This Paris graphics firm is all smiles, thanks to a silly-sounding anglo name and a smart-looking G2-designed office
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 11/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
"Our name evokes smiles," explains Alexandre Rata, an associate at the Parisian graphics firm Cheeeeese. "We are the Happy Designers, and everything here is happy." Not only is founder Christian Huon often called the Happy Boss and the mezzanine chill-out area referred to as the Happy Lounge, but there's also associate Séverine Djian's Jack Russell, universally known as the Happy Dog, despite the fact that his real name is Sigmund.
When a firm bursting with this much enthusiasm is also bursting at the seams, it's certain that no ordinary new office will do. "We were looking to experience the emotion of the very first time," Rata explains of Cheeeeese's emphatic decision not to go with an established architect. Instead, the job went to engineer-designer Guillaume Galloy (29) and designer Jean-Marc Gady (33). Both had worked on concepts for Sephora stores before joining Louis Vuitton's in-house architectural team, and Gady has also designed objects for Ligne Roset and furniture for Liv'it. Moonlighting together, the pair go by the name G2.
The designers' cosmetics and luxury-goods background found its mirror image in Cheeeeese's list of clients—L'Oréal, Veuve Clicquot—but the small suburban apartment that originally served as headquarters was ironically, in Rata's words, "Ikea right down to the parquet." The larger space that Cheeeeese settled on was hardly more high-end. Located in an 18th Arrondissement building from the early 1900's, the 1,600-square-foot atelier had belonged for the previous half century to photographer Dominique Fontanarosa. Gady and Galloy's first impressions involve a gloomy interior chopped up into three separate rooms, plus a wooden mezzanine in the process of falling down. There was no heating, no plumbing. Simply a lot of mess. And, romantic-minded Rata says, the soul of Montmartre: "It was very much as you imagine the Bateau-Lavoir in the era of Picasso and Modigliani."
Remaining true to that artistic-industrial vision, G2 retained the oak beams, restored or replaced the industrial-style steel windows, increased the number of skylights by two, installed radiant heat, and recessed fluorescent tubes along the perimeter of the lower level's concrete floor. The designers also built a central stainless-steel staircase that ascends to the administrative office and Happy Lounge on the 540-square-foot replacement mezzanine, this one in concrete. The mezzanine rests on a caipirinha-green painted cube that Galloy identifies as the interior's "main visual element." Exalted language aside, this drywall enclosure hides the prosaic items necessary for the firm to function: a printer, a scanner, a copier, and an extractor fan, the latter used to remove the smell of glue. The cube and stair furthermore separate the ground level's creative office on one side from a lunch area and kitchen opposite.
Partition questions became most sensitive for the creative office. "Clients who come in shouldn't be able to see which other accounts are being worked on," Gady points out. To maintain complete openness without jeopardizing professional confidentiality, he says, G2 invented a "sort of synthetic vegetation"—three screens that consist of a stainless-steel base sprouting acrylic strips in varying heights and differing shades of transparent green. He and Galloy christened their solution Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe after Edouard Manet's painting at the Musée d'Orsay.
Overall, furnishings respect Cheeeeese's preferences for an office that looks more like a domestic environment and for designs that date from 2000 to 2004. The low-budget Swedish furnishings giant still makes a significant contribution, but top-quality French, Italian, and German manufacturers elevate the tone. The only notable exceptions to the 21st-century rule are an oak lunch table, retrieved from Fontanarosa's mess, and a 1950's steel dental cabinet, now storage for tableware. The nearby kitchen, an oasis of anthracite gray, is kitted out with stainless-steel cabinetry.
Elsewhere, several white MDF kitchen cabinets have been transformed into filing units. "It's difficult to find simple, practical, affordable office furniture," says Galloy. Hence the custom double desks, each constructed of six steel legs and a single top of lacquered MDF. Galloy and Gady named the pieces Brazil in honor of the Terry Gilliam film's legions of disgruntled government workers. At Cheeeeese, it seems, even bureaucratic dystopia is something to be happy about.