The offices of many tech startups are bare-bones, but the founders of Giant Pixel, a company that programs gaming applications, wanted their first office to reflect their love of midcentury modern and science fiction–inspired design. They purchased a building in an up-and-coming area near Mint Plaza in the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco and hired Studio O+A, a design firm led by the husband-and-wife team of Primo Orpilla and Verda Alexander, Contract's 2011 Designers of the Year, whose office is just a few blocks away.
Studio O+A specializes in forward-looking spaces for companies including Yelp and Facebook. But even for the firm, Giant Pixel's office was a special project. "It's rare in commercial interiors to be able to focus on the design details to this extent," says Neil Bartley, senior project manager at Studio O+A. The firm designed several custom pieces for the office, including a spectacular, sculptural reception desk—a hollow concrete shell bolted to the building's wall and cantilevered four feet from one edge—and extremely subtle refinements like narrow shadow reveals between the wood treads and cased stringers on the staircases.
Spaces that blend several eras
Before placing the building on the market, the developer had stripped the turn-of-the-century former printing press down to its concrete walls and wood joists. The Giant Pixel team liked the juxtaposition of the building's industrial past with the modern-day craft of software and, therefore, asked Studio O+A to preserve the rawness of the two-story space.
"We wanted to highlight the contrast between the very rough shell and the high-end polished finishes," Bartley says. Sleek new additions include a hanging Fireorb stainless steel fireplace, and curved plywood Jehs+Laub Shrimp chairs and soft Arper poufs invite lounging. In the basement, retro Sonneman Orb chandeliers illuminate a full bar with banquettes upholstered in caramel-colored calfskin.
Giant Pixel's 22 employees are surrounded by features fitting for a swanky house. "I want our company to produce high-quality, well-designed products," says Giant Pixel cofounder Alan Braverman, who was also a cofounder of Eventbrite, an online event registration and ticketing website. "And I'm hoping that a well-designed office will have a direct influence on the team." It provides a significant upgrade from working in the founders' homes and local cafes.
Details befitting a design-conscious company
"This was definitely an all-hands-on-board kind of project, and we collaborated closely with consultants and specialists," Bartley says. Studio O+A worked with Bay Area companies to fabricate several elements, including Concreteworks for the reception desk, Boxcabco for the millwork, and CFM for the metalwork. MASHstudios of Los Angeles collaborated on the design of custom furnishings such as the conference table, which is mounted atop an open base.
But the ultimate expression of geek chic may be in the entry, where guests are greeted by a scrim of cold-rolled steel that was water-jet cut into a pattern of squares. A programmer might be able to figure out that the pattern is actually binary code, and one who is really hardcore might be able to figure out what it says. "We've talked about using it as a test for people we're thinking of hiring," Braverman says with a laugh.
In the work areas, Knoll Antenna tables encourage collaboration, while whiteboards made of glossy back-painted glass promote brainstorming. A couple of cozy booths, made by draping gray acoustic felt over rods suspended from the ceiling, provide semiprivate workspaces. Hanging from the exposed wood beams throughout are clean-lined cylinder pendants from H. E. Williams and space-age ovoid speakers from Everything But The Box. "The designers nailed the look perfectly with the speakers," Braverman says.
The basement, dubbed the "speakeasy of the future" by Bartley, contains a long bar with custom millwork and stainless steel fittings. The company hosts Friday happy hours, which have been very successful for both employee retention and recruitment. "The competition for programmers and designers in this area is fierce," Braverman explains. "We want employees to bring their friends here and impress them."
- Designer: Studio O+A
- Client: Giant Pixel
- Where: San Francisco
- What: 42,000 total square feet on three floors
- Cost/sf: Withheld at client's request
Key Design Highlights
- Custom furnishings—such as a sculptural concrete reception desk and a conference table with an open chrome base—give the office its unique identity.
- A variety of workspaces and hangout areas make for an easy transition from business to casual entertaining.
- The raw, unfinished surfaces of the former industrial warehouse contrast with the sleek and modern additions.
- Defining the entry is a water-jet cut steel scrim, featuring a performated pattern depicting binary code.