A movie director’s hope is that a film breaks new ground, engages its audience, correctly tells a story, inspires those who watch it, wins all the best awards and publicity, and becomes a classic that lasts for years. In short, the movie delivers pleasure. This is what I want for my design projects, as well. The occupants and their visitors should continually be served and inspired by the space.
My firm Rottet Studio has been designing offices for many years, creating architectural environments that inspire and satisfy a company’s needs. But pressures for the office to perform for the client, as well as significant changes in today’s work environment, have caused us to rethink the way we approach office design.
When I started designing hotels a few years ago, I did not immediately make the connection between designing for hospitality and the workplace, but I soon realized that both types of projects have similar goals. Both strongly reflect a brand, make people feel engaged and comfortable, create a little fun, build loyalty, meet the needs of the inhabitants, must be clean and healthy environments, and consistently achieve that with charm and grace. Hoteliers have been doing this for years with the design of the space and associated service inextricably linked. And I recognize this is equally important in office design.
Setting the scene
My approach to office design had always been to gain a deep understanding of the needs and desires of the client, and then to create a space through architectural manipulations such as natural light, reflected light, and volumes and textures that would satisfy those desires and be inspiring. I still use these tools, but because hotels are more themed I had to turn to another source of inspiration.
I started thinking of hotel design, and now offices too, more like set design. I write a short movie in my head for each project, assign characters to it from management to the support staff to the visitors, and then create the appropriate scenes in which the characters can act out the plot. Every design move I make supports the theme, plot, and visualization of the movie and the characters.
One of the most significant translations of hotel design to office design is thinking about the total experience for the visitor from beginning to end: from the moment one enters to the moment they leave. How does the space unfold around the occupant and how does it support the brand, goals, and needs of the company? Your client wants to quickly engage the visitor in a state of comfort.
A good hotel knows how to do this with the entry sequence, immediately transforming the mood of guests into the hotel’s realm. An office can do this as well.
Companies are realizing customer perception is key, and that applies from the moment a customer or client walks through the door. Allow the visitor to arrive and become acclimated within the space before they come upon reception, but don’t make the desk immediately apparent to the visitor.
A reception desk should never be “in your face” or stand between a company and its client or customer. If there is a reception desk at all, it should be a clever design. The lighting should be warm and comforting, not harsh, and is best as incandescent from floor lamps and table lamps accompanied by some overhead lighting.
At Johnson Downie in Houston—a recruiting company for law firms—we designed a reception without a desk. Instead, the visitor enters right into a living room and kitchen space where they are greeted and offered refreshments. Knowing that food and drink are key to social interaction in hospitality spaces, the same can be true in a welcoming space in an office. The perfect flowers, accessories, serving trays, and art are necessary to make the reception space feel personal and intriguing, and designers should work with clients on these details. Similarly, hoteliers control every aspect of the design from the bellhop’s uniform to the bathmat in an attempt to keep the guest experience consistently good.
For Midfirst’s private banking center in Scottsdale, Arizona, based on the client’s desire to have an engaging banking experience, we designed a tropical olive wood paneled kitchenette behind the front conference/dining room. The reception desk is off to the side and blends in with the millwork.
A mock fireplace is the focal point for the reception/living room, and lighting is mostly floor or table lamps to feel very residential and comfortable. The result is hugely successful for Midfirst to gain new clients and then keep their loyalty.
The brand and its clients in the lead role
Hoteliers are brand experts, and realize that the brand experience starts at the arrival point and must have the same quality of service for guests in all locations. In the design of law firms, we consider the client base, practice type, and, most importantly, the brand before setting the design concept. We have designed the offices for law firm Paul Hastings in many worldwide locations, including Paris, with the charge to create places that set the firm apart from its competition with strong brand identification. We have collaborated with real estate brokers working for Paul Hastings to find the most high profile, architecturally significant buildings in each city that also allow signage and a street presence. Paul Hastings believes that that the arrival and entry to its offices need to represent the firm immediately and that is where the visitor experience begins, very much like a hotel.
One can literally see into a Paul Hastings office from the street, drawing interest from outside. For Paul Hastings Washington, D.C., we created a conference space on both sides of the ground floor with high visibility from the street. In Frankfurt, Germany, the office is in a modernist building, the former U.S. Consulate General office building designed by Gordon Bunshaft, to be transparent from the outside as an expression of the openness. We created a complementing minimal interior, making a statement that the law firm was open and respectful of design and the culture of its place.
This thoughtful process, incorporating lessons from hospitality into today’s office, is all in an effort to complete the cinematic experience for the client and their guests, the everyday characters who will inhabit the inspiring, creative, efficient workplace.