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Feb 21, 2013

We Love Our Space, Here’s Why

When we set out to transform our San Francisco office in 2011, we wanted to create a space that was like us: creative, collaborative, fun, and also hardworking. It’s been an ongoing, evolutionary process ever since, but so far we’re thrilled with the results.

Today, our offices, which occupy the first and third floors of 585 Howard Street, feature wide open spaces, collaborative breakout and meeting rooms, as well as areas for quiet, heads-down work. There’s awesome furniture, a generous kitchen, and even a bar.

Creating our new space was the result of gathering input from everyone at Hot, as well as harnessing the expertise of some very capable outside help. To lead the charge, Gretchen Krebs, from the architecture and interior design firm Medium Plenty, worked closely with Maria Giudice, Hot’s CEO, and the rest of our San Francisco Hotties to create a space we’re all proud to call our (working) home.

We recently sat down with Gretchen to talk about her work on Hot’s office. Here’s what she had to say:

When you first started working with Hot, what did you find out about how we work?

By observing and interacting with employees at Hot, I learned people work in a number of different ways, from a collaborative group style of working to a more heads-down, individual approach. I also learned that Hot Studio works hard but likes to have fun, so there needed to be an element of play and excitement in the ultimate design.

Early on, Maria, Peter (Hot’s Facilities Manager) and I posted boards with our initial designs and ideas around the office and encouraged Hot employees to give feedback and provide their own thoughts.

Through this process and a series of internal design charrettes (where people got in groups and actually sketched and visualized their ideas), some key design principles emerged:

Work = Play
Hot Studio is made up of creative people. The work environment needs to reflect that.

We are collaborative
Collaboration is at the heart of how Hot Studio works. The space needs to reflect that.

Supplies & tools within reach
Hot Studio employees rely on many physical items to do their work. These items should always be accessible and easy to find.

Home for everyone
Hot Studio needs to exude a feeling of welcome, comfort and security for clients, employees, and visitors.

Different jobs have different needs
What's good for you may not be good for your co-worker.

Give me a break
People need the option to work in quiet or make a private phone call.

Mix and mingle
A change of scene is good for you and good for the community. The space should encourage people to socialize, connect, and share.

How did your understanding of Hot Studio affect your approach to designing our space?

The design principles set the groundwork and really allowed us to dive into the design. The principles defined at the outset also provided a sort of litmus test for our ideas... if an idea didn't seem to fit into one of the categories, it probably didn't belong in the design.

What were the particular challenges of our space and our way of working that you had to overcome?

One ongoing challenge is that the design process has been gradual and incremental. This does offer some positives because there is less risk involved as we've been able to test ideas and implement them to see if they are successful or not. But on the other hand, when a project unfolds slowly and piece by piece, I think the risk is that sometimes the vision and concept is often not understood and can at times be confusing to people in the space. There is a benefit to tackling a project or renovation holistically and then getting to reveal the shiny new palace, so to speak.

Another challenge with any creative office is that office structures and ways of working are always evolving. But this is an exciting challenge and we are always learning and building on what we did last.

Could you talk a bit about the phone booths you installed on the third floor?

The phone booths were a nod to the past and the historic nature of the building, but were also intended to be used as private spaces for people to make phone calls.

The booths were a challenge to find as not many are left in good condition and there is actually quite a market for them in the vintage/antique world. Everything about them was a challenge from tracking them down to having them delivered (they are heavy!) to fine-tuning them with new felt interiors.

Why do we have whiteboard tables and walls?

Simply put, to support the work you do. People love to draw on surfaces—I think this stems from childhood!—and providing horizontal and vertical surfaces to write and draw on encourages collaboration and creativity. The whiteboard tables and walls are a tool for creativity.

There are also little plants everywhere. People seem to love them.

My philosophy is that plants make people happy and create a sense of calm in any environment. They also clean the air we breath! We had a little planting party on the first floor a few weeks ago and everyone that walked by was excited to see greenery in the office and curious about where the plants would go. Most of the small planters we've installed are magnetic so the idea is that they are interactive and can move around and attach to anything with a magnetic surface.

What were some of the considerations you made when thinking about lighting and sound?

A lot of carpet has been installed which helps tremendously with acoustics. New curtains and drapery is also effective and we've installed our first phase on the third floor. We're also testing acoustical foam in project rooms on both floors to see how this improves the spaces.

Lighting is something that is happening in phases on both floors.

The new lighting installed last year on the mezzanine levels offers a more soothing light for the people working here. The fixtures are good quality, affordable and efficient and are also much nicer aesthetically than the ones there previously!

I can't wait to transition out the existing lighting on the 3rd floor. Our plan is to simplify the lighting while making it more specific to the tasks needed in each area. The 3rd floor is a large item in the budget and will need to be done in phases, probably next year.

Have you visited Hot Studio lately? How do you see people using the space now?

I'm at Hot almost every week! I love visiting because it gives me the opportunity to constantly see how the space is being used and to hear feedback from new people.

I could gush about Hot Studio for days. You are a dream client! You're innovative, you work and play hard and produce thoughtful work. Hot is also cautious and intentional with design choices but also willing to experiment and try new things if they make sense in the space. I'm looking forward to continuing to design and grow with Hot Studio for many years to come.

See more from "Our Thoughts."