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Studio Rhonda designs deaf-friendly and vegan workspace for Zetteler

Communications agency Zetteler and Studio Rhonda have transformed an industrial block of studios into a vibrant and inclusive multipurpose space that defies convention.

14/04/2022 5 min read
This article first appeared in Mix Interiors Issue 219

Founder of eponymous communications firm Zetteler, Sabine Zetteler and her team have an impressive roster of clients within the built environment. Zetteler, the company, has been immersed in workspace design thinking for almost 10 years, from its early days as a small-scale PR outfit to its present-day as a multi-service communications agency.

No wonder then, that when the team looked to create a new workspace, they realised that there were more exciting possibilities than the conventional single office serving a single business.

Working in collaboration with Rhonda Drakeford of Studio Rhonda and Darkroom, Zetteler’s new office is designed to be a flexible resource that the team can use as they need: as a space to work, hold meetings and host events, as well as offered out to their community of creatives, start-ups and charities when in need a venue.

“I want the space to offer both our own team and the wider creative community somewhere flexible, beautiful and functional, where they can come and get together for whatever they need,” comments Zetteler. “Connecting people is a huge part of what we do. For the first time in our history, we’re in a position to properly invest in creating the ideal space – I want as many people to benefit from it as possible.”

Functionally, the space needed to be deaf-friendly. Zetteler has severe conductive hearing loss, and open office spaces with hard floors and high ceilings create echo chambers that can be highly disruptive. Employing materials and partitions to create a deaf- friendly space was complicated by another priority – the need for the space to be vegan. This was a particular obstacle when it came to soft furnishings such as rugs and curtains, as most acoustic materials use animal- derived fabrics such as wool.

Working together, Drakeford and Zetteler used the challenge as an opportunity to explore new possibilities in interior design, sourcing vegan alternatives to all materials, from the paints for the walls to the fabrics for curtains. Many materials are thought to be vegan, but often involve animal-derived components in their manufacture, especially in glues. Although this made the process more complicated than a standard workplace design, it inspired some out-of-the-box thinking about the relationship between values and design, and resulted in a proof of concept for the idea that a modern workplace can be styled to reflect the practical needs and moral outlook of its occupants. According to Drakeford, Zetteler HQ has been “an exercise in getting a relatively small space to work really hard at helping the team and their clients.”

Located on the seventh floor of Regents’ Studios, off Broadway Market, the 1,000 sq ft workspace is divided into three zones, each with a different atmosphere and each suited to a different way of working. Drakeford’s carefully chosen colourways help break the space down into its constituent zones. A colour shift from a cool duck-egg blue to a warmer sunny soft peach tone in the walls, floors and ceiling marks a change in ambiance between the main work area at the front and the more relaxed space at the rear.

“Colour is a hugely important factor in the delineation of this space and I wanted to work with it in an almost subliminal way, by first of all ‘dipping’ the walls, ceiling and floors in a dreamy palette of duck-egg blue and natural buff before we fitted everything,” Drakeford tells Mix.. “This is very much a light industrial space, within a mid-century, purpose built light industrial block. I didn’t want to hide the core element of the building’s heritage, so the ‘dipped’ paint concept of all floors, walls and ceilings included any pipes and brickwork and has an honesty to its roots. The unexpected colour drenching serves as a conduit, transporting you from the industrial to something else entirely.”

The space opens into the ‘blue’ section – the most formal working zone, yet even here there is a relaxed feel with a large communal table from Max Lamb for Hem, with chairs from Herman Miller. The colour palette is strict yet calming in its softness, which is intended to nurture focus according to the designer – wrapping the walls and furnishings and offset with touches of warm terracotta and brick-coloured accessories. Oversize planting softens the edges of the space and brings the benefits of biophilia.

“I was conscious of the difference in light from the front to the rear of the space as it sits on a N/S axis and also how the seasons would have an impact on the light and colour palettes,” Drakeford explains. “I worked with the cool, duck-egg blue at the front, south-facing area as I knew that the space tends to get very warm in the summer. A warmer, buff colour was used at the rear, north-facing section, to counteract how cold that area can feel in the winter months. Walking through these immersive colours that I had painted on walls, floor and ceilings, it gives a visual impression of dimming or switching on the lights.”

At the rear, the so-called ‘café’ space is playful, with a more diverse colour palette that sits in a core framework of buff and light oak. Chalky greens are introduced via hand-made pigmented tiles; tomato red in the pigmented ash coffee table and metal-framed glazed vitrine; warm oranges from a wood-cut artwork and a bespoke Valchromat storage addition to the wood-block minimalist kitchen from Zetteler client, HØLTE. A variety of table heights encourage a more relaxed stance that is perfect for events and breakout meetings. “It was important to both Sabine and I that she is able to reuse as much of the furniture and materials as possible in the future when the company inevitably leaves the space at the end of tenancy. The two main structures were designed with this in mind — the glass brick walls can be broken down and reused and the kitchen can be flat- packed and rebuilt elsewhere too.”

Between the work and café spaces sits a purpose-built meeting space encased in walls of deep blue Valchromat and translucent glass bricks, that allow in dappled light while creating a sense of privacy. “Sabine had requested glass bricks to be used in a central partitioned ‘meeting pod’, to allow for light to be visible throughout the space. I sourced some Czech glass bricks with graphically linear mouldings for a contemporary edge,” says Drakeford. “I devised an anchor line of 2300mm from the ground as the top height of any structures so as to keep a coherence in all three zones and also to help the space retain an open- plan feel — the roof of this glass-brick ‘pod’ stops at the 2300mm anchor line, allowing light to travel over it.”

The project is a convincing reminder that the industry needn’t rely on convention in the design of interior spaces and proves that a more inclusive, ethical approach to design is entirely feasible – both economically and aesthetically. “Ultimately, the design choices culminate in wellbeing,” Drakeford concludes. “I really want the space to nudge you into a happier place, ready to take on the day.”

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