High Production Values
Lively graphics, punchy colors, and an architectural feature wall animate the SoHo studio that David Howell designed for Framestore NY
Andrew Blum -- Interior Design, 9/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
If you're a state-of-the-art visual-effects and computer-animation studio with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to your credit, you'd think it would be easy to make a big splash in the Big Apple. But that wasn't the case for Framestore CFC, a London postproduction company that recently expanded to New York, where the market is extremely tight. Framestore NY had piqued the interest of several ad agencies and production companies—however, potential clients weren't buying the lackluster temporary studio space. "The environment didn't give them the confidence that we were up for the job," says Framestore NY president Jon Collins.
So Framestore NY leased the top two floors of a six-story loft building on a boutique-lined street in SoHo and hired David Howell's namesake firm. Drawing on Framestore CFC's roots, Howell devised what he calls a "quirky Englishman theme" for the 6,000-square-foot space, which comprises an open production row, one enclosed office for Collins, two editing suites, a room for computer graphics, and a conference room—all off a central hallway on the fifth floor—and a penthouse lounge, which opens onto a roof deck.
The tension between science and artistry was at the heart of Howell's concept. In 1999, a designer might have used exposed wiring and industrial materials to emphasize Framestore NY's technical virtuosity. Howell did the opposite. "It's such a technology-based industry that I chose not to show any of that," he explains.
Instead, he focused on the comfort of Framestore NY's clients—who might spend days or weeks working here. The elevator opens to a reception area that's more living room than antechamber, with residential furniture, walnut-veneered details, and prime south-facing views. The banana-colored faux leather on Poul Kjaerholm's simple side chairs is picked up by the wide horizontal yellow stripe that Howell painted all the way across one wall, interrupted only by a flat-panel TV showing commercials produced by the company.
Howell retained some key century-old elements, oiling the pine structural columns and staining the oak floor, but he juxtaposed them with a contemporary architectural tour de force, a 60-foot-long white plasterboard feature wall that twists and jabs as it makes its way from front to rear. This structure not only encloses the racks of computer equipment that drive the edit suites but also energizes the central circulation path, starting immediately behind reception with what Howell describes as a "knot." Actually angular, this volume juts down from the ceiling to display a hollow core lined with adhesive plastic in the spirited orange-red computer-generated pattern of Framestore NY's brand graphics. An alcove in the wall behind the "knot" shelters the "hot desk," a walnut-veneered counter where visiting London technicians can work, seated at leather-covered task chairs that Howell copied from 1940's plywood versions found in Mexico.
Permanent production staff work at a walnut-veneered communal desk right outside Collins's office, the only enclosed one on the premises. (To prevent it from feeling shut off, Howell inserted a corner window at eye level.) Farther down the hall are the pair of edit suites, a far cry from the austere technician's boxes one might expect. Monitors and visual-effects systems, such as a safe-area generator and tablet, are arranged with ergonomic precision on custom walnut desks specially imported from London—their pared-down handsomeness belies their sophisticated engineering. While editing work progresses, clients from, say, Miller Genuine Draft can watch from the comfort of a cotton-upholstered couch.
Dandified English tastes come through in colorful striped rugs, Emma Gardner's in the edit suites and Paul Smith's upstairs in the covered seating area on the roof deck. Howell also furnished this outdoor lounge with Lievore, Altherr, Molina's lounge chairs, which swivel to fully capture the panorama of SoHo parapets. That's one view that needs no editing.