Bare is beautiful at a San Francisco branding firm's office by Pfau Architecture
Matt Stewart -- Interior Design, 2/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
There's no second chance to make a first impression. It's a tenet that Damore Johann, a 15-year-old branding, marketing, and communications firm based in San Francisco, lives by and drives home to its clients. So, for its own new headquarters in the South of Market neighborhood, the firm commissioned Pfau Architecture to design a space that unmistakably communicates its critical attributes in an initial glimpse. "We're optimistic, flexible, and honest," says founding president Rita Damore.
Principal Peter Pfau and project architect David Yama conceived a three-story, 6,700-square-foot building that meets the firm's directive largely by overcoming a location bordered by a freeway on-ramp, an alley, and a sprinkling of Victorian-style storefronts amid older industrial buildings.
Formerly home to an awning company, the site now features Damore Johann's all-new structure, whose coated-steel skin looks at home in its surroundings. "It doesn't pretend it's somewhere else," says Yama. Its deep, high windows maximize light and minimize noise from the street. The plan includes the main office with reception and a conference room on the top floor; a photography studio, another office, and a kitchen on the second; and 335 square feet of rentable space on the ground level.
The rippled facade continues through to the entry, where it lines one wall of a corridor leading to an elevator. Clients headed to reception on the top floor are greeted by a sparsely furnished space, sunlit by a 75-foot-long expanse of windows along the north wall. Furniture consists of little more than a single yellow leather–upholstered Harry Bertoia Diamond chair on the padauk floor. A south wall clad in honey-colored MDF and the cantilevered reception counter in orange MDF add warmth. A door within a wall of translucent, extruded-polycarbonate panels slides back to reveal the conference room.
Up a short flight of stairs is Damore's mezzanine office, which overlooks the work area. It's a study in minimalism as well, with just a desk and shelves of clear-coated MDF and two more Harry Bertoia Diamond guest chairs in the same lemon-colored leather. Her immediate view of the freeway, characterized by Pfau as "the urban river phenomenon," is softened by a view of downtown San Francisco in the distance.
Flexibility for employee accommodations was an important concern for the project, as Damore Johann staffs up during projects and scales back when jobs are complete. (It has four permanent employees.) Workstations need to welcome and suit the changing cast. Pfau chose steel-tube-frame workstations and nested four of them for 'permanent staff under the mezzanine. Four more are in the open work area, a double-height space behind reception.
The elevator connects to the floor below, which houses business partner Mark Johann's office. Adjoining this is the photography studio, an open space with curtains that can be drawn across north-facing windows. A closet stores equipment, and lockable partitions with panels of resin-coated fabric conceal Johann's office. Also on this floor is the common kitchen, with gray cabinetry and a 25-foot-long clerestory window that wraps around the structure's northwest corner.
The quirky site, the client's special needs, and the project's small scale—an unusual combination of factors for ground-up commercial construction—reminded the designers of residential rather than contract work. "It's a 'micro-office,'" Pfau explains. "Totally different from a normal office where you create thousands of square feet first, then the employees make the space work for them. This is really designed from the people outward."