juxtaposing materials, color treatment). In approaching the adaptive reuse of the mansion, before any “new” could be added to the spaces within the historic structure, the team had to address the existing state of the building: water damage, peeling paint and neglect after being empty for years. The final product is a special place—marked with a playful smile logo—that will bring joy to visitors.

“The museum’s focus is creative play, and the environment supports this mission by inviting children to engage in a sense of discovery,” says Tracy van der Kuil, senior designer with Richardson Design.

Richardson Design’s charge was to create a fresh, engaging brand for CMC and a visual identity system to capture the excitement, intrigue and curiosity of the institution while positioning it for future growth. That included providing branding and interior design services. Richardson collaborated with CMC Director of Exhibits Karen Katz, architect John Swidrak of AoDK Inc., architect Sharon Sanders of SKS Designs, and design-build contractor The Krill Co., Inc. to transform the 1866 French Second Empire-style building into a museum of interactive displays for children.

“Because it is such a large space and there are a multitude of exhibits that are spread out in different areas within the mansion, it was important to make the design simple to navigate for parents and children,” van der Kuil says. “Color was a playful way to identify exhibits—it was used as a wayfinding tool for updating and energizing a space on a limited budget. It’s a fun way to activate displays and make a visual impact.”

Color differentiates spaces—while consistent use of materials throughout the exhibits and common areas connects the mansion’s many rooms and creates a fluid, seamless feel. Richardson selected a range of building and construction materials including plywood and metals, which are used throughout the building. The materials reflect an industrial, maker appeal and capture the essence of Cleveland as a raw, edgy urban center of builders, creators and innovators.

Richardson Design also built a complete brand system for CMC that is timeless and versatile—a logo, color palette, typography palette, photography direction and wayfinding system. The brand system gives CMC a visual foundation upon which it can grow and expand as the museum evolves. “What is unique about this project is, we were not only branding a space, but also branding an organization,” says Alex Hickey, senior graphic designer with Richardson Design. A color system identifies exhibits, and an icon system provides the youngest guests with visual cues so they can identify exhibits, too.

As for the exhibits, families can explore Adventure City, which includes a multi-level treehouse and rooftop garden, a climber, market and construction site. Wonder Lab is a world of water and air—an industrial science space equipped with a range of water-play activities and an innovative scarf shooter. The Arts & Parts art studio feels like a Tudor castle and retains the mansion’s historic flavor, while adding whimsy and playfulness with color and materials like a color-block patterned floor and graphic wall tiles. In Making Miniatures, a series of rooms finished in a painterly fashion are stages for a fascinating collection of handmade dollhouses gifted to the museum by Cathy Lincoln. The exhibit makes you feel as if you are moving through an actual dollhouse.

“It’s a place for everyone in the community, and it’s really a landmark in a central location of the city,” Hickey says of the truly unique project. A Phase 2 of the project promises more exciting exhibits for visitors to experience. (Stay tuned.)

van der Kuil adds, “We are very proud and excited to be a part of giving this museum back to Cleveland—to the children. This unique, collaborative project was meticulously thought-out and the outcome is a result of all parties involved working together toward the same goal. It turned out better than any of us could have imagined.”

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