Working Spaces 

At home or away, offices get functional facelifts to take on new business with a smile.

Working Spaces

Cobalt blue and electric green walls jump out to greet visitors at Digital Ink, a printing company in new digs at 9 W. Cary St. The colors begin with the company's logo, designed by King Advertising, and run through the entire building, even to the loading dock out back. It's an integrated design intended to brand the company's image for clients, employees and the public. "The corporate identity extends to how the business looks," says David McGinnis, Digital Ink's president, "and we want to show creativity and quality in everything we do."

McGinnis brought in Michael Hurst of Starch Modern Home to design the space in what was once "a really ugly building with potential," McGinnis says. "We gutted the whole thing in May and took it down to concrete and bare walls."

Now, polycarbon — ribbed translucent plastic — sheathes walls and pocket doors, giving the space a glowing, space-age informality that functions well and is cost-effective. So, too, is the concrete floor, which provides the perfect rolling surface for office chairs and storage bins on wheels. Desks continue the industrial-modern theme: Purchased at auction in Los Angeles, their aluminum tops and sides gleam against newly powder-coated green metal sides. Nadine McGinnis, David's wife, helped select many of the items, including the Herman Miller work stations, which are flexible and eye-catching.

"The clean, crisp look has bold colors," Hurst says, "and mixes vintage with new furniture. Lighting was important, such as in the showroom window where signage will explain what the business' capabilities are. Mostly we were trying to go for translucency and lightness in the space. The whole block perked up when we put some color on that building."

Employees find the space easy to work in and to show off to clients. State-of-the-art printing equipment in the production area showcases the same polycarbon wall panels and bold colors as the reception area. A circular glass table and contemporary chairs from La Difference center the computer zone and allow employees to meet or eat, or discuss work with clients. In the president's office, a modular conference table allows various options for meetings or projects, and can serve as a work station for big jobs. Stainless steel cabinets, wood storage pieces and Aeron office chairs fit out the space with high-level stylishness. Large painted canvases bring color and pattern into the design. "I sit in my office in the evening when the sun goes down," McGinnis says, "and you can see these really cool lights coming through the polycarb walls. We wanted a showplace, and something you don't usually see in print companies. We got it."

Raw Energy

Challenge every notion of corporate America's office spaces, and you get WORK. The advertising agency's quarters at the Turning Basin flout traditional hierarchies with a witty, relevant twist on themes. There are no corner offices. Few doors. Walls are unpainted Homosote, variably covered with new ideas that invite discussion. Concrete floors wear the markings of the guy who laid them — reference points that mirror the company's values: doing a job the right way, challenging conventional thinking, respecting the ethic of responsibility whether the work is blue-collar or white, seen or unseen. This is not lip service packaged in a stripped-down setting, but a consistent revelation of core values lived and breathed by the agency's 28 employees.

"We talked about how the space could enhance their beliefs," says Shelli Brady of Alchemy, the firm that served as lead designer and project coordinator for the office in the First Market Bank building. CORE is the architect of record. "The space celebrates all of the anonymous trades that go into making an office, but that no one ever sees — the drywall worker, the electrician. Because the company celebrates the honest worker, they chose to expose that, to reveal those efforts and

WORK at the same time," Brady says.

"It's not a math equation of head count and square footage," Brady explains. "This space says these are serious professionals, but they don't take themselves too seriously. People get too caught up in what an office is supposed to be — the corner offices and the best views. Shift the conversation and look at what the real needs are. Create a sense of place for people." In this example, natural light is a shared resource available equally to all staff members. Five doorways open to the wrap-around terrace and allow ideas to develop inside or out with an easy progression. Same with the "communicating stair," designed by architect Bruce Shirley. The open stairway connects two levels of office space but also allows sitting, viewing and group meetings on both levels. "It has personality and compels people to want to use it," Brady says.

"The agency is very much about sharing ideas, collaborating in the generation of ideas, and there are ways to enhance that. The pin-able walls, the wide openings, the clusters of space. There are no long tunnels of offices and doors."

Because there aren't doors on most rooms, privacy is minimal. This is deliberate. "I could be doing something positive or negative behind a closed door," Brady theorizes, "but the perception among staff is that it's negative. People have their eyes on that door to see who's coming out. It's all negative energy, time wasted. If you understand who you are and what you value, you can put that forth in a variety of messages. To them, doors didn't make sense." Instead, furnishings are arranged with generous margins of open space and light, allowing a collaborative spirit while avoiding claustrophobia. "There aren't many secrets here," says Cabell Harris, WORK's founder. "And though I sometimes wish for a 'cone of silence' around me, this is an open environment and it's intentionally so."

Employees recognize the benefits of this design. "The space allows the work to flow freely from department to department," art director Chris Just says. "[It's] a quality not appreciated until experienced." "It makes a big difference in the morale of the agency for the staff to come to work in a place that they are proud of and a space they enjoy being in," says Kristi Ashley, managing partner.

"These people are willing to put it all out there," Brady says. "They don't need posh carpet on the floor to say they've arrived. They have."

