Amsterdam offers up a curious juxtaposition: on one hand, there is contemporary design and a thriving creative industry. On the other, of course, the tawdry delights.
Judging from the packs of British stags roving the red light district and the bleary-eyed students stuffing their faces with stroopwafels, the latter may have taken centre stage where tourists are concerned. But a fifteen-minute amble away from the city’s central train station reveals an altogether different world: quaint canals, 17th century coach houses, lovely Dutch people riding their bikes past windows filled with tasteful modern furniture. This, naturally, is the bit of Amsterdam where the new serviced offices designed by Sevil Peach can be found.
It’s important to set the scene because the picturesque Herengracht canal, home to Spaces – the first venture for young entrepreneurs Frederique Keuning and Martijn Roordink – is integral to the success of the project. This is not a dowdy Regus Business Centre plonked in a commercial estate on the outskirts of town. It is stylish office space in the heart of the most desirable section of Amsterdam – a long needed shift in the serviced offices concept, which generally leaves much to be desired.
Previously the headquarters for Amsterdam’s social services department, the 1960s building was originally designed as a five-storey structure wrapping around a central void, which Peach had to rework to maximise space. “It was unbelievably dreary,” she says.
To start, a glazed roof was added to the top of the void, creating a sunny atrium for a new café, reception and a series of informal meeting areas on the ground floor. This communal space, decked out with a scrummy array of furniture and fixtures from the likes of Tom Dixon, Artek, Vitra and Modus, is the buzzing social hub of the building and is what sets the operation apart from other serviced offices.
The important thing for the client was that Spaces provide a clubby atmosphere – inviting not just to creative media types but also to real estate advisors, financial groups and law firms, all of who have let space in the building since it opened in October of last year.
It required a strong brand identity, but equally, it needed to be inspiring for the range of start up businesses and freelancers it would house.
“I don’t think anyone has done serviced offices like this before, which is actually a pleasant space to be. They’re usually very corporate, anonymous, transient spaces,” says Peach.
A ground floor extension at the back of the building holds a ‘club room’, which can be used by tenants or rented out by outside companies for events – and further on are a number of distinct meeting rooms adjacent to a timber garden courtyard.
“Putting in the inner courtyard, meant there was a loss of square metres, but the effect it has on the spirit of the place is actually quite important,” says Peach. “The courtyard allows all the rooms to have natural daylight.”
It’s evident that a concern for ‘the spirit of the place’ also guided Peach to use blasts of vibrant colour and top-of-the-line furnishings, install skylights and ensure that each room and transitional space has a personality that transcends the minimum requirements. Essentially, she set out to highlight the pleasure and fun of work, which has resulted in spaces that are a bit more human and that tenants happily show off to clients.
Circulation was a consideration on the office floors, by adding timber balconies along one side of the atrium, each storey has the potential to be let to three different tenants. The oak balustrades also seem to be a prime spot to stop and take in a view of the activity below. “We had to make them high in case the traders decided to jump,” jokes Peach. “No but really, our contribution has been the look and feel of the place but also good use of space to enable the maximum lettable square metres for the client.”
Each floor has a central drinks point overlooking the atrium. All of which have been left fairly neutral so that companies can easily put their stamp on things. Exposed services and painted concrete mean that the overall effect is pretty raw, though this seems to chime with the majority of tenants. The only group to install suspended ceilings in their office is a law firm who, tellingly, also have fake plants and crystal chandeliers. “They want to be in a place that is kind of laid back and looks a certain way,” says Peach, pointing down to the common space, “but when it comes to their own office, they may not be able to continue with that expression.”
The clients are happy with the result – and so are current and potential tenants by the looks of the fifty plus waiting list to get into the building.
“That diversity was part of the idea,” says Keuning, “for everybody to fit their spaces out themselves and form their own identities. It’s a bit of a puzzle to fit everybody in, but we really love the atmosphere that has been created.”