What designers, suppliers and architects create for themselves when establishing a new showroom or HQ
Main Image: Parkside's Cotswolds Design Studio
Words by Sophie Tolhurst
While the architects, designers, specifiers and suppliers of our industry spend their time perfecting offices and showrooms for their clients, at times they need to stop and consider their own place of work. When you’ve the knowledge from working with clients that run the whole gamut of industries, and come with equally wideranging needs, how do you choose what to do for your own space?
In both the spaces for staff and those that are client-facing it is no doubt important to ensure they live up to what the business promotes to its clients – practicing what it preaches, embodying its values, being totally at home with the innovative products, designs and fit-out solutions that it creates, whether designing everything from scratch or getting the chance to bring together all its favourite manufacturers and suppliers. The space may allow for the creation of an idealised vision of a workspace, while it also proves quite the learning curve when the suppliers and specifiers become the client and come face-to-face with the necessary restrictions of budget and more.
Looking at a cross-section of the showrooms and headquarters that have opened recently, FX finds out what it is like to design for yourself by asking the companies how they decided to approach their spaces.
Parkside Architectural Tiles
Parkside is a design-led tile-specification firm offering distinctive choices of tiles to architects, designers and contractors. Working with a wide range of products, it needed space to show them all off, and the Cotswolds Design Studio (pictured), which opened in September this year, has 300 sq m of space for the company to put them on display.
Parkside describes the tiles as being presented ‘like pieces of art’. Framed porcelain slabs measuring 3.2 x 1.6m line the walls of the large open studio, while smaller boards, grouped by collection, stand positioned in front.
The Cotswolds Design Studio also provides facilities for the design community to use the space as a hub while seeking professional support from the Parkside team. The environment is welcoming, with Wi-Fi and coffee to accompany the views over the Cotswolds landscape. Meanwhile, the products are all easily accessible because, as Parkside explains: ‘Many of the intricacies of modern tile surfaces need to be seen up close to be truly appreciated and we have seen a continued demand from our clients to engage with our products first-hand.’
Interface’s new Birmingham HQ, The Greenhouse, lives up to its name by being a great example of a sustainable workplace. It has long been a major tenet of the carpet tile brand to be green; its founder, Ray Anderson, was known as a sustainability pioneer decades ahead of many and long before ‘sustainability’ was the buzzword it is now. All Interface’s products – carpet tiles, Nora rubber and luxury vinyl tiles – are now carbon-neutral throughout their lifecycles, and the company is on course to meet an environmental impact ‘Mission Zero’ pledge, which it made in 1994, by next year.
Birmingham too is ahead of the environmental game. Traditionally known as a manufacturing powerhouse, it became the UK’s first ‘Biophilic City’ in 2013, joining a worldwide network of other such cities, including Wellington in New Zealand, Singapore, and Austin in Texas, among others. Birmingham and its surrounds has 571 parks, including Sutton Park, the largest urban park in Europe, plus more than 3,500 hectares of public-accessible space, miles of urban brooks and streams, and an extensive canal network. While accessibility and transport connections were a factor that figured in Interface moving its HQ from Halifax to Birmingham, these biophilic credentials, and the design Interface created for its new home along with fit out specialist Overbury, offered the opportunity for an inspiring base for both staff and clients.
The Greenhouse is the first Interface location in Europe where the brand is able to bring all of its carbon-neutral products together and shape the environment for its team as well as for customers and stakeholders across the UK. Interface has explored biophilic design for this HQ, not just with an abundance of pot plants, but with a living wisteria tree emerging from a counter in the centre of the open-plan kitchen area. Biophilia has infiltrated product design too; for example, a custom Nora rubber inlay reflects the tree’s form, the Ice Breaker tile mimics the effect of scratched ice, and the Human Connections range, inspired by well-worn and green-strewn city streets, offers a pause with all the ‘sensory cues’ needed in urban life. Multiple examples of Interface flooring are on show in the layout, moving organically from one to the other, like a path unfolding through a landscape. Above all this, quotes from Ray Anderson adorn the walls.
The other suppliers and manufacturers involved were chosen based on their own high sustainability credentials – with 100% recyclable products from Vitra, Moroso, Agent, and Connection – widening the sustainability conversation beyond Interface’s own products.
Gensler’s New European HQ
When Gensler signed a 15-year lease for No.6 Moretown in Wapping, London, to become its European HQ, it gained the opportunity to design a fully customised workspace across a 35,000 sq ft building. With its expertise across architecture, design and planning, Gensler was able to understand how it could shape the way staff worked in their office, whether with internal colleagues or visiting clients.
The company first moved to temporary office space elsewhere in Moretown in 2017, and spent time getting used to the surrounds and experimenting with innovations that could be transferred into the design of the new, permanent space.
Gensler took the context of its new location into the material palette. Taking inspiration from London’s St Katherine Docks just on its doorstep, timber, brick and exposed steel infiltrate the design of the architecture and interiors, and as the walls are largely glass there is fluidity between inside and out.
The firm was also able to effectively use qualitative feedback and quantitative data gathered during studies of its existing workspaces. It looked at the utilisation of workstations and meeting rooms as well as determining the type of activity happening there. As a result, it incorporated a high percentage of ‘free-address’ workspaces, offering plenty of choice to individuals and teams. Clusters are gathered in ‘neighbourhoods’, while the feature staircase encourages movement on foot between floors, so that staff will pass and interact with other teams.
