By Meghan Hall
Commercial real estate firm Avison Young has expanded far beyond its original location in Toronto, Canada, opening up offices all around the world. The company put down roots in Northern California in 2012 — opening offices in five of the Bay Area’s key submarkets: San Francisco, Oakland, San Mateo, Sacramento and Silicon Valley. In January of 2018, Avison Young wrapped up a remodel on its nearly 12,000 square foot office space on the 33rd floor of the 44 Montgomery St. building in downtown San Francisco. The ultimate goal was to create a workspace that highlighted the collaborative spirit of Avison Young and differentiate its San Francisco office from its other spaces around the world.
“We wanted the space to really foster collaboration and be a meeting spot for clients, family and vendors, a place where people feel safe to come up in between meetings, because everybody is so spread out these days,” said Nick Slonek, principal and managing director of enterprise solutions, office leasing and sales and leasing at Avison Young. “San Francisco is a two-mile square, so it’s pretty pedestrian. What we wanted to encourage is the same way you would run into people on the street, you would run into people in our lobby.”
Guests, clients and Avison Young employees are greeted by an open reception area meant to bring the outside in. Various shades of blue are used throughout the space and concierge-level service provides a variety of coffee and drinks. Open spaces such as the office’s “Servery” have high ceilings and are decorated with large harvest tables, channeling a feeling of hospitality and creating a space that, according to Slonek, truly felt San Franciscan in nature.
“It’s a really great environment to share thoughts, work on projects, or have a glass of wine or a cup of coffee,” Slonek said. “That was the premise behind the design. We really wanted a collaborative atmosphere where people felt safe to come and share ideas and work together.”
The office boasts polished concrete floors with an array of vibrantly colored and patterned rugs. Many of the walls are dry-erase or chalk walls that allow employees to hash out ideas. A large wall covered in chalk art depicts rows of poppies — the California state flower — spans nearly 15 feet and was drawn by a local artist. Other art pieces contributed by the local academy of arts students also adorn the walls. Several live edge wood tables sourced from Portland, OR, are found throughout the space and also one of them also serves as the reception desk. The accents, said Slonek, are meant to differentiate Avison Young.
“We feel that Avison Young is really unique, because we are a private company, not a public one,” he explained. “Having a unique piece of furniture like [the reception desk] really signifies that we’re different, which is one of our taglines.”
The office’s meeting spaces are located at the center of the building, while open work spaces are closer to the windows. To help differentiate between the spaces, dropped ceilings are included in conference rooms to mitigate noise and are raised in the open work spaces. The open space provides site lines to many of the Bay Area’s most iconic landmarks, such as Coit Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge.
“We have open ceilings that are white to brighten things up, but then we have accent areas where there are blackened ceilings,” said Slonek. “It really changes the dimension and the depth of the ceilings, and the continuity of the space in a positive way.”
Avison Young worked closely with San Francisco-based design firm DIALOG to create the space. According to Slonek, DIALOG’s values, culture and client-first mentality was imperative to the delivery of the space.
“They didn’t present an over-the-top, outlandish design that would have caused efficiency problems,” said Slonek of the design process. “They used really wise choices with regards to using interior space for meeting space and exterior space for working space. They interspersed collaborative areas within the working spaces, so nobody feels separated from one another.”
Avison Young and DIALOG sought to create a space that was different from other, open concept, highly contemporary offices that are commonplace in major metros such as San Francisco. Avison Young wanted a warm, welcoming space that would put its employees and clients at ease.
“A lot of firms have beautiful spaces, but they’re very stark and rigid, and that wasn’t our goal” said Slonek. “Our goal was to have a lot of professionalism, but comfort.”
According to Slonek, the project was completed in 6 months and cost about $130 per square foot, or roughly $1.5 million. The end result was one that Slonek said was inspired by the particular San Francisco market and Avison Young’s clientele in the city.
“We feel that every market is different and has different clients, and we want to be able to articulate and express our professionalism in that particular market,” said Slonek. “San Francisco is really unique. It’s a water city, and it’s got a lot of landmarks. [Our office] emulates what working in San Francisco is all about.”