The Toogood Building in St. Paul started 2011 as a forbidding, institutional-style structure with low ceilings and an abundance of brick.

The building ended the year as an award-winning example of how to use smart interior design to create warmth on an impersonal canvas.

At its awards gala last month, the state chapter of the Commercial Real Estate Development Association (NAIOP) lauded RJM Construction, LiLu Interiors and 292 Design Group for their innovative work on Toogood. The team won an award for the best renovation of a building 25,000 square feet or less. Several other firms also were honored at the Jan. 26 event.

RJM, LiLu and 292 were charged with converting the former site of the Children's Home Society and Family Services to a bright, functional facility for the Emily Program, which treats eating disorders. Renovations cost more than $1 million, the program says.

And the makeover was a tall order. Lisa Peck of LiLu Interiors said her main challenge was to create a nurturing atmosphere out of the brick walls and sharp angles -- and to do so on a tight budget.

"The building was really oppressive and institutional," she said. "It had low ceilings and a lot of brick, and they wanted it to feel homey and welcoming."

Peck used bright, bold color blocks and large-scale design patterns to set off the omnipresent brick of the walls. Though a major undertaking, it was one the team was prepared to tackle, Peck added.

Despite the total transformation of the building's feel, there were also some similarities between its former and current uses because both existed to help young people.

"Half the building is an inpatient facility and the other half is outpatient," said project architect Tom Betti of 292 Design Group. "The biggest thing we faced was how to break down a 25,000-square-foot building and make it feel residential, so it had the feeling of a house."

Betti did that by not only carving out some small rooms but also by using colors and fabrics in the bigger rooms to create small spaces within them.

"We were really proud to be able to work on a project that helped people in the community," added Rick McKelvey, a senior project manager for RJM Construction, the general contractor on the job. "I don't often get an opportunity to work on things that benefit people from the day they open the doors."

Among other NAIOP Award of Excellence winners:

Hillcrest Development won for best renovated building between 25,000 and 75,000 square feet. It converted the Frost Building in northeast Minneapolis from a paint and linseed oil manufacturing facility to a modern space.

Welsh Construction was cited for the best renovated building over 75,000 square feet. The company did a major makeover of the Best Western Plus hotel in Bloomington near the Mall of America.

M.A. Mortenson Co. won for the best special purpose building. Mortenson was lauded for building Two Twelve Medical Center in Chaska, described as Minnesota's first free-standing emergency room.

The Ackerberg Group won for the best mixed-use building. The company did the renovation for the two-story 5 Points Building in north Minneapolis.

BHD + Young Design won for the best office less than 100,000 square feet. The firm worked on the new Allina Medical Clinic in Ramsey.

Cresa Partners was cited for the best office greater than 100,000 square feet. It was honored for its efforts on Open Systems International's new headquarters in Medina.

Don Jacobson is a St. Paul-based freelance writer. He can be reached at 651-501-4931.