Office Focus: Sonia Brown of Quadrant Design


Sonia Brown of Quadrant Design talks about what the workplace can learn from retail and hospitality design


Sonia Brown graduated with a first in interior architecture from Leeds Metropolitan University before embarking on a career in retail and hospitality design, which included creating concepts for Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Pizza Express, and Watches of Switzerland. After several years as the hospitality and retail designer at Quadrant Design, she got involved in office design projects. Quadrant has now launched a new offering for the workplace sector: Human Workplace Design. Brown talks about what the workplace can learn from retail and hospitality design and why post- Covid spaces need to offer a better link between corporate and home environments.


Words by Sonia Brown

Pizza Express was the most brilliant grounding in workplace design. It helped to develop my sense of concept design. Each of their restaurants is different and reflects the local environment and the history of the building. We’d research the local area, and the history of the site and the design, architecture, artwork, furniture, lighting and even the music playing in the restaurant would reflect that individual story. That’s how workplaces should be designed.

Quadrant designed the offices of Anthemis, a venture capitalist company that is based in Soho Square, London. Image Credit: RS Brown Photography
Quadrant designed the offices of Anthemis, a venture capitalist company that is based in Soho Square, London. Image Credit: RS Brown Photography

The retail and hospitality sectors look at spaces differently from the workplace. It’s all about maximising the footprint and ensuring that every inch is accounted for. It’s also about increasing dwell time through really great lighting and furnishings. We want people to feel at ease in their surroundings and in a space which is as safe and comfortable as home. We want the space to tell a story. We’re starting to bring these concepts into the workplace design world.

It’s great being a challenger in a new space because we can approach things differently. For example, for the pitch for an office space we completed last year in Soho Square for a VC company we created a film to music to present the concept look and feel board, as opposed to a two-dimensional mood board. We did this to show them we ‘got them’ and understood who they are. Even the music was tailored to who they were as a company and what we felt reflected them after spending time getting to know them.

Quadrant designed the offices of Anthemis, a venture capitalist company that is based in Soho Square, London. Image Credit: RS Brown Photography
Quadrant designed the offices of Anthemis, a venture capitalist company that is based in Soho Square, London. Image Credit: RS Brown Photography

Post-Covid, we need to link home and corporate spaces better. Many people are going to continue working from home for some of the time, so we need to make sure they can work effectively in either area. Offices will be less about the day-to-day working and more a place which brings and connects people back together. There will be more consideration given to how that environment affects people and enhances their lifestyle. External spaces will be more important and we will see offices using roof terraces, gardens and patios to create another dimension of space where people feel safe. But the office remains the company’s shop front, the physical representation of their brand to new employees, [for them] to understand and feel the company culture, and for existing employees to be proud of.

Finding that golden nugget that I can base a concept on is my favourite part of the design process. Concept design is all about creating something meaningful, honest and deep-rooted, so I spend a lot of time researching the location, what the building may have been in a previous life, facts about the company’s history, and values which might inspire a design direction. For me it isn’t about choosing colours and furniture which just look nice or fit in the footprint of a space; it is the thought and reasoning and story behind it, so everyone that interacts with the space can really connect and resonate with it.

I have some of my best ideas in the middle of the night. After I’ve spent an evening exploring Instagram, reading blogs and listening to podcasts, suddenly it all comes together when I’ve been asleep and the answer to some design problem appears.

Quadrant designed the offices of Anthemis, a venture capitalist company that is based in Soho Square, London. Image Credit: RS Brown Photography
Quadrant designed the offices of Anthemis, a venture capitalist company that is based in Soho Square, London. Image Credit: RS Brown Photography

Designing the perfect space is like finishing a jigsaw. It’s about really understanding the brief and, of course, meeting the budget and timeline, but it’s also about collaboration and finding the right artwork, the perfect piece of furniture, the most complementary flooring, the best lighting to illustrate the space’s history and story to best suit the client. It should always be about the client.

My work as a photographer influences my work as a designer. It helps me look at spaces as vistas as composed frames. It makes you constantly ask the question ‘how will this look from every angle?’

Work hard and be nice to people. That’s written on a poster in our office. It’s our mission statement. They’re good words to live and work by.








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