Coalition of Colors

Photographs of Katherine Waddell and political luminaries give the first clue that this home office is command central for a lobbying effort that's personal and passionate. As chairman of the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition of Virginia, Waddell spends long hours on the telephone and computer, researching issues, developing support and spreading her group's message. Therefore, the space requires functionality, comfort and quiet.

Waddell turned to Suellen Gregory of The Best End to convert a small first-floor room in her Windsor Farms home into an office that would meet her needs while complementing the rest of the dwelling's interior.

"Katherine is very tuned in to the nuances of color," Gregory says of her client's involvement in the design. Waddell favors turquoise and shrimp tones and feminine details, so Gregory suggested a related line of Osborne and Little fabrics and wallpaper that feature the colors in soft patterns. A theatrical toile print at the windows is trimmed out with buttons and a tailored ruffle. A Rosecore wool carpet repeats a trellis motif found in the soft ecru wallpaper. An overstuffed chair and ottoman are covered in a constellation print that's a step more contemporary than a geometric pattern. This contrast suits Waddell, known for tireless work habits and loyal friendships with Democratic women.

Waddell selected serene oil paintings framed in gold to finish the room, which looks out onto the well-tended garden and a fringe of trees. "I love my office," she says. "I don't feel like it's an 'office' — it's part of my home."

Visual Identity

If it's possible to airbrush reality, Nadine McGinnis does it. Her home and her second-floor home office are as pristine and impeccably arranged as if a dust-defying airbrush touched down and added shimmer to every surface. "I'm a neat freak," the graphic designer apologizes as she smoothes a seat cushion. What this gesture reveals is a perfectionist's drive to get things right, to make her work and her surroundings as visually pleasing as possible. She's successful at both.

Tucked in a gabled room in her Chesterfield home, McGinnis' office is a cocoon of comfort - white carpeting, plush pillows on a windowseat, curl-up-in sofa and chair, and sleek office furnishings from Storehouse. Always, there's a colorful focal point. "My husband brings me flowers every week," she says, "because he knows I love them and they make my office look beautiful."

Black and white photographs of architecture in Salamanca, Spain remind the couple of their frequent travels, and give a sense of the artist's eye. Striped velvet pillows, decorative glass and books bring to life the neutral sage and cream palette. It is a workspace that invites lingering.

"Sometimes I curl up on the sofa with a sketchbook," McGinnis says. A television hides inside an armoire. Mostly, though, the designer works at her computer creating materials for a range of corporate clients.

She says the freelance life suits her interests and allows time for other pursuits. "And I make sure I'm in the gym every weekday morning," she says, "because that gives me the energy to do my work."

Floating to the Top

With her laptop and canoe, a writer finds freedom from office-as-usual. Photos by Stephen Salpukas

Lauren Hall says she has the best of both worlds — 50% suit, 50% sweatpants. She works from home part time, and from a downtown office two or three days a week. As a full-service advertising freelancer, Hall works with a team of graphic designers, videographers, photographers and an accountant. "Although we talk or email just about every day, we can go for months without seeing each other in person," she says.

They might chat while Hall is working from her dining room-turned-office, where a desk is positioned beneath a chandelier. Or Hall might be out on the back porch or even in her canoe with laptop and cell phone at hand to attend to work matters in a setting that allows her to relax and focus.

"It may sound very casual," she says, "but in many ways, it's just the opposite. No matter where I'm working, when I'm on the clock I am in The Zone. I don't answer my home phone, I don't watch TV, I rarely go out for lunch unless it's business. … I will admit that recently I was on a conference call out in the canoe when a big flock of Canada Geese came flying overhead. They were honking so loudly that several people remarked about the noise. I didn't say anything, but made a mental note to never try that again."

Hall says she does her best writing curled up on the sofa in front of the fireplace, "preferably when it's raining. I design my best ads in the hammock under warm sunshine. And I will only do bookkeeping and correspondence at my desk with music playing and scented candles burning."

She's cheerful about her new house and its natural setting and its put-your-feet-up comforts. "For me, environment is everything. I don't think I would do well at all in a cubicle. … I am incredibly comfortable here and I know that enables me to do better and more creative work."

Sauer Flavor

Where else is the office mantel lined with jars of Duke's Mayonnaise? Photos by Chad Hunt

Conrad F. Sauer IV sits in an office surrounded by oil portraits of his forebears, facing a room filled with memorabilia and a freshened outlook. Decorator Suellen Gregory assisted in stripping out old paneling and tired furnishings that hadn't changed in four decades, then installed comfortable, green leather seating around a marble fireplace, non-glare lighting, a traditional window treatment and softly patterned carpet.

Cabinets display corporate and family collectibles: a stuffed albino goose, jars and jars of Duke's mayonnaise, photographs, and a promotional clock that is left unwound "because I couldn't stand the ticking," Sauer smiles. What's important to remember about a visit to the venerable spice and real estate company? "Don't hold the mayo," he urges.




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