We think we might just get away with this. Even though the sales are in full flow – and we have a mild phobia of both shopping and crowds – we’re headed towards London’s West End.
Fortunately, our destination is situated just a stone’s throw from Tottenham Court Road tube station – so we’re hoping we can undertake a bit of a stealth mission here and not have to involve ourselves in the maelstrom of Oxford Circus.
We’re here to take a look at the new Stephen Street headquarters of BrandOpus. A multi award-winning strategic brand packaging design agency. With a proven track record in all areas of brand design, BrandOpus works with a multitude of clients, ranging from small luxury brands through to global FMCG brands.
Established in 2006, the agency is structured as a genuine partnership, creating an atmosphere of collaboration that enhances creativity. Since its beginnings from a single tiny room, the agency has grown to become one of the most effective design agencies in the UK and established its Melbourne, Australia studio in October 2012.
Part of that strategy was to connect the two floors by repositioning and re-orientating the entrance so there is a much better flow.
Gurvinder Khurana and Nigel Tresise from (ironically) freshly rebranded design firm Align GB (previously Eat-id) meet us outside the Stephen Street space – and there is a reason for meeting up here and not inside the haven of the new BrandOpus home. ‘We were working on this space for two and a half years,’ Gurvinder explains. ‘When we got involved this was TV studios and a car park, and the entrance was way off to the right of where it is now and the staircase leading down into the main space was also positioned further around.’
‘BrandOpus weren’t sure how much space they needed – they were 37 people at the time but looking to grow,’ Nigel tells us. ‘There were four different ‘parcels’ of space that they could have taken from Derwent here – lots of permutations and the first few months of the project were spent working out which gave the best long-term flexibility, with the negotiations led by Ines Stanley, the project manager for Interactive Space. We ended up with a scenario where we would put the reception areas and all the meeting rooms on the lower ground floor, which used to be a car park. The reason for that was that they needed to have as much flexibility on the ground floor as possible, where all the teams sit together. Part of that strategy was to connect the two floors by repositioning and re-orientating the entrance so there is a much better flow. We then chopped a massive hole in the slab and put in a new staircase which draws you down into the space.’
It works. The newly positioned entrance and staircase do just what Nigel alluded to, guiding you logically and gracefully into the space and giving a fantastic view across the open environment.
‘There is now space here for approximately 140 people,’ Nigel continues as we head down the impressive new staircase. ‘We’ve got the main studio space on the ground floor, and we also have a series of mezzanines which provide third spaces for meetings and breakout areas. When clients come into the space they are brought into the space, past the studio space and down into the lower ground floor – we really wanted everything to be open and visible and also to maximize the drama by having the staircases to the mezzanines angled one way and then another.’
‘This is a very commercially driven solution,’ Gurvinder admits. ‘Derwent needed to maximize the floor space but also to have a desirable environment – a place where people actually want to pay the square footage.’
We’re told that BrandOpus’ previous space was just around the corner from Stephen Street and wanted to stay in this area for the sake of both its staff and its clients. ‘This is their home,’ Nigel tells us as we reach the brilliant lower ground floor space, ‘and they wanted their clients to feel part of their home – so clients are free to wander and use the space, to chill out, use the kitchen or work at the table here. It really is free access.’
‘The response they have had from their clients has been unbelievable,’ Gurvinder enthuses. ‘They love the fact that they can come and sit wherever they want to, in a variety of spaces for differing working styles, and also can sit with the teams in different spaces. I think we’ve been able to create a space here which works on so many levels, in so many different ways.’
Gurvinder tells us that the massive free address table which sits in the middle of the space here is particularly popular with both clients and staff alike for the daily communal lunches, while the personal, quirky accessorisation give a feeling of, well, home – in a really good way. ‘The brief was very much to make this feel like a home from home and to allow everyone to work as they want to – because they understand that this is how you get the best results from people.’
The finishes throughout are extremely clever, with beautiful parquet end block flooring and classic furniture pieces mixing perfectly with a variety of eye-catching lighting solutions, an extremely funky pool table and, throughout the meeting rooms, a selection of amazing bright and bold wallcoverings.
‘This is a very commercially driven solution,’ Gurvinder admits. ‘Derwent needed to maximize the floor space but also to have a desirable environment…’
‘BrandOpus actually rebranded themselves towards the end of the project, so we worked with a new logo and a new colour palette,’ Gurvinder continues. ‘We did a number of creative design sessions with the team here, and in one of those sessions we were looking at the geometry of the staircase and the space itself and this whole debate started about nature and Fibonacci – which is in everything we see and which is mathematical. So we decided that it almost defied logic to try to embed this steel mathematical symbol – this spiral – into the wooden floor. So we did just that. It’s an art installation in itself and guides you all the way to the butterfly on the reception desk, which is part of the BrandOpus logo.’
Each of the meeting rooms has its own distinctive layout and décor, one of which includes a ‘seed packet wall’ whilst another features colour changing lighting and an amazing animal themed wallpaper. There genuinely is an elephant in the room here!
Beyond the aforementioned central table is the Drawing Room – essentially a boardroom – which features a clever window/shelving, which itself holds a display of the client projects BrandOpus has worked on. From either side you think the window is actually mirrored as the wares are laid out so they appear to be reflected. Like we said, clever. Adjacent to this is the sleek kitchen and pool table. This is clearly an environment that allows the guys here to both work and play. We love it.
Moving back up to the ground floor we’re immediately taken by the generosity of space. ‘Evolution is always happening here,’ Nigel tells us. ‘When you reach 100 staff and are looking to move things beyond that, you are bound to change as an organisation – and part of what we have done here is to create an environment that will allow them to do just that.’
Our eyes are also drawn to the far ‘Butterfly’ Memory Wall. ‘What they’d like to do is to allocate a butterfly per person and then they create their own personal BrandOpus experience or memory. I think it’s a really lovely idea.’
We reach what is clearly the point between two of the ‘parcels’ of space. Whilst the décor is light and airy on either side, this connecting zone is intentionally darkened and features a coffee point and more client branding and packaging. It’s also clear that the open areas to either side are on slightly different levels and the creation of this hub, which gently slopes and flows, not only keeps everything open here, but also provides a smart solution to what could have been extremely problematic.
The main open team spaces are very much blank canvases, with the staff and their work providing the colour.
The mezzanines, like the meeting rooms downstairs, each have their own layout and personality, and it’s great to see them in use as BrandOpus’ staff use them for quiet working or impromptu meetings.
Whilst we have seen a number of projects over the years where such facilities are noticeably empty, the staff here have clearly embraced them – as they have the rest of their new home.
Before we know it we’re heading back to the tube and away from the teeming West End. Not only have we got away with it, we’ve enjoyed an amazing, fulfilling journey