It's perhaps not surprising that a company, which lets users build their own websites, enlisted 65,000 hours of labor to gut and renovate a 100-year-old building.

Nine-year-old Weebly, which has accrued more than $35 million in funding for a reported $455 million valuation, opened its new and improved office headquarters on Thursday morning. While the company refused to disclose how much its renovations cost, you surely could pick up a few office design tips from the tech company's new digs.

Located south of Market Street in San Francisco's trendy South Park neighborhood--where giants like Google Ventures have also set up shop--the new headquarters, designed by architecture firm Huntsman, with the help of Two, a One Workplace venture, and Skyline Restoration, reflect what CEO David Rusenko describes as the company's communal ethos.   

Basic materials such as brick, timber, and concrete swath the 31,000-square-foot space to create a sleek, modern aesthetic fitting all 450 of Weebly's employees. The office plan is open, although Rusenko notes that he encourages employees to take their phone calls and conversations to adjacent private rooms. (For an even deeper hideaway, Rusenko's favorite feature is the so-called "secret room." Hidden behind a shelf replete with works of classic literature, escapees press on Weebly's copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to enter.)

With its overall modern feel, the design also nods to Silicon Valley's culture: Weebly houses a gym, cocktail bar, sound-proofed music room (dubbed: "the jam room"), gaming area, laundry facility, and even a nursing room for new mothers. (Weebly's maternity leave is about eight weeks, with optional time thereafter.) When asked if he anticipated that employees might find all of that distracting, Rusenko was adamant: "It really comes down to our company culture, and it's really one of trust and respect. ... We focus a lot on having amenities, obviously, but we focus a whole lot on productivity." To that end, Weebly doles out sound-cancelling Bose headphones to all employees seeking quiet at their (sit to stand) desks.

What's most interesting about the new headquarters, however, has everything to do with the past: Erected in 1902, the building at 460 Bryant Street went through several life cycles that speak to the pulse of San Francisco's history.

Initially, the building was a production facility for the Gundlach Bundschu Winemakers, which still operates today in California's Sonoma Valley. When Rusenko's team began working on the project, he says, the wood floors sloped down from when the winemakers would roll around their barrels: "If you're sitting in your chair, your office chairs would be rolling down, so we went to work," Rusenko explained. They leveled off the floors with concrete.

When the 1906 earthquake rocked the city, Gundlach's facility was destroyed. One million gallons of wine and three family homes were lost, and even as recently as last year, Rusenko said he still feels the earthquake's aftermath: The whole building had to be seismically retrofitted, for instance, and the sewage main had to be upgraded. In 1907, the building was rebuilt as a liquor warehouse, Fleischmann Clarke Wholesale Liquors, which stayed in business until the passing of the 18th amendment (which ushered in Prohibition) in 1919. For brief stints in the 1930s and '40s, it was also home to Sultan Furniture and the United Paper Box Co. 

More recently, 460 Bryant became a local rave destination in the 1990s, which at least one member of the construction team admits to having frequented. Paying homage to the era of grunge, the team decided to leave the walls of its gym as they were (covered in graffiti). For a brief period, the building was also home to the independent publisher Arion Press. 

This marriage of old and new--which Rusenko, who grew up in France and then moved to Morocco, says reflects his own design aesthetic--is one that fits in beautifully with the likes of San Francisco. There, it's not uncommon to see cable cars traveling across the hilly cityscape, even as it's lauded for being a modern tech hub.

Ultimately, as Rusenko says of the project: "The character really carries through, and you just have that sort of magical vibe where you've paid respects to the history of the building while also bringing it up to modern standards. It's a very, very cool environment to be working in." 

Published on: May 14, 2015