Carol Espinosa bears a striking grin as she bounds up the steps to the rejuvenation area at Freedom Interiors. Palpable excitement beams through her voice.
“This is possibly my favorite part of the showroom,” she says, pointing out the lush green carpeting, comfy seating and 360-degree view of the renovated space at 4000 Washington St.
“Possibly” feels like a bit of an understatement for Espinosa, founder of Freedom, a Kansas City-based company specializing in corporate, government and education industry furniture and design. She’s standing atop one of the 7,000-square-foot space’s focal points, a steel structure in the former Westport post office’s center.
“This area is fun, but it’s also a place for when you need some restoration and zen time,” Espinosa says. “You can come up here and kind of forget about everything else that’s going on. … And you can totally take a nap.”
Under a high, barrel-truss ceiling, Freedom’s eight person team — Espinosa, three project leads, two project managers and two interior designers — treats the space as a functional office. After all, the 7-year-old company is in the business of selling customers on the latest in workplace design using 3-D visualization technology and in-person experiences.
“We use every single square inch of this space,” she said. “We spend a lot of time in here doing our work, so we’re taking advantage of what we’ve created. We make sure everything stays clean and ready to show.”
The building faced a significant restoration before Freedom’s move-in, Espinosa said, with her design team and architects from Clockwork transforming the interior — which most recently housed a photographer and a hair salon — in virtual reality over the past year. They transitioned into the space in mid-December after developing the business in the Blue Hills Community Services construction incubator.
Check out more about Espinosa’s path to opening Freedom Interiors in Westport here.
“We wanted the architecture of the building to shine,” said Espinosa, highlighting the former post office’s unique historic features, as well as the smart technologies powering everything from the lights and security system to the music and phones. “It’s the 21st century in a 100-year-old shell.”
The design is meant to convey a light and happy place, she said.
“Our goal is to show customers what their office can look and feel like,” Espinosa said, noting Freedom is a Kimball Office dealer. “If you want traditional, private workstations, we can do that, too. We just don’t want to work in it.”
Freedom is about highlighting the design concepts of the future — many of which are being driven by companies wanting to attract and keep millennials, she said.
“For some of us who are not millennials — who are a little bit older — it takes some adapting to this new reality. The first couple days can be hard, but after that you’re like, ‘OK. This is cool. This is freeing,’” Espinosa said. “We’ve had a lot of people walk through here and say ‘This is my dream place to work.’ You spend so much time planning and trying to create something from almost nothing. It’s so rewarding to see, share and experience it with other people.”
Check out five of Freedom Interior’s most compelling points of inspiration below.
1. Hammock from Brazil
A key piece of furniture at Freedom isn’t for sale.
“The hammock is what started the design concept for the showroom,” Espinosa said. “It was the very first thing.”
The piece came from her home country of Brazil, where her family still lives, she said. Her father, a physician, was tasked with picking out and sending a hammock — sight unseen for Espinosa.
“He was like, ‘Oh, that’s a lot of responsibility.’ I told him, ‘No. I trust you,’” she said. “This is what he sent and it’s absolutely amazing. We used it to pull the colors, energy and concept for everywhere else.”
The hammock also makes a great addition to Freedom’s rejuvenation area and the sentiment behind the space, Espinosa said.
“Our employees are our biggest asset, so the focus of this company is on the employee experience. If these guys are happy, they’re going to do a great job and they’re going to make sure the customer is happy,” she said. “So that’s what I think about at night. I ask myself, ‘OK, as a work family — because we spend a lot more time with each other than we do with most of our families — how can we have a good dynamic? How can we be happy and fulfilled so we can better serve our customers?'”
2. Repurposed history
Espinosa makes use of five of the former Westport post office’s original doors, which were removed from the building’s exterior to install a glass storefront. Two were joined together to make a sliding barn door leading to Freedom’s kitchenette, while three others hang over an in-the-works bar area.
“We wanted to keep the history in this place,” Espinosa said.
The bar itself features a wooden counter with a story of its own, she said.
“It’s from a tree that came from the UMKC campus when they expanded their engineering building,” Espinosa said. “A company in town called Urban Lumber is in charge of removing trees that are either sick or in construction areas. They dried it in the kiln for us and we’re going to get it finished. The live edge is pretty cool. It’s another little piece of the city.”
3. Custom welding
In addition to welding and fabricating the hardware for the sliding barn door, Raymore-based JP Welding tackled multiple projects for Freedom’s renovation. Owner John Paul Derham, a veteran, reflects Espinosa’s commitment to using veteran-, women- and minority-owned small businesses as subcontractors for the showroom, she said.
“And his team is so creative that we just let them do whatever they thought was right for the space,” Espinosa said, noting a wall feature the welding crew installed behind the bar. “They came to me and said, ‘We have this really cool idea, but we want to make it a surprise.’ I told them, ‘Go for it!’ … It’s good to be pleasantly surprised.”
The business also welded Freedom’s restroom partitions on-site, she said.
“Everything was custom made,” Espinosa said. “We have an old school urinal in the men’s room and since our welder was military, he made a little sign for us that says, ‘Aim Small, Miss Small.'”
4. Ben Weddle art piece
To many, Kansas City’s history is as steeped in jazz as its modern incarnation is coated in barbecue sauce. A large, three-panel photo of a saxophonist taken by professional photographer Ben Weddle sits in one of Freedom’s common, relaxation areas with plans to hang the vibrant image near the bar, Espinosa said.
Weddle ran his business in the space for 23 years before Freedom moved to Westport, she said.
“Part of our contract when we bought the building was that he would let us keep that piece of art that we all fell in love with,” Espinosa said.
5. Next-generation education tools
An education center is taking shape at Freedom, with plans to showcase the latest in K-12 and higher ed furniture pieces, as well as offer collaborative learning spaces for students, educators, administrators and the architects and designers working on their behalf, Espinosa said.
These aren’t the schoolroom desks and chairs of anyone’s youth, she said.
“It is very different from what was happening even two or three years ago. The education field is changing so quickly,” Espinosa said. “The schools are trying to adapt to new generations. Students are so much more connected than we are, and kids’ expectations these days are really different from ours. So you can’t expect a kid to sit down and focus and pay attention to you when they’re connected 24/7 on their devices at home and everywhere else.”
Furniture, as well as technology, can be used to respond to such challenges, she said.
“You can harness that energy and the way students already work for the classroom — to get them engaged and get the teachers empowered. You do that with curriculum supported by technology and furniture,” Espinosa said. “We work with curriculum developers and directors, teachers and principals to figure out how we can best support their needs. It should be collaborative. ‘What are you teaching? How are you teaching? Who is teaching? Who is learning? And how can we tailor our solutions to your curriculum?'”