By Meghan Hall
The Bay Area tech industry has transformed the way businesses approach and view corporate office space; long gone are the days where company workflows revolve around cubicles and water cooler chat, as architecture firms are increasingly challenged by their clients’ desires to move beyond traditional office design. Now, long-established boutique firm Feldman Architecture is seeking to push the envelope further by creating office spaces that incorporate design elements more commonly found in the firm’s residential projects.
“The workplace, similar to the residence, has become less formal,” said Lindsey Theobald, an associate Feldman Architecture. “There is a desire for less hierarchy, aka ‘the corner office.’ We still get asked for a handful of private offices but never cubicles.”
We really wanted to emphasize the residential feel of this office, so we thought the exaggerated living room furniture fit nicely and made for a comfortable spot to wait.
The San Francisco-based firm, which since its founding has built a strong portfolio in the custom single-family home market, received a unique opportunity in November 2012 to expand beyond its residential work. According to Theobald, the firm had not been aggressively pursuing expansion in the years after the 2008 recession and instead chose to focus on building the firm through ground-up residential projects. However, when a former client reached out asking for help on an office remodel, Theobald said the team jumped at the opportunity.
“His team met at his house—that Feldman remodeled—to discuss the remodel and everyone kept saying the new office should look like his house,” explained Theobald of her client’s request. “When he called us to discuss possibly working on his office remodel, we thought, why not?”
Dubbed the Presidio VC Offices project, the team at Feldman Architecture began brainstorming ideas to remodel the 11,000 square-foot space, located in one of San Francisco’s historic Presidio buildings. Their client, a growing technology investment firm whom Feldman declined to name, wanted their new space to look and feel like the home of a previous residential remodel, but with the functionality required of an office.
To accommodate these requests, Feldman Architecture aimed to make the office as airy as possible and channeled the open floor plan concept so popular in modern residential design.
“I think the draw to an open office also stems from the desire to have bigger, brighter spaces,” said Theobald. “Feeling like you have more space that’s lit by natural light creates a very desirable work environment.”
When designing the office’s layout, Feldman Architecture did keep many of the company’s private offices at the perimeter, as is typical for many office spaces. However, Feldman Architecture built the walls of each office using transparent glass; the walls allow for privacy but also enable light to shine through into the interior of the space. The firm took advantage of the space’s existing skylights and centered the office’s large interior spaces underneath them to increase the amount of natural light. In an effort to make the interior of the office feel as large as possible, the architects did away with cubicles, which cut off flow and compartmentalize the space and instead placed desks in the interior of the setting. The office’s main spaces are connected by what the firm as called “compression tubes:” hallways made of wood with shorter head heights designed to emphasize the office’s larger, open work and meeting spaces.
Feldman’s client also asked for a good deal of flexible space in order to accommodate everything from smaller team meetings to larger gatherings and lectures. One of these spaces, which serves as one of the central gathering spots for the office, is the library. The space is large and open, with flexible furniture that includes easily moveable, multi-sided sofas.
Feldman mimicked this configuration in the office lobby, where visitors wait upon arrival, and used many of its residential subcontractors to create the space. Theobald credits Eby Construction for the space’s high-end custom cabinets and both Chris French Metal and Hayes Architecture & Fabrication for the metal accents used throughout the office.
“We really wanted to emphasize the residential feel of this office, so [we] thought the exaggerated living room furniture fit nicely and made for a comfortable spot to wait,” said Theobald. “It feels like a luxury, sun-filled apartment overlooking the beautiful Presidio Park.”
Feldman included other amenities in its design of the space, including a nap room, where employees can relax, and a kitchen with direct access to a rooftop deck. The deck is located on the north end of the building and boasts some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, according to Theobald.
However, jumping from residential to corporate office design was not without its challenges. Theobald maintained that even though Feldman faced a bit of a learning curve, staying true to the firm’s residential aesthetic was key.
“We’ve been trained to focus on the miniscule details of our residential designs, so we carry that same focus to our commercial projects,” said Theobald.
In the commercial world where approval and construction timelines are typically tighter, Feldman pushed its contractors to focus on the details of the design and how the client really wants to use the space.
Theobald added, “Because of tighter budgets and shorter timelines in commercial projects, we aren’t able to carry out as many specialty details as in most of our residential project, but we’ve been able to identify the details that elevate a project from generic to more of a custom feel.”
The space received several awards for its innovative design, including: Interior Design’s Best of Year 2014 in the Small Office: Corporate category, the IIDA Northern California Chapter Honor Award: Work Small, and the AIA San Francisco Merit Award for Interior Architecture.
Since the completion of the Presidio VC Offices project in April of 2014, Feldman has tackled several other commercial projects, including the renovation of its own office space located on Pacific Avenue in San Francisco. Theobald believes that as the firm grows, Feldman will continue to apply its residential-inspired designs to commercial projects in an effort to tailor spaces exactly to its clients’ specifications.