The first time I visited KesselsKramer’s office in Hoxton, the only people actually working were the cocktail waiters. There they were, tirelessly making martini after martini behind the makeshift bar at the Dutch communications agency’s launch party of its new London venture one Friday night. It was thronging with liggers from the architecture and advertising worlds, intent on making the most of the free booze, trying to grab a carton of mini-burger and chips, and generally starting the weekend as they meant to go on.
In the thick of the action were several members of the FAT team, which was responsible for the interior of what has been dubbed the “KK Outlet”. Project architect Tomas Klassnik says: “The design is about how they want to use the space. They had quite special, multi-purpose needs. It had to work as a gallery and a shop, as well as being a workplace.”
Having seen for myself how it works for events, I can readily imagine the work of artists, designers and photographers hanging on the walls in one half of the space. Erik Kessels, creative director at KesselsKramer, explains the retail function at the front: “We publish a lot of books and make a lot of products, so we thought we would make a shop, together with an office.” Customers can even pop in on a Saturday. As the blurb for KK Outlet emphasises: “The ‘we’re open’ sign is on the door, the shop shelves are stocked and the coffee is brewing. Drop by.” By encouraging the public to come in, KesselsKramer wants to encourage a sense of openness in the office.
This is counterbalanced by the other half of the project. Behind a full-length plywood wall, various rooms are arranged consecutively. It is here where the creative workforce can gain inspiration – be that on the chaise longue behind the timber curtains in the decadently vermilion kitchen, or sitting on the steps in the timber-lined warehouse. “Nowadays, more of us work from everywhere, so although it is an office, it doesn’t look like an office,” says Kessels.
From within the wall, an elevation of a factory mounted on industrial castors can swing out to subdivide the space further. “The staff can lock themselves into this piece,” says Klassnik. “The idea of closing off this space means items such as computers can be locked away.”
Kessels adds: “The idea FAT came up with was to cut through the space, and this dissection really helped us to use it in a hybrid way.”
At the moment, only four staff are based permanently at the KK Outlet, although this can be expanded as the business grows. “The mobile furniture elements are pieces associated with the different areas,” says Klassnik. “There is a section of kitchen unit, which is like a hot-desking worktop, and the same goes for each of the zones.”
In terms of materials, it is far more rough and ready than the typical slick ad agency joint. There is no clash of wacky materials on the reception desk – indeed, there doesn’t appear to be one – while the glass frontage is less full-height flagship and more suggestive of going into a sweet shop or a second-hand bookseller, albeit one that can afford the rent in Hoxton Square. The rubber in the kitchen and the tiles in the shop area have a definite aesthetic appeal, but the timber used for the wall looks quite basic, to say the least. By way of explanation, it is meant to represent the concept of the activities and ethos of KesselsKramer in Holland being crated up and shipped over to east London.
It is no coincidence then to learn that FAT was responsible for the design of KesselsKramer’s Amsterdam HQ a decade ago. There, an unused church interior was transformed into different levels to provide workstations, platforms, chill-out areas, a library and TV room using an eclectic mix of picnic tables, hedges, fences and items from flea markets for added idiosyncrasy. “We sometimes work for them, they work for us – we’re on one level,” says Kessels. “There was one design, we talked about it, some changes were made and we went into production.” Such geniality makes me tempted to pay a return visit soon – get your cocktail-shakers ready, guys.