For this month’s Where I Work, we venture to Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood to the relatively new offices of West Elm Workspace, which launched just about two years ago as an offshoot of West Elm. The brand brings a new approach to office design by merging elements of residential ideas with multifunctional and flexible office concepts that promote creativity and innovation. Workspace’s Vice President of Design for hospitality takes us on a tour of their waterfront offices and how he’s settling in and working in the new, modern digs.
What is your typical work style?
I like to get to the office early when I can. I love that dead quiet around the space and it allows me to get my bearings, answer emails, and prepare for meetings. I work on furniture design for our new businesses (West Elm Workspace with Inscape, our office furniture line, and West Elm Hotels) so once the day starts I’m usually bouncing between one concept and another so it’s important that I stay organized but flexible and be able to find pockets of time to focus on each of them.
What’s your studio/work environment like?
We moved into our new offices in August of last year so it’s still very new and organized. Our new headquarters space is in DUMBO, Brooklyn in a 19th century coffee warehouse with great views of the East River. It was originally seven buildings that have been cut through to create one continuous flowing space so we have these amazing schist walls separating each department. The space is furnished with our West Elm Workspace line of furniture, so it doubles as a showroom. It’s a great lab to see how people actually use our Workspace furniture day to day.
How is your space organized/arranged?
The overall office is separated into different departments across a floor and a half of the building, each with a different collection of our Workspace furniture, so they each have their own personality that matches everyone’s unique roles at West Elm. The space is a mix of glass fronted offices and open plan seating. Our Workspace line really focuses on creating environments that give people choice in how they work so we also have many spaces where people can find a quiet corner to retreat and focus or collaborate in groups. This includes a long hallway of sectionals facing the East River and booths in our café area.
How long have you been in this space? Where did you work before that?
We moved into these offices in September. Before that, we were in a smaller space just around the corner. West Elm was founded in DUMBO, Brooklyn, so we wanted to stay close and true to our roots in the neighborhood.
If you could change something about your workspace, what would it be?
In our old space we had giant skylights over the design area that flooded the work area with natural light (and sometimes when it rained, with water). I do miss that one aspect of the old space (the light, not the leaks). We are very lucky to have the outstanding view of the East River now, though.
Is there an office pet?
Nope. No pet’s allowed. (sad cat face emoji)
Do you require music in the background? If so, who are some favorites?
If I’m doing creative work I do find that music helps. I’m highly suggestible and I’ll often find myself listening to whatever song I just heard when I went to grab coffee.
How do you record ideas?
I have an iPad and a 4×6 Post-it pad. Anything that I need long term like meeting notes or product development comments goes in the iPad. Anything that’s for immediate action goes on the Post-it Notes which goes on my desk until it’s done and I can scrap it. I hate things on my desk so it’s a good incentive to get things done. I also usually have plain 8.5” x 11” paper around for sketching. I’m terrible with sketchbooks. I constantly lose them so I’ve given up.
Do you have an inspiration board? What’s on it right now?
We work with several inspiration boards that provide direction for each of the different projects we’re working on. That’s usually how we’ll kick off a collection or season. There are usually 5 or 6 floating around at any one time with images of places, people and objects that we’re currently feeling. I also use Pinterest a lot to store images and ideas in categories.
What is your creative process and/or creative workflow like? Does it change every project or do you keep it the same?
The concepts I work on are on different calendars. Our big Workspace launches usually happen in June at NeoCon in Chicago so that’s what drives that schedule. With Hotels it really depends on what properties we’re working on at any time. Right now we’re in the middle of designing product for our first three hotels in Detroit, Savannah and Indianapolis. Each of the businesses has its own flow.
What kind of art/design/objects might you have scattered about the space?
Our headquarters is covered in one-of-a-kind art pieces made by our global artisan partners in places like India and Haiti. It has a bit of an art gallery feel to it.
Are there tools and/or machinery in your space?
Not in this space but we have a maker’s studio in our Industry City space that has a lot of equipment for the design team to play around with textiles, ceramics and wood working as well as a large format 3D printer with which the design staff can work on projects.
What tool(s) do you most enjoy using in the design process?
Nothing beats paper and pen for getting an idea out quickly.
Let’s talk about how you’re wired. Tell us about your tech arsenal/devices.
I use all the i’s, iMac, iPad, iPhone.
What design software do you use, if any, and for what?
Besides the usual Adobe programs, the furniture design team here uses Rhino for 3D modeling as well as 2D CAD programs for orthographic drawings. We also use Pinterest a lot to share ideas.
Is there a favorite project/piece you’ve worked on?
It’s hard to say. We work on so many types of products and projects. I think that by the time a project is done I’m more excited about the next thing we’re working on so it’s always changing.
Do you feel like you’ve “made it”? What has made you feel like you’ve become successful? At what moment/circumstances? Or what will it take to get there?
I’d hate to think that I’ve hit a finish line. I think there’s always more to learn and take on. If things start to feel too easy and comfortable it’s time to tackle something different. Success to me means being able to do something you love every day and having the freedom to take on new challenges.
Tell us about a current project you’re working on. What was the inspiration behind it?
The biggest thing for me recently was getting all of our new Workspace projects ready for their launch at NeoCon this month. We been collaborated with some great outside partners like Gensler and QDesign and we wanted to make sure that all of the pieces looked perfect for the show. Now, we’re deep in the design process for the first few hotels which are each unique and will represent the character of their locations.
What’s on your desk right now?
My computer, phone, lamp lot’s of Post-it Notes with lists of things that need to get done, magazines that I never seem to have time to flip through, my coffee thermos and a paper tray with blank 8.5” x 11” paper.
Do you have anything in your home that you’ve designed/created?
I’ve got several pieces that I’ve worked on but my favorite is the chair I designed at the beginning of my career with West Elm that was never produced. It’s a one of a kind.
Photos by Garrett Rowland.