With a ‘rough and ready’ interior reminiscent of a theatre set for this young ad agency, designers at Studio Octopi are ready to take a curtain call
Client: 18 Feet and Rising
Design: Studio Octopi
Size: 500 sq m
Completion time: Two months
No prizes for guessing that this office in London's Soho belongs to a young, creative advertising agency. If the colourful artwork on the walls doesn't give it away then surely the fun, quirky interior design by Studio Octopi will.
This is the new home of 18 Feet and Rising, a two-year-old ad agency that was named Britain's fastest-growing in 2011, and whose creative workers take a pride in doing things differently to their peers.
Taking up one floor of a Thirties' office building, the office's final scheme is rough and unpolished, with naked incandescent bulbs hanging by their flexes from the ceiling and surfaces of raw plywood giving a sketchy, deliberately unfinished look: perfect for the agency's creative workers who - on FX's visit at least - seem just as happy doodling in their sketchbooks as working on computer.
'It has a rough-and-ready look to it, but we also think of it as a bit like a theatre set, something that might be here today and gone tomorrow,' says Chris Romer-Lee, a founder-partner at Studio Octopi.
Desks designed by Studio Octopi and built by London firm Blackfriars Scenery, a company that specialises in creating sets for the theatre, are a stand-out feature of the main office space: plywood tops sit on frames of welded black steel that extend above the surfaces of the desks themselves and contain plug sockets; each of the frames is topped with a single incandescent light bulb, the idea being that the user can switch on their light to indicate that they require privacy.
A tight deadline meant there was no time to do the usual CAD drawings which Studio Octopi would use to communicate ideas to clients; instead, the designers brought in large-scale samples of furniture, flooring and other materials to give the client an idea of what they would look like in the office. This might sound like a drawback, but it actually fits with the way 18 Feet and Rising approaches its own creative work. The agency says it favours a more empirical method of working based on trial and error, over the 'Powerpoint-heavy strategic approach' favoured by many other agencies.
So how did it work in an interior design project? 'I think it worked really well,' says Romer-Lee, 'because actually you can't tell from a drawing what something will really look like in a space.'
18 Feet and Rising's managing director, Jonathan Trimble, agrees that there was a certain synergy between client and designer: 'Really it was the process by which the design was arrived at that most reflects us - essentially a creative experiment whereby ideas were allowed to emerge through good conversation, putting things up and trying them rather than trying to pre-plan and visualise everything in advance,' he says.
The designers did this with large sections of dark-stained plywood, which have been used in the final scheme to create a coffee-bar-cum-reception desk, and flooring from Bolon. Tiles from the Bolon Artisan collection - a parquet-style, diagonal pattern and one of sharply contrasting squares - are now used throughout the office.
'Bolon was great, because the company delivered huge samples of flooring, and with that kind of material you can only really understand what it will look like when you see it in a large area,' says Romer-Lee.
Perhaps the most daring design feature in the office is a corridor that leads visiting prospective clients from the main office space to the boardroom. Made of dark-stained plywood and with two smaller work areas either side of it, the corridor becomes narrower as you walk through it towards the boardroom, making you feel like you are entering another world.
The boardroom itself has a large, bespoke table, with a black steel frame and a plywood top faced with a 6mm-thick sheet of white Corian. Chairs by Very Good & Proper have wooden seats designed to match the dark-stained plywood, while yellow metal frames bring a touch of colour to the otherwise monochrome space.
Romer-Lee says he enjoys working with creative clients: 'There are a lot of similarities between our two industries,' he says. 'Creative clients are usually the most demanding, but they're also the most generous if you hit the right chord.'
So did Studio Octopi hit the right notes with 18 Feet and Rising? 'Functionally, it [the office] works really well,' says Trimble. 'People are able to choose their environment; the kitchen creates a central meeting spot, the tunnel and boardroom perform brilliantly as spaces to show off in.
'We came from all sitting round one big table in a room just big enough, which had a very intense feel to it, with both positive and negative side-effects. The new space is much larger, it dissipates that intensity, which was a little uncomfortable at first. But we've grown into it and it's taken on its own life as the agency evolves. It's very much a part of us.'