Furniture House Brings Big Design to Silicon Valley

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By Sharon Simonson

One Workplace wants to change its world.

It is starting with the past, adapting a 1950s-era paper-manufacturing plant on the east side of the San Jose international airport.

But in what can only be described as a huge advance for the rough-and-tumble neighborhood, the office-furniture dealer has transformed a hulking industrial building into a local landmark.

The building’s 22-foot-high façade is emblazoned with huge letters spelling “One Workplace” that double as eye-catching public art on scale with the airport across the street.

One Workplace has harnessed the vitality of the rumbling aircraft landing on and leaving the airport’s huge runways by cutting 20-foot-tall windows into the building’s formerly blank face, introducing occupants to daylight and uninterrupted views of aircraft movements.

The bold new presence boasts its own name: dHouz, for design house. “An English manor has a name and a personality. That is what we are trying to infuse it with,” said Mike Drez, executive director of sales for One Workplace and the design leader for the internal and external team that has visualized and now is executing creation of the space.

“We want it to be the house of sharing around design and interior design elements,” he said. “We will see how it works.”

Within the structure, One Workplace executives have embraced a culture of experimentation, flexibility and change—themes that are assaulting their own corporate clients with ever-greater force. In addition to conceiving the space as a corporate headquarters, the company’s leaders are using the building and its grounds as laboratories to test basics such as furnishings but also long-held preconceptions such as permanent walls, immovable conference rooms and even the idea of a fixed building. One Workplace distributes products for more than 300 furniture manufacturers including Steelcase.

“Why can’t I reuse my walls?” Drez said.

With clients that include Google Inc. and Twitter Inc.—well-known workplace pioneers—plus Apple Inc., Pinterest Inc., LinkedIn Corp. and many others, the outcomes could extend well beyond the Bay Area. “The concept is to create a living, breathing lab of interior-design innovation,” Drez said. “We believe this is where the world is going. The big shift is on. If you aren’t changing with it, you are going to be left behind. It’s about insight through experimentation.”

Within the 38,000-square-foot showroom and office-employee workspace, ceilings soar 28 feet, and “Everything is movable,” he said. Raised-floor construction and tile carpeting accommodate an electric and data grid that is accessible beneath the work area, so desks and electronic devices can be moved easily. So can the series of multisized, glass-sided conference rooms that line one wall and the inside of the building’s face and a massive mezzanine floor at the center of the main work area.

The two-story mezzanine consists of two giant C-shaped components stacked one atop the other at an angle. The letters signify “collaboration” and “creativity,” two watchwords for the modern workplace. The top-floor features a glass enclosed conference room and an open-air “sky porch” with lime-green furniture. The raised space grants a 360-degree command of the workplace below and uncluttered views of the airport. The bottom C shelters a break area and living room.

But as permanent as the mezzanine structure appears, Drez said, it can be broken down and reconfigured, “if we decide in a few years that it’s not doing it for us.” Moreover, the steel beams were formed off-site in 10 days and the structure itself was assembled onsite in five days.

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