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OPERATIONS

Trading Office Spaces

Everyone's talking about the importance of design, but is it possible to make a big statement with a reasonable budget? Here are five companies that think it is.
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Dwell

San Francisco
Publishes a design and architecture magazine.

Project Size: 6,500 square feet

Employees in the Space: 25

Design Objective: In a storefront location, create a functional yet secluded space

Notable Feature: The ground level of the building provided "amazing light but no privacy," says Lara Hedberg Deam, Dwell's owner and founder. Her architect, Christopher Deam (who is also her husband), designed a colorful wall of acrylic boxes. It solved the privacy problem for under $5,000 and has become the magazine's distinguishing landmark.

Biggest Payoff: Each floor is suited to the role of the employees who work on that level. The editorial floor has quiet offices for thinking, for example, and the business floor has bigger conference rooms for sealing deals.

Cost: $250,000 for design, furniture, and structural upgrades

ME&V

Cedar Falls, Iowa
Develops advertising and marketing campaigns and offers fundraising consulting.

Project Size: 7,000 square feet

Employees in the Space: 47

Design Objective: To display the firm's offbeat business approach

Notable Feature: When the company added a new two-story wing, it called on Hovey Brom of InVision Architecture to give it a welcoming look and some pizzazz. Brom decided to make the focal point a two-story copper monolith that unites both floors.

Biggest Payoff: ME&V is in the business of brand extension. So...the company commissioned local artist William Close to fashion a giant wooden electric plug sculpture that hangs like a chandelier over the monolith. "It works for branding," says Dee Vandeventer, co-founder of ME&V. "Everyone always remembers the extension cord."

Problem Area: The 20-foot-high "halo" ceiling above the copper monolith causes headaches. Changing its halogen bulbs requires the expensive expertise of an electrician.

Cost: $640,000 for design, construction, furniture, lighting, and sculpture

AVMetro

Raleigh, N.C.
Manages on-site technical production for corporate meetings

Project Size: 5,500 square feet

Employees in the Space: 12

Design Objective: Build a new office with a minimalist aesthetic and budget

Notable Feature: Frank D. Thompson, CEO of AVMetro, is a modern architecture fanatic whose lean budget was almost a deal-breaker. But he challenged architect Roger Cannon, whose work he'd admired, to modify a prefabricated building, something the architect had never tried. "Creating a hybrid struck a chord," says Cannon.

Notable Feature 2: Thompson had one absolute: The building had to be white. Cannon painted the corrugated metal siding and covered parts of the exterior with translucent fiberglass panels. The interior plays with natural light. Nearly every wall is painted white or made of translucent plastic. "The conference room glows," says Cannon.

Biggest Payoff: AVMetro's new offices were finished in only eight months.

Problem Area: As much as Thompson loves his space, AVMetro is already beginning to outgrow it.

Cost: $500,000 for the design, building, and some furniture

M Financial Group

Portland, Oreg.
Writes life insurance policies and manages wealth for well-heeled clients

Project Size: 56,000 square feet

Employees in the Space: 155

Design Objective: Help employees connect with a constant stream of visitors from the company's network of 110 member firms

Notable Feature: Scott Brown, director of interior design for Yost Grube Hall Architecture, worked with the management team on a design with large communal areas on every level.

Biggest Payoff: To keep people from feeling isolated, an internal staircase was built in the middle of the office alongside a three-story waterfall that flows into a pool. The area near the waterfall has become a hub of activity, akin to a town square, where everyone feels connected.

Cost: $390,000 for the design, tenant improvements, and lighting

Venables, Bell & Partners

San Francisco
Provides full-service advertising campaigns

Project Size: 13,500 square feet

Employees in the Space: 60

Design Objective: Foster collaboration and present the agency as professional and polished--and not a dot-com leftover

Notable Feature: Advertising clients require a multifaceted plan of attack from a team working in concert, says partner Greg Bell. So architect Collin Burry of the firm Gensler designed the space to feel wide open. Many of the walls are glass.

Biggest Payoff: Burry designed a towering shelving system to show off the firm's awards and send the message that it gets results and won't be wasting money on wacky nonsense the way the fly-by-night dot-coms did.

Problem Area: The new flooring had to be replaced because it wasn't stain resistant and got trashed right away.

Cost: $2.2 million for the design, tenant improvements, furniture, phones, and computer equipment




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