Home sweet home (nearly!)

Roughly a 9 minute read from Alex

26 Jul 2013

Well doesn’t time fly?! We’ve been in our new office for 4 months now and we’re 'finally' getting there with the re-fit. It’s certainly not been an easy ride at times, and juggling day-to-day work alongside planning the new space and dealing with various contractors has certainly been more time consuming than we ever thought... but since when was anything that was worth doing easy!?

Yes, there are still a few bits to finish (a list which I’m sure will always be in need of those final few ticks) but importantly, we now have a unique workspace that people enjoy spending time in, gives us room to grow and hopefully helps towards getting those creative juices flowing.

Since the rise of the likes of Google and Facebook, It's almost an expected cliche that as a digital agency you 'need' some kind of quirky office with slides, grass floors (ahem!) and more. But, looking past cliches and into actual measurable benefits, I do genuinely feel that other industries could learn a huge amount from embracing what is essentially adopting a more creative, fun and relaxed approach to their workspaces, as no-one ever got particularly motivated by beige walls and ceiling tiles - regardless of their job.

Before, and throughout the process I scoured the web for all manner of inspiration, so much so that my bookmarks bar was sagging under the weight of its content. Now nearly finished, I felt it might be useful to share some of this content and decisions we made in the hope that it's of some assistance should any of you chose to undertake something similar.

The vision

Yes, it sounds grandiose, but believe it or not there was a least a vestige of a plan in mind before embarking on this whole thing. When we first signed on the dotted line for the new space (just shy of 1,300 sq ft in case you’re wondering) it was just one huge empty floor in a building, with nothing but a few lines roughly chalked on the floor to mark where walls of our studio would eventually stand. It certainly took a real leap of imagination to picture the end result, but at the same time, having such a blank canvas to work with was rare luxury!

I’d read various blog and articles on creating the ideal workspace (and Tom has even written a blog post on the subject) and had come across various schools of thought on the ‘perfect’ setup. Some, such as the guys over at Campaign Monitor, are firm believers that giving people their own self enclosed cubicles and hence personal space is conducive to a more productive environment, but I, like many others felt that the way we work as an agency was more suited to an open-plan layout where everyone could easily interact, chat and bounce ideas off each other across the office. So that’s what we went for.

We knew from these early days that we wanted to create two distinctly different areas within the studio. The first, larger area would be the primary work space where everyone would sit. We wanted this to be spacious, clean and light - qualities which the space naturally lent itself well to with its high ceilings, rising right up into the eaves, and large windows which let in a huge amount of light (and subsequently sun as we’ve found out over these last few hot weeks!).

The second space was then ear-marked as a meeting room / breakout area - somewhere you could close the door and get a bit of quiet time, away from the buzz of the main studio. In contrast, we wanted this to be a much richer, stimulating and tactile space. One in which (god forbid!) people actually enjoyed spending time in. Having had a nosey at Google’s offices down in London, I was convinced that although Ikea may well be the quicker and cheaper option for getting things done, investing in something more premium to ultimately give a better, more effective end result was the right approach (and it certainly doesn't seem to have done Google any harm!)

So, what did we actually build?

In no particular order...

A pretty huge glass wall

The first step was to divide the two spaces. We didn't want to spoil the open-plan characteristics of the room by constructing a normal stud wall, so instead we looked at glass as an option and approached the specialists over at Design Elements to see if they could help. Initially, due to the custom size of the space, high ceilings and uneven floor, it looked like we'd need to start things off with a compromise and install a system made up of a fair amount of metal framework to compensate - but after lots of chin scratching and gentle persuasion we managed to convince them that it would actually be possible to install a much slicker, seamless glass system. A win for design!

The wall itself was installed fairly quickly once everything had been measured up and the glass cut to size. A new frame and bulkhead were first constructed to house the glass (also helping iron out some of the installation issues that the 'character' features of the room had posed) and then it all just slotted into place in a day or so. So far, so good!

Lots of wood stuff

Once the wall was in place, it was onto the wood. In my mind I wanted to create a huge, distressed wooden wall and table at one end of the meeting room. The wall would house a TV and the meeting table would be large enough to seat 8 people comfortably. Then at the other end we wanted a coffee bar and storage area where people could make drinks and sit away from their desks whilst taking in the fantastic views over Leeds city centre.

Plans were drawn up and once agreed, off we went to choose the wood we wanted to use. This became a real labour of love with a mind boggling number of options available. We ordered sample upon sample (even going as far to test how hard wearing our front-runners were by spilling coffee on them and seeing if it stained) until, after about 6 weeks we finally chose our winner - Bistro from The Reclaimed Flooring Company.

The wood duly arrived and Rich and Clinton (from the studio downstairs) set to work sawing it up with all manner of machines - much to the horror of the health and safety lady who came to check we were suitable for an imminent work placement!

The quality of the finish and attention to detail of the work was great and exactly how we'd envisaged back when the office was all but a shell. Things were now really starting to take shape, and Summer seemed to have arrived too!

A good dose of grass

I’d always had an urge to use grass indoors since we got our first office back in 2007. The combination of wood and grass, in my opinion, would give us a really interesting space that would, if nothing else, at least spark conversation. As with the wood above, there's a surprisingly huge range of artificial grass options available, so off we went ordering samples again until we found one which fitted the bill (the Chelsea from Easigrass). I was actually amazed by how ‘real’ fake grass could actually look and feel. These were truly exciting times!

Other bits

Just in case you're interested in some of the finder details, below are a few other bits which helped complete the look:

Office chairs

When you sit in a chair for 7 hours a day it’s very important that it's fit for purpose. So after undergoing a level of research that only Oxbridge has come to expect, we plumped for the Ergohuman office chairs and haven't looked back since. They're extremely well built, have all manner of adjustable parts for the 'perfect fit' and look great too. Herman Miller eat your heart out!

Meeting room chairs

Here we went for the Eames Eiffel replicas. You can pick them up on Ebay for a very reasonable price and there are a huge range of colour options available.

Desks

Simple, white and from Ikea. What more could you want? We have modded them a little by drilling a cable hole in each desk to keep the cabling nice and tidy - something which, if Ikea are reading this and could do at the factory instead, would be much appreciated!

Bar stools

We just needed a couple of these for the coffee bar and after spotting some in a local bar, went for the Xavier Pauchard style stools.

Lockers

It's always useful to have somewhere to store all your bits and bobs to save your from clutter. We therefore grabbed a load of lockers from over on Ebay, a bit like these ones, which do the job perfectly.

So what’s left?

I think there will always be things we want to do, but at the moment the most pressing tasks are to change the lighting in the meeting room to something a little less bright and a little more contemporary and also get some branding on the walls and glass too. Adam's desperate for an arcade cabinet so that may be making an appearance at some point whilst the need for a table tennis table has been kindly taken care of by Will next door - thanks Will!

…and that brings things to a close. This post ended up being a little longer than I expected, but hopefully you've found it an interesting read and it's maybe given you some ideas for your own office space. If you are ever passing by and fancy popping in to see for yourself, then just let me know and maybe I'll even mow the grass for you!

A few pics of the (nearly) finished product

Alex

Alex is co-founder of Engage. With an awarded background in design and development he now concentrates the majority of his time on moulding the future picture of Engage's development, paying particular attention to the intricate balance of culture, growth and doughnut comsumption.

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