For many of us, the phrase “gentlemen’s club” conjures up images of men in smoking jackets drinking aged malt whisky, puffing Cuban cigars – perhaps a few rumpled copies of the Daily Telegraph lying about. Not exactly centres of innovation and creativity, to be frank. But clearly these are lazy stereotypes, as demonstrated by the new offices of WPP group’s Good Technology, designed by Spacelab.
In this interpretation of a gentlemen’s club – a theme that is woven through all four floors of the digital media company’s Clerkenwell space – the message is “yes, we drink malt whisky, but we do it with a healthy dose of rock ’n’ roll.’ Modern crystal chandeliers dangle over Chesterfield sofas covered in sexy black and white leather. Instead of oil paintings of pastoral scenery, gilded frames hold photographs of staff in various states of disarray. Old-fashioned mahogany finishes have been swapped for MDF panels coated in high-gloss paint.
The lower ground floor of the three-storey office block houses a rather decadent cafe and lounge area, which is where the style comes into its own. The slate grey walls, dark sumptuous furniture and billiards table contrast with a blast of lime green in the cafe and the sculptural, hot pink-ribbed dividers between two acoustic booths used for teleconferencing. And as with any self-respecting creative agency, the table hockey is just around the corner.
“We were trying to soften the building,” says Nathan Lonsdale, Spacelab’s director. “It was very modern – very harsh and clinical. This style helped to warm it up.”
The real challenge, though, was ensuring that the new premises, which needed to accommodate twice the amount of employees as the old office, would aid the way Good Technology was accustomed to working. As with so many office moves, the company was apprehensive about losing the close-knit feeling of its old space.
“Good Technology depends on a collaboration of varied and specialist teams,” says managing director Tim Seddon. “We approached Spacelab with the brief to work with us in developing an inspiring place to be, to understand our team’s varied needs and to work integration into the heart of the plan.”
“Evidence-based design”, involving briefing meetings, occupancy and social network studies and specialist software, helped to formulate the idea of “hubs” on each floor, Lonsdale says.
To accommodate this in the new office, each floor houses sections of creatives, account management, project management and so on, so that these smaller teams can maintain their connection to each other instead of having to run between floors. Brainstorming rooms and informal meeting areas with facilities to display creative work can be found off the main circulation route of every floor, alongside a large open-plan office space.
“We figured out how to make the building suit Good Technology. We were trying to make it work for them instead of the other way around,” says Lonsdale. “It made it more intimate. The agencies were growing and the business was becoming non-identifiable. They found that with smaller ‘boutique’ agencies, staff retention was better.”
This all sounds very technical and corporate, but let’s not lose sight of the very loveliness of this office, which is worthy of further description.
Mini reception areas have been personalised by artists working on a theme for each floor – for example, “The Bleeding Hearts” have themed Floor 2. Carrying on with the idea of a gentlemen’s club, white leather Target chairs with feature lighting provide areas in which to have a dignified cup of tea – and also combine the idea of formality and cosiness with a modern twist.
It’s also worth mentioning that the metal floor tiles give a reprieve from typical office carpeting, which, let’s face it, is not always very attractive or hygienic.
Downstairs in the main conference room, which is fitted with glossy white MDF panels, retro backlighting and white leather task chairs, one has the distinct feeling of hovering on a cloud.
All in all, everyone is pleased, especially the team at Good Technology.
“Since moving we have never looked back… nor have our clients who, more often than not, now try to decamp to us for the afternoon or hold their own conferences in one of our spaces,” gushes Seddon. “The bar has also surprised us in its versatility – from pitch environment to beers on a Friday to agency presentations. It’s simply brilliant.”