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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

A Homely Office by Rhonda Drakeford, Studio Rhonda

Rhonda Drakeford, Studio Rhonda, details the subtle rigour of Zetteler’s post-pandemic office

Every interior designer knows that the client behind a project is often as crucial to the outcome as the physical space itself. When your client has a background in architecture, design and workplace projects, they come with a lot of their own knowledge and expertise.

Working with Sabine Zetteler, founder of Zetteler PR, to develop the brief for their first fully purpose-designed HQ became a conversation about the personality of the company as much as it was about shifting expectations around the office itself.

The final brief had a number of clear goals; that there would be three distinct zones for focused work, collaboration and relaxation, and that we’d celebrate the stripped back industrial core of this storied studio building in Hackney. Oh, and the acoustics of the space would be deaf-friendly (Sabine has severe conductive hearing loss) as well as using vegan materials wherever possible.

Beyond the material questions, the mood we wanted was something warm and inviting, a space where the team would actually want to return to work, and where they could host events. The company has adopted a fully flexible approach to working remotely, and also wants to share the space with their network: journalists, charities and fellow creatives. The result is an experiment in how colour and texture can shape attention, and how the ‘office’ might function in new and surprising ways.

The space is a 1,000 sqft workspace in a mid-century, light industrial block. I was keen to preserve the building’s heritage, so a ‘dipped’ paint concept was applied to all floors, across all walls up to the ceilings even including any pipes and brickwork: honesty to its roots. To add a sense of warmth and ‘homely’ feel, I used the pale wood of oak, ash and spruce. To bring an added layer of texture and a crafted feel to the colour-blocking, the orange, green and blue Valchromat was essential. The requirement for materials to be vegan was challenging at first, more so than you might expect, but in the end this restriction produced some fantastic and unexpected outcomes – such as the jute and cotton, which I think adds a really nice touch.

Crucially, the building sits on a north/south axis with large windows on each side; therefore light comes in from the front and rear of the space, changing across the day and seasons. This, along with the narrow length, influenced the decision to structure the space in a linear fashion, with each zone and related palette leading one into another. 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 in the rear north-facing section to counteract how cold that area can feel in the winter.

The sense of transition across each zone is intentional, of course, but operates on a subtle, almost subliminal level. The distinct character of each zone responds to and shapes the needs of each space, with the palette and furniture working in unison. When you stand at the doorway and look down the office, it’s almost as if you’re invited on a journey. The space opens into the focused working zone, yet even here there is a relaxed feel with a large communal table, the Max Table designed by Max Lamb for Hem. Adding to the comfort level are Cosm chairs by Herman Miller. The colour palette is strict yet calming in its softness, which is intended to nurture focus. The strictness of the blue palette that wraps the walls and furnishings is offset with a sprinkle of warm terracotta and brick-coloured accessories in organic shapes – as well as copious amounts of oversize planting which bring the benefits of biophilic principles to the space and, in turn, softening the acoustics to be more deaf-friendly.

As you move through the access corridor – and pass a selection of bespoke artwork and objects in a joyful palette of sulphur yellow, tomato red and rusty browns – a central feature brings a lot of character and light into the space: a central glass-brick meeting pod, clad in a pale spruce to warm its presence. This meeting room with tempered glass walls carves out privacy and seclusion from the rest of the lively office. Inside, a gathering of neutral-toned furnishings welcomes the light washing in from the glass brick walls encouraging clarity of thought. Heavy curtains in unbleached linen can be pulled across the glazed walls to create a blackout space for screen-based presentations and acoustically sensitive recordings. And one understated detail that’s easy to miss – the roof of this glass-brick ‘pod’ allows additional light to travel over it.

Opposite the entrance to the pod is a wall of storage cupboards that house all the clutter and unsightly objects that all offices need. The bespoke sliding doors are machined from green Valchromat with a hand-applied geometric decoration in Indian inks. The finish is painterly, like a watercolour which creates a framed artwork viewed through the blue door-frame of the pod. Each seating spot within the office has a considered vista intended to add jolts of joy and stimulus.

The rear ‘café’ space heightens the playful quality which characterises the rest of the office through 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 and the corduroy upholstery on a corner sofa; there’s soft tomato reds via a pigmented ash coffee table and metal-framed glazed vitrine; and warm oranges from a wood-cut artwork and a wood-block minimalist kitchen, from Zetteler’s client and neighbour HØLTE. A variety of table heights encourage a more relaxed stance that is perfect for events and breakout meetings.

Opening a new office in the middle of a pandemic prompted a lot of interesting questions around the culture of work. Despite being an office project, I approached the space in the same way I would treat a residential interior, with the warmth and comfort of an eclectic but cohesive family of furniture and materials. The future of the office may be in flux, but Zetteler have built themselves – and their community – a home.

www.studio-rhonda.com | @studio_rhonda

www.zetteler.co.uk | @_zetteler_

Photography by Taran Wilkhu

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