West Elm is Where Employees Feel at Home

We are surrounded by +Positive spaces, but sometimes recognising them requires an intuitive ability to see their potential. In this instalment in our continuing series, we explore how not just one designer, but a host of people came together to reclaim a historic space. It shows a shared commitment to sustainability and concern for community can improve working relationships within an office and beyond.

Offering stylish furnishings from globally responsible sources, West Elm grew up in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass). Their commitment to community initiatives, dedication to personal retail service, and desire to connect global artisan markets to their customers made them a magnet for the millennial shopper. When their business took off, a much bigger and more versatile space was needed. This was the start of the West Elm DUMBO project that would include not only corporate offices, design studios, and workshops, but a retail store as well.

For West Elm, staying in the neighbourhood they grew up in was an easy decision considering their company philosophy: Community, Consciousness, Choice. They chose the Empire Stores building. Located on the Brooklyn waterfront, this former coffee warehouse built in the late 1800s had stood empty for over 50 years. Now it was poised to become the architectural cornerstone for this revitalised area. West Elm saw the potential and began the grand plan to move into its new headquarters in the fall of 2016.

Known for bringing global aesthetics into home styling, they wanted this same sensibility in their new offices. West Elm’s advantage: established relationships with artisans who could develop unique designs for the project. In essence, the office would eventually become a massive showroom for all things West Elm. Creating a homely feeling at work made sense for this home goods retailer and was on trend as corporate office design embraces a more residential feel.

Staying grounded in their ideals was essential in helping West Elm continually evolve their vision as this massive project unfolded. Who better to help them with that than long time collaborator Mark Murashige of VMAD? An architect/designer, Mark has worked with William Sonoma (West Elm’s parent company) for years and partnered with Interface on projects for them in the past. But this project offered a unique opportunity to develop a bond between two companies with a shared ethos. Familiar with Interface’s long-standing commitment to sustainable practices, Mark notes that West Elm’s commitment to community and consciousness “seemed a natural fit.”  Interface would provide not only a beautiful and practical product solution, but also groundwork for West Elm’s ongoing commitment to improving their global sustainability initiatives.

Bringing inspiration boards and materials to illustrate their vision, West Elm’s team met with Interface designer Kari Pei and her group. Together they worked out a look for the office that included existing products and custom designs created to echo West Elm’s global aesthetic. Basket weave, textures and colors reminiscent of West Elm’s artisan pieces were now reflected in the carpet tiles – a collaboration that in designer Murashige’s words was “full of life, very reflective of their brand.”

As for the space itself, there were plans for private and shared offices, design rooms and community spaces. Talking about the benefits of a variety of workspaces, Paolo Kos, VP of Design at W.E. says: “In an open-plan office space where it’s intended for you to sit at your desk 8 hours a day, there’s not a lot of privacy. So having these other spaces alleviates stress. It empowers people and when they have control over how they work, I think they have more of a sense of ownership. They’re happier, more invested in the work.”

From shared working areas to personal ones, everyone appreciated this fresh approach to space. West Elm’s VP of Social Consciousness, Jennifer Gootman travels extensively, so returning to an office that let’s her feel connected to the global artisans she’s works with is inspiring. “I like to surround myself with pictures from travels interspersed with our artisan products. It [the office] really reflects the work we do, the essence of our values.

Jennifer was a fan of Interface before the company became an integral part of the new office design. As part of her work on a circular economies strategy for West Elm, she was starting a small-scale pilot programme to keep rugs out of landfills. That’s when she first became acquainted with Interface. “I’ve long admired the company I know that they’ve really pioneered recycling and incorporating recycled content into the carpet supply chain through the ReEntry programme. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from what Interface has done to think about how West Elm can incorporate recycled content from our supply chain back into a product. I was glad to know that we were working so heavily with Interface.”

The West Elm/DUMBO project epitomises the idea of a positive space but was a massive undertaking requiring unprecedented teamwork. What may have seemed a serendipitous relationship to some was perhaps more of an inevitable partnership between Interface and West Elm. The companies share a lot of common themes when it comes to concern for community and environment. Is there more in the future for West Elm/Interface team? That’s another story for another time.

Tell us about the positive spaces you’re developing and defining. Join the conversation. #PositiveSpaces.

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