This is a story about energy – in more ways than one. In fact, to use a suitable term, this is very much a hybrid feature, fusing together the story of a fantastic new forward-thinking workspace with the story of the designer behind the scheme.
The designer in question is Bonita Bryg – and she has quite a story! Trained at the Royal Ballet, Bonita went on to perform with dance troupes including The Young Generation and Pans People. She even appeared in the Royal Command Performance, where she performed for the Queen, and then went on to become Take That’s stylist, touring with the band for five years. Bonita has also worked with the likes of Anthony Van Laast and Gianni Versace. The Guardian even likened her to Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous!
She has since turned her hand to interior design for both home and office space and has had her own homes reviewed in The Independent.
Today we have come to meet with Bonita at one of her latest office schemes – for leading energy recruitment company Spencer Ogden on London’s vibrant Charlotte Street.
The firm was founded when Sir Peter Ogden and David Spencer-Percival started trading as Spencer Ogden in 2010, opening two state-of-the-art offices in London and Aberdeen. The result was a game-changing combination of David’s extensive recruitment experience and Sir Peter’s expertise in building large successful businesses, with the aim being to become market leaders in the field of energy recruitment and offer unrivalled service to clients and candidates.
In what is an ever-changing landscape, Spencer Ogden continues to recruit the best international talent across all energy sectors, providing industry-leading services to its clients and candidates that they won’t find elsewhere, whatever stage of the project life cycle.
With offices in the UK, Europe, Middle East, Asia Pac, Africa, Australia, Canada and the US, Spencer Ogden is firmly at the heart of industry growth, keeping pace with changing technologies and building strong, long-lasting relationships along the way. Furthermore, this is a business with a unique outlook and culture for the sector – and Bonita’s scheme here in the heart of the West End perfectly reflects this.
It doesn’t take us very long to work this out either. On entering the space we immediately find a myriad of colours (with patriotic red, white and blue leading the way) and materials. We’ve visited a few recruitment businesses over the years, but none have offered up such a visually stimulating first impression.
Having done a little homework, we know this is an extremely successful, serious business, but we’re now seeing that it’s one that doesn’t take itself too seriously – and one that knows how to enjoy itself and what it does.
We take a booth in the cool breakout space to the right of the dynamic reception and ask Bonita to tell us a little about the origins of the project. ‘David has, over the years, done everything that he now asks the guys here to do for him. He worked in very grey offices, with blue carpet…’ Bonita tells us. We should say, at this point, that David is Bonita’s husband – just for context. ‘He’s very, very energetic and was incredibly successful at what he was doing – which at the time was IT recruitment. One day he decided he wasn’t happy with what he was doing, but couldn’t do what he had been doing for two years. He had a number of offers from abroad but then, out of the blue, said ‘Why am I even thinking about IT? I can do whatever I want – and I can do it here in the UK. I can do energy!’ He didn’t know anything about energy at the time – but that was the start. He got that energy back and we came back here to the UK and we found the fifth floor here. He didn’t want to be in Holborn or in the City – he wanted to be somewhere a bit more ‘media’, a bit groovier. He also wanted the office to reflect who he is and he wanted to inspire and aspire the young people who work there – because, to be honest, what they do can be a drudge. It’s very hard work.
‘So we found this space and David asked me if I would help him do it. I’ve done all our houses – and we’ve moved 19 times! I’m very good at moving. My background’s theatre, so I’m very good at production – at schedules, timings etc. The creative side takes me minutes.
‘I remember we were sat down discussing the space and the layout one morning when David said out of nowhere, ‘I’ve always loved the Knights of the Round Table’. He’s always had delusions of grandeur! He knew that this probably wasn’t the best use of space, but didn’t care about that. So we sourced these round tables, which look as though they are floating, with no clutter around the outside. One of my biggest pet hates is wires hanging everywhere. These allow us to put all the wires into the central drum and they don’t just look great but they work really well for everyone.
‘I don’t want an office to look like an office. David also has a very strong idea of what he wants – and because I can get into his head I know exactly what he’s looking for. I definitely don’t want to see anything too technical.’
We ask Bonita what the biggest design challenges were. ‘There weren’t any!’ she smiles. ‘We simply look at spaces – we don’t just look for office space.’
To illustrate the point, Bonita shows us an amazing project book she has put together. Here we see the brilliant schemes she has developed around the world – from Aberdeen through to Houston and Singapore. She uses the Aberdeen office as an example of how she and David look for ‘right space’ rather than only viewing ‘straight’ office buildings. The Spencer Ogden space in the Granite City sits in a mall, above a Chinese restaurant! ‘We work with a company who knows us well now and helps us find these interesting space across the world,’ Bonita tells us. ‘We like to take these spaces and make them our own.’
If we weren’t already aware that this is a company that dares to be different, we are now! The Spencer Ogden offices we’re shown from around the world have a definite common thread. Colourful, energetic and often with a lighthearted and always dramatic nod to the locality and the local culture, these schemes are, as we’ve already mentioned, not what we’ve come to expect from this sector. ‘We are always mindful of local cultures,’ Bonita points out.
‘People do work extremely hard here, but it’s also a fun place to work.’
Bonita Bryg, Designer
Back in London, Bonita takes on a tour of the space. ‘This is all about energizing people,’ she explains. ‘It does take a lot of money to do these offices the way that we want to do them, but I think we’ve got it down to a fine art now. It’s all worth it. There are budgets – but I’m very good at budgets! We work everything out together – and we are realists – but David is also extremely generous and likes to look after everyone who works for him. As I’ve already said, people do work extremely hard here, but it’s also a fun place to work. David takes this business very seriously – although he doesn’t take himself too seriously and likes people to be individuals, to be able to express themselves.
‘I am something of a perfectionist and I set my standards extremely high. We ask people to respect the space. I think this is why our spaces look so pristine – it is a standard. This is not a holding space, it is not somewhere to store your stuff and use as a wardrobe. We have spaces for people to store their things and we ask them that they use these. If everyone does this then the spaces remain lovely.’
We walk back through the bright and brilliant ‘British’ reception space, through to the main working floor. The round tables are a welcome escape from the world of bench desking, while the open plan area has a genuine buzz and energy about it.
We move quickly on to the fourth floor, where, if anything, that buzz and the noise levels increase a little. We find a cool staff dining zone, complete with mock ‘McDonald’s’ logo, inspirational quotes on the walls and more of the quirky London theming. The reason for the increase in noise here is that the main working space is home to Spencer Ogden’s sales teams. Again we find the round tables, together with a Spencer Ogden taxi (and it is a real taxi, albeit with the engine taken out), which acts as a meeting room, petrol pumps, a table tennis table and much more besides.
David’s own office features an airplane wing as a table, as well as a cornucopia of fascinating, personal decorative items. Our eyes are everywhere!
We’d genuinely love to stay and forage for more, but time is against us.
We’re well aware that we’ve only really scratched the surface when it comes to talking about this unique project – but unique people trump unique designs every time in our eyes. After all, without the former, you’ll never find the latter