If your business is entrenched in the evolving realm of digital advertising, having office space that resembles the Mad Men era just won’t cut it. For the company’s 24,000-sq.-ft. location with room for 200 employees, executives at Outbrain hired the interior design firm of JIDK in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood to renovate the space to suit the company’s vibe.
I sat down with Thomas Juncher, owner of JIDK, to discuss the project at length. His design team has a strong foothold in the New York technology and entertainment scene plus a deep understanding of start-up culture and challenges.
Stef Schwalb: What existed in the space before?
Thomas Juncher: The space was originally outfitted for e-business software firm Opus 360, then was slightly renovated by the architectural firm Mancini Duffy for its own use.
SS: What is unique about the location?
TJ: The 13th Street side of the block is very quiet and almost residential, whereas the 14th Street exposure has all of the energy and drama of a NYC office. The area of 13th and 14th Street and 6th Avenue is New School [research university] territory and the area is humming with creative students of all kinds. It’s energetic in a college campus way instead of the usual commercial way.
SS: Can you walk us through the space?
TJ: Outbrain has a very cool – and somewhat
secret – entrance to its space from 13th Street. A small private street-level elevator lobby takes you to the 3rd floor reception area and the main boardroom. Behind these, the communal canteen connects pathways leading to the work areas.
The main space is an uninterrupted loft spanning the entire city block from 13th to 14th Street. Tin ceilings and elegant skinny columns are emphasized by rows of linear up/down lights and the space is bright and cheerful. In the middle of the main space, a small lounge and a casual meeting room are anchored by a composition of colorful F/LY pendants from Kartell.
The interior offices flanking this main space allow the team leaders to have their offices right next to their teams. We repurposed the existing cubicles and modified them to work efficiently with this layout. There is a central ramp and stairs that lead to a small work area called “The Upper West Side” where stations are floating more freely on the floorplate. The lower ceilings in this area make it feel more intimate, and we modified the lighting and ductwork to work with that. A former mail room was converted into a wellness room, and a printing room now houses a Ping-Pong table. [We found a way to] re-use the existing carpeting strategically, while refinishing the exposed wood floors to accentuate and highlight the loft feel.
SS: SS: What were the objectives for the space?
TJ: As with many very deep lofts, it was dark in the middle and access to the windows was limited. Our first course of action was to relocate an administrative [section] that was blocking most of the south-side windows and place those offices internally. Secondly, we demolished a number of low-hanging “clouds” that the previous tenant had installed over the workstations. These up-lit clouds effectively turned the actual ceiling dark by contrast and made the space feel small and crowded. Instead, we installed linear bi-directional pendants with wide distribution uplight that completely opened up the space and put the beautiful tin ceilings back in focus.
The furniture touches were largely cosmetic, but widespread; all the cubicles were cut down in height and the beige fabric panels swapped for bright blue felt. We installed pendant lights in all offices as an alternative to the drop-in lights, plus accent lights were installed throughout the office as well.
Additionally, we created several comfortable employee break-out and lounge areas and upgraded the kitchen and bathrooms. We always try to apply a mix of high and low solutions. Very few clients can take on a top-shelf renovation throughout, so carefully selecting products and price points is an important task.
For Outbrain, we collaborated with lighting designer Pei Heng Tsai from PHT Lighting Design in New York City to obtain linear lights from Finelite for the work areas — and then we went about the secondary areas with a more casual touch.
The colorful FL/Y bubble pendants, designed by Ferruccio Laviani for Kartell, were hung at various heights to give the lounge area a dynamic energy. The offices got a mix of Nelson pendants to provide a smooth warm lighting option, and the kitchen/cafe area has a few Scandinavian-style pendants that really anchored the new custommade islands. We kept the pantry downlights that were already there, but added more variety such as the subway-style linear fixtures to make the kitchen brighter overall and much more vibrant. While the workstations needed a high-quality, glare-free, even light, the kitchen benefits from the sparkle and contrast of several light sources.
SS: What are some of the other unique features?
TJ: The space was well-outfitted, but severely dated. We were brought in to refresh the layout and make it suitable for a younger and technologydriven company; however, that meant we had to work with and around a lot more existing furniture and architectural features than we prefer. Since the timeline and budget were also tight, we had to implement some creative solutions.
On the upside, that meant we got to try out some really fun solutions such as re-spraying the desks in a subtle light blue color, adding faceted, gradient tinted glass to a curved wall and covering a 50-foot wall in a vibrant mural. Perhaps the most unique feature may be that the touches we provided don’t stand out from the original build-out, but in fact tie it all together in a new fresh interpretation. The space is bright and transparent, but you never get the feeling of being totally exposed. Instead there are fun and playful communal areas, and these facilitate the many events and gatherings that take place in the space both during and after office hours.
We also collaborated with artist Sofia Maldonado on a giant mural. Her incredible design really ties together both the color scheme with the [company colors] orange and blue and adds a dynamic and distinctly Outbrain element to the space. It’s a signature piece and I can’t imagine the space without it anymore.
SS: How does the design address employee well-being?
TJ: The space is open and collaborative, but we did that while mostly maintaining the generous 8x8 workstations. That means each employee has a good amount of private space, and within that we added sit-to-stand adapters as well as top-of-theline ergonomic chairs. Outside the workstations, we provided higher-quality lighting and better access to daylight throughout. The employees inside the internal office space have two lighting options, allowing them to switch between a “work” setting with overhead lights and a “comfort” setting with soft pendant light. The communal areas – including the bathrooms – received several upgrades focused on comfort. Small things like privacy frosting on office glass, efficient recycling in the pantry, and bathroom stalls without gaps are really important to the day-to-day comfort.
Design: Thomas Jensen and Kimberly Pelkofsky of JIDK; Ajay Chopra of ECHO D+A; Pei Heng Tsai from PHT Lighting Design
General: MP Renovation
Mural: Sofia Maldonado
Environmental Graphics: Nuphar Ben-Hur Gur from Outbrain