Every now and again, we get a call or an email from a design firm inviting us to take a look at ‘a nice little project we’ve just completed’. – only to discover that ‘little’ actually comprises a million sq ft of prime real estate! Today however – at 5,000 sq ft – we’re looking at what is genuinely a nice little (but incredibly forward-thinking) project. We’ll refrain from being so obvious and using the phrase ‘size doesn’t matter’.
The fact is, however, that it really doesn’t matter. Certainly not when it comes to a forward-thinking new workspace. The principles and the end-goals are generally the same – just on a different scale.
So, when Mixology judge and founder of sjjdc, Simon Jackson, asked us if we’d like to see the ‘nice little project’ he had recently completed for Njord Partners, we jumped at the chance.
‘Njord Partners was set up by a couple of long standing Scandinavian friends – one worked for KKR and other for Oaktree Capital (both large global corporate financial firms),’ Simon tells us. ‘When both in their mid-30’s they decided to set up their own niche investment firm. This was quite an entrepreneurial risk as they didn’t each have established funds from their previous firms to take with them. They decided to effectively start from scratch. Their business is investing in special situations (often with companies facing some sort of challenge) for the long term and turning them around, making them profitable.
‘They worked out of a basement in Mayfair for a few years, developing the track record of the new strategy, but basically living hand-to-mouth. As they got traction, they moved to a small office in Soho – and then decided to be in Soho long-term, as the area associated more with them, as a ‘non-corporate’ organisation. Something different..’
Since its inception in 2013, the firm has led investments totalling over €240 million into 11 businesses, with a primary focus on European middle-market companies with special financing needs.
Incidentally, the name Njord comes from the Norse God of the same name – he was the god of the seafarers, the god of wealth-bestowal and the god of prosperity. Njord (the god, that is) aids a safe return and a good catch – ensuring fishermen are able to weather and survive the storm.
Apart from the fact that we are in a cool space, high above bustling Soho, there is much more that is different about the project – not least the design approach and philosophy here.
‘The challenging timescale provided a need for a pragmatic and considered approach to the design and implementation process,’ Simon tells us. ‘Early discussions with PIN CM established very collaborative and responsive procedures that made certain we met programme and budget. However, I was keen to ensure that the design was exceptional and reflected the Njord Partners brand and was enduring. The ‘non-corporate’ brief provided the perfect starting point.
‘I brought in a colour psychologist – Karen Haller – to assist me and, together with the two founders, we had an in-depth discussion about what this could add. The harmonious colour palette that reflects Njord’s personality consists of cool blue/green-based tones, which are either bold and intense or icy tints, substantiating the ocean theme, supporting innovative and creative thinking and generally providing a calm and serene environment. Included are the positive psychological traits of these hues in the context of the Njord brand.
‘As this move to a new office in Soho was their first established office of scale, I was keen to ensure that the facility expressed their company ethos and vision but also represented their character and personality – and that this was broadcast to both their clients and staff.
‘We looked closely at their brand culture and values – and how they wanted the business to be perceived in the market. My interpretation of the guys is that they are hard working, with a flat hierarchy, accountable, have high integrity an don’t want to be seen as arrogant or complacent.
‘They are also very creative and have formed something brand new here – although, at the same time, it comes across strongly that they remember where they’ve come from. Njord as a business express their creativity by seeking out new boundaries to problem solving. Although they are sometimes seen as ‘young’ in the market, they are the leaders in their industry. They are the cutting-edge innovators. They are a cutting edge, forward-thinking, very results driven firm, but do not want to come across as corporate or institutional. To match their style, I designed something that looks sharp and elegant without looking luxurious.’
The space itself is a double-height facility. That double-height remains at the window-lined front, while the addition of mezzanine provides single-height meeting and conference rooms on one level and private working space above.
‘There is a large conference room and smaller meeting rooms here towards the front of the space,’ Simon shows us as we start to tour the facility. ‘These are very much client rooms – and we have placed these bespoke storage units in front to give a bit of privacy. The Njord guys work upstairs on the mezzanine – and the idea is that clients don’t need to come any further into the space than here.
‘We’ve added a coffee station here for clients and staff – and then there is an internal quiet room for people to ‘escape’ to for focused work or to simply get some privacy, make a phone call etc.
‘The large windows and the natural light here are fantastic. We’ve then added architectural planting, which really adds something to the scheme and helps break up and add interest to the double-height of the space, while also providing environmental benefits.
‘We really did consider the colours and finishes used throughout very carefully. We avoided using light grey and brilliant white as these can be very draining and tiring – we even changed the base building white to a series of blue tints.
‘Constant reference was taken to Scandinavian residential design. The walls and skirtings are in slightly contrasting colours, we’ve used furniture that you wouldn’t expect to see in a typical workplace – the only slight exception to this being the work floor upstairs, but even here we have chosen ‘non-corporate’ materials. The loose furniture is residential in nature, so the conference and meeting rooms look and feel more like dining rooms.
‘I’ve penned the term ‘Domestech’ for this approach – it definitely has a domestic feel but with techie flavour throughout.
‘We took the building from Cat A, intending to work sympathetically with the architectural aspects of the base building; exposed steel columns, balconies, terrace etc. However, there were no accessible ceilings throughout – which was actually quite a challenge, especially as we added a new fresh air ventilation system. The client was keen to have a wood floor. Being Scandinavian, they’re quite used to wooden floors and didn’t worry about the acoustics so much; but the planting was an addition to assist the non-propagation of sound. They went for this herringbone pattern, which was actually stained on-site. We actually lost three days on-site because of that, which was a bit of a killer – but it does really add to the design and provides the ‘establishment’ aspect. We’ve also used a lot of really thought-provoking artwork throughout.’
We find shades such as dark blues and icy blues, alongside very domestic-feeling furniture, such as tables with ceramic marble tops, elegant credenzas and large-scale rugs. ‘It’s all very simple but pretty cool!’ Simon grins.
Moving up to the mezzanine, we find the beating heart of the new Njord home. Simon worked closely with Technique Resolutions on the workplace elements and Source Furniture on the client spaces to maintain that balance between the functional and the non-corporate. ‘We used Senator throughout the space,’ Simon tells us. ‘It’s all bespoke stuff, with special tops and finishes. Both Technique and Senator did a great job, actually, getting product to site via the external escape stair, all in around four weeks! All the desks are height-adjustable and we’ve added some breakout furniture – this is a great area to get away from the desk and sit and chat, looking out over the floor below and to the external roof-scape of Soho.’
The client is understandably extremely happy with the new space and design concept.
This project was undertaken, design to construction, in just six weeks – with the team even having the December shutdown and drying herringbone floor to contend with! As Arvid Trolle of Njord Partners sums up: ‘Despite having significantly different views on basically everything, Simon painted our entire office in Nursery Blue to emphasise our immature attitude to design and architecture,’ we’re told, with tongues firmly in cheeks. ‘We love our new play area and are forever grateful!’