No Wall Street Stiff
Andrew Blum -- Interior Design, 5/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
Bankers traditionally prefer pinstripes on their business suits. However, at the headquarters for Contango Capital Advisors, a wealth-management firm in Berkeley, California, bold stripes run along walls and around chairs, thanks to Huntsman Architectural Group.
The 6,000-square-foot office occupies the penthouse of a converted factory near Berkeley's commercial district. The square-shape plan has ribbon windows on three sides, overlooking a cement factory and a busy railroad corridor. The gritty aesthetic is what appealed to Contango founding CEO George Feiger, who was more eager to recruit top talent than to impress his clients, few of whom would ever see the space. "I felt the location would help draw creative employees who could bring a new approach to an old industry," he says.
In step with that philosophy, the design is informal but not ad hoc. "The office celebrates the new and unconventional but is still polished," explains Huntsman principal Linda Parker.
The entrance to the office, for example, is not occupied by a formal reception desk but by a curved corridor leading to the open work area. Functionally, the hallway channels staff and visitors around immovable service areas into the heart of the space. Stylistically, it expresses Contango's dynamic spirit.
Flanked on one side by a spotlit focal wall, the 45-foot-long corridor's painted MDF and gypsum-board panels are arranged in interrupted rows of cinnamon, burnt orange, deep red, and toffee colors, the last picked up in the carpet. Opposite is a curved clear-glass wall overlaid with graphics mimicking symbols on Bloomberg terminals as well as with words describing the firm's approach and investment tools. The juxtaposition of color and transparency is a theme for the entire office, which encompasses two conference rooms, four private offices, an open work area for the staff of 14, and a brightly painted break room.
In the work spaces, Feiger's goal was to level management hierarchy and encourage interaction. "In a business that's involved in making judgments about the future, you don't want to force a top-down viewpoint," he says. Huntsman's plan places Contango's four partners in their own private offices in the center of the plan, yet each is fronted in glass. It's an arrangement similar to the concentric circles found on trading floors, where quick collaboration is a necessity.
The remaining staff sit at plastic-laminate and aluminum Werndl workstations. The system sports clean-lined, European-style file cabinets; its dividers, in frosted plastic or glass, allow light to penetrate deep into the space and recall the curving glass wall's layering of transparent planes. The ceiling emphasizes a sense of openness, with suspended acoustical tiles and custom 2-foot-square fluorescent pendant fixtures. In a clear attempt to foster egalitarianism, all employees sit on identical task chairs by Formway Design.
The challenge Huntsman faced in designing for a new company without an established culture was matched by the opportunity to help define that culture. Color choices for the corridor wall influenced the look of Contango's broader branding efforts; a similar palette runs across all corporate material. Likewise, elements of the headquarters' design can be easily rolled out at Contango's future client-service offices along the West Coast. And, hopefully, as the company grows, so will its clients' assets.