Words by Helen Parton
London–based architecture and design practice Jump Studios was called on to expand the headquarters of smoothie-maker Innocent. Helen Parton went along to experience the fresh, playful offices that bring the outside in
The west-London based smoothie manufacturer may be innocent by name, but you don’t get a £100 million turnover in just your eighth year of trading by being a pushover. And that goes for being a workplace design client too.
“They see themselves as very down to earth and they didn’t want anything too considered,” says Jump Studio’s project architect Laszlo Fecske over a smoothie or two in Innocent’s reception – well it’d be rude not to sample the goods, right? “There was the challenge of pushing them towards something more designed.” Jump undertook the task of transforming Innocent’s headquarters this year in just 12 weeks on site. “There was a high level of non-design,” agrees Jump’s director Simon Jordan. “We provided them with a working space that was a much richer experience and all of their activities would play themselves out in a much more comfortable and convenient way.”
Although Innocent may call home Fruit Towers – and to give them their due I suspect this is rather a tongue in cheek moniker – anyone expecting a gleaming pillar of glass and steel in a prime London location will be sorely disappointed. The offices are to be found in a converted semi-industrial space on a small business park near Shepherd’s Bush. Stepping outside with Jordan, I get a sense of what they had to work with. Trump Tower it ain’t, but then that’s hardly in keeping with a company that trades on a rather anti-corporate stance, but more on that later. Before the refurbishment, the staff occupied units four, five and six of the building with much of unit three being taken up with an industrial-sized freezer, which was too big a piece of the infrastructure to move. Jump therefore worked on unit one, where the reception area was relocated, and unit two, ensuring the new spaces were in keeping with what existed already. Office manager Jenny Whitmore explains the brief: “Our vision for Fruit Towers is to provide an area that enables us to work and socialise in a relaxed, informal environment, while encouraging us to be productive. We’ve grown so quickly over the past few years and were in desperate need of more space; for individual work, meetings, lunches and after-work activities like yoga. We asked Jump Studios to help us create a natural, premium space that included four more meeting rooms, a large communal area and lots of desks, including a hot-desk area. Our hope was that the office would be relaxed and informal, without being over the top, or ‘cartoony’.”
To ensure the new 250sq m mezzanine level blended seamlessly with the other mezzanine areas, a substantial steel framework was created, its columns cast in concrete deep into the foundations for strength. The kitchen area, next to the stairs – which has a market stall-type operation at the front, choc full of all the goodies that go into making those more-ish smoothies – was double the size of what existed previously. Whitmore enthuses: “It’s my favourite part of the office. We all spend over 40 hours a week here and I was absolutely passionate about making a space people feel happy in and it’s really nice to have that reflected in a large bustling kitchen in the middle of the office.”
The bathroom areas were previously much smaller as well – now Innocent’s 194 staff have three showers and five bathrooms, with Jump creating a passageway that is both architecturally appealing, drawing the eye through the space, and is also far more logical in terms of layout. “They were very cramped before – everybody was crowded into one space,” adds Jordan. “The brief was to amalgamate the two units they acquired to provide more working space and open up the space so the company could come together. One of the things that encapsulates the company is these big meetings they have on a Monday.”
The focal point for the scheme is the large area containing picnic-style tables, which can be lined up together to create a very long boardroom-style table, plus oversize diner style seating on one side. “This was custom-made upholstered ply and had to be strong enough to have people standing on it,” explains Fecske.
Innocent started in the summer of 1998, when three friends bought £500 worth of fruit, turned it into smoothies and sold them at a stall of a music festival one weekend, resigning from their jobs the following Monday. Now an international operation, the company turns over two million units a week, capturing around two thirds of the UK market alone according to market intelligence providers IRI Infocan last year. The firm hopes to capitalise in a similar way in the overseas markets it has already penetrated. To reflect this, there is a fuzzy-felt style map of the world on the wall and, on a more practical level, a screen can drop down from the mezzanine level for videoconferencing from other Innocent locations, which range from France to Sweden to Ireland.
“I love seeing the large communal space being used for so many different activities from our Monday morning meeting with the whole company to individual people working away quietly to everyone sitting down and having lunch together,” says Whitmore. If all this sounds too good to be true then, rest assured, I saw with my own eyes the ranks of young, fresh-faced employees, many willingly clad in company branded T-shirts and hoodies – unless this was all a front and the moment I left they were all shoved back into their airless crates and told to get rowing again.
It’s like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as envisaged by airbrush king David LaChapelle, and to complete the Willy Wonka analogy they even have a laboratory in the older part of the building – except instead of run by orange midgets, the casting this time has been straight out of an Abercrombie and Fitch advertisement. Couple this with a Friday beer trolley, homebaked birthday cakes, baby bonuses and profit-related pay and it’s no wonder they’ve been voted best workplace in the UK by the Guardian and the Sunday Times.
For those about to develop a nasty case of office envy, however, let me tell you that, functionally, it’s not 100 per cent perfect – the mezzanine level still feels a little cramped, the ceiling height makes me, as just shy of six-feet tall, worry if I’ll bang my head and on the hot June day I visited, it did feel a bit on the warm side. “The space is unusual for an office,” admits Whitmore. “We needed to make sure every potential challenge was eventually beneficial to us. This included adding three mezzanines from it initially being all on one level and utilising the large amount of natural light we have.
“There’s quite a few little corners that aren’t big enough to fit a desk, let alone a meeting room, so we’ve filled them with bean bags, hammocks and hanging chairs so people here can enjoy a bit of quiet time. Those spaces are really important as they allow people to take time away from their desks and think.”
For more formal meetings, Jump has also included two square rooms opposite the kitchen, with beech walls and more grass on the roof to maintain a back-to-nature theme. Innocent’s strong branding is very much in evidence from the moment you approach the offices, in front of which is parked a phalanx of vans decorated with either a cow pattern or covered in fake grass. The company’s advertising campaign belongs to the hello-birds-hello-sky, folksy whimsy school of thought, but at least they’re trying to flog us one of our five-a-day and not some unbreakable 18-month phone contract. Jump, of course, is no stranger to highly successful brands – its clients have included Nike, Levi’s and Red Bull. In Innocent’s case, Fecske says diplomatically, “They are quite opinionated about what they liked and what they didn’t like.” The fake grass from the existing units was continued over into the new ones and, as Whitmore adds, finally, “We’ve used the wall spaces really well and there’s lots of quirky touches around, like the baby photos, the table football and the phone box. The office feels quirky, fresh and innovative. We’re delighted with the finished product.”