Rather than building new, Gensler refurbished a 1980s building, but all the changes make it seem completely transformed, and it now has all the up-to-date elements to facilitate agile and creative working. There are both private and meeting booths for working, as well as larger collaboration spaces, and there are ample tea points on each floor, plus a large, shared roof terrace. The large plan allowed Gensler the opportunity for some more traditional hands-on elements, such as a physical materials library, and a machine-filled workshop.
When considering the furniture Gensler chose a bespoke solution after its studies revealed that 80 per cent of its work is done in teams of two to four people. So it collaborated with Fantoni to create the modular, flexible, and adaptable solution Atelier.
The transformed building has achieved a Design Stage assessment and interim BREEAM Excellent rating.
Note Design Studio
Note Design Studio is a Swedish multi-disciplinary collaborative design practice, who had until recently been based in an old industrial building in Stockholm, which Johannes Carlström, interior architect and founder, describes as ‘just a big empty room with quite hard aesthetics, colours and sound’. That is perhaps the design studio stereotype, but Note decided to use its abilities in designing elegant, materially rich interiors to change that and as Carlström explains, ‘create a whole new ambience focused on making all of us working here feel good. For us to have our office as our “happy place” – with smooth colours, many different places to work and a really relaxed and elegant vibe. Mostly, we wanted to step away from the word “office” and focus on making it a second home for us all, but a home from which we are able to work.’ The new studio is also located in the centre of the city, with large windows connecting the design studio to the street life, which ‘becomes part of the interior and contributes to the daily buzz in the studio’.
Note used Douglas pine, oak, terrazzo and concrete to give the raw, stripped-back architecture softness, and used ‘a lot of Mutina ceramic tiles!’ A key piece is a big, collaborative, 3.5m-long table in solid Douglas pine for Monday morning breakfast meetings but which is more generally a place to share ideas. Elsewhere you can see Note’s furniture designs, such as the Arkad and Macka collections of seating.
What the team learned from designing and project managing the space was how it feels to be on the other side, challenged by budget restraints. Carlström says ‘it became very clear that great ideas come with a cost’.
Overall, Note is proud of the space: the ‘happy place’ works for its creative output as well as for welcoming its clients, while some customers even use it for meetings and photoshoots out of office hours. Note learned ‘what it feels like to be in a place we designed ourselves… and we love it. We can really tell and show our clients the value of working in a place that you are proud of and can identify with.’
Bert Frank is a British lighting design company, co-founded by designer Robbie Llewllyn and metalworker Adam Yeats. Its style marries a faith in materials, quality of finish and attention to precision manufacturing with references that move from Art Deco to mid-century design. All the products are made in its factory in Birmingham, but the design team is London-based. Bert Frank opened its first showroom, in Clerkenwell, in May of this year – just in time for Clerkenwell Design Week.
Located on Farringdon Road, the space has an airy showroom on the ground floor, with space to have all the products on display and windows onto the street to tempt in passersby, while the studio where Llewllyn and the design team work is below. Here, the team has custom-built lights designed for their own working area. The fruitful, hands-on partnership between Llewllyn and Yeats can be seen in the fact that the team has custom-designed the majority of the furnishings for the showroom: solid brass is used for the folding doors, table legs and shelving, all manufactured by Yeats in the Birmingham factory. As Llewllyn summarises: ‘If it’s not old, we made it.’ Despite the eagerness and ease with which they produced everything – allowing them to apply the Bert Frank aesthetic to the whole of the space – there are no plans to branch out into furniture design just yet.
The team made little intervention in the fabric of the building, leaving its exposed brick walls and wooden floorboards, but rather than have an entirely blank canvas for the products, a steel wall grid (also produced by Yeats) provides a flexible wall display on which to mount lighting designs. Although Bert Frank’s industrial designer Chris Cooper notes it took some effort to get it installed, the grid allows the team to hang different wallpapered panels to quickly refresh the display – these are taken out, re-covered and slotted back into the grid. The backdrop can be changed according to interior trends, while the firm’s light fittings sit timelessly over the top.
Although all the collections are mixed throughout the showroom, they do not crowd one another, and the company notes that when someone comes in for one light, they often leave having ordered more.
Bert Frank is active on the show circuit, and having a presence at a show depends on making an impressive and inviting stand. At the time of writing the team was preparing for Decorex, and following a rethink of the appearance of the stand – moving to a backdrop with a blown-up, painterly image; a more ethereal look than the deco prints and geometric patterns Bert Frank had been using previously – it is now considering its next updates for the Clerkenwell showroom.
The company also offers the space for hire; whether to host workshops or panel discussions, it is flexible enough to cater for a variety of occasions, and worked well for the opening party this year.
Future designs’ Clerkenwell Lighthouse
When designing a showroom, there is a decision to be made between presenting a more-orless blank canvas onto which clients can project their own ideas, or something more personalised that really embodies the company’s aesthetic.
Future Designs, a UK-based designer and manufacturer of highquality luminaires and bespoke lighting, has taken a different approach with its Clerkenwell Lighthouse showroom, to the extent that it refers to it as an ‘antishowroom’. It earns this name by virtue of not having any products in the space. Instead, in their place is VR. What this means is that clients can be more fully immersed in different environments, without the confusion of other products or light sources, and can easily compare environments by swiping from one to the other.
The space is set across two floors: downstairs, a belowground working area with dark surfaces shows what Future’s lighting can do, while upstairs, the street-facing space shows off the possibilities of tunable white light, offering a full spectrum of colour and colour temperatures using a set of 67300 LEDs overhead.
Future Designs also believes the possibilities the space offers means it will become ‘a hub for forums, events and demonstrations’.