Chester, Connecticut is one of New England's few small towns which still has the feel of an authentic past. The goal of this project was the transformation of a flood-ravaged, derelict knitting needle factory, into the nation's only theater devoted to the production of new American musicals.

Centerbrook's objective was to provide, within strict budget constraints, accommodations for a first class theater without losing the honest character of a factory exterior that had been a local landmark for decades.

The owner and its technical staff were partners in the give and take of design. The low budget required minimal change for maximum effect and the use of simple materials and theater artifacts, such as old lights, which were made available to the project.

The design solution emphasizes a new entrance with broad, inviting steps and a long entry ramp that has intermission seating set into its side. The factory facade was unified with paint, and new planting was installed to soften the factory image. The old smokestack, now inactive, was repaired and lit for dramatic effect. The top of the facade received a large sign in the manner of several victorian commercial buildings in the village, but painted in a non-traditional color. Inside, columns were removed to make way for audience seating, and a portion of the second floor was removed for the stage. Spacious support spaces were developed, including an orchestra pit, dressing rooms, a green room, laundry, and scenery preparation areas. Existing brick was sandblasted, and interesting factory features like heavy wood doors and arched openings were given special attention. Seats were obtained second-hand, and colors for the theater and lobby interior were developed from the relationship of the seats' color to the color of the building's sandblasted brick.

The owner, who served as general contractor, and theater staff collaborated on the interior design, especially regarding the performance space. Many portions (seating risers, stage, building sign) were constructed and installed by the technical crew.

Photography © Robert Benson