The idea factory
At a 1920 boiler plant in suburban Paris, design agency Saguez & Partners put its own theories to the test
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 5/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
When design agency Saguez & Partners opened in 1998, it set up shop in rather a special Paris building, Victor Hugo's mansion in the Ninth Arrondissement. Outside was a romantic private garden aflower with rhododendrons. Inside, sculpted cherubs—to which the writer had added genitalia—kept watch over the office of chairman Olivier Saguez. "Hugo was rather sex-obsessed at the end of his life," Saguez explains.
Perhaps the cherubs' blessing brought success. Soon, Saguez & Partners was offering such wide-ranging services as interior design, architecture, and branding strategy. The agency's client list grew to include Peugeot, Christian Lacroix, Galeries Lafayette, and the Tour de France.
With 65 employees, however, what had once been a grand abode became a space challenge, solved in the interim by three satellite offices in the same area and one farther away. "We'd waste so much time getting people together on accounts," recalls creative director Bernard Astor. A move was in order.
So, says Saguez, was a building with "just as strong a personality as Hugo's house." What he came across was an abandoned 1920 boiler factory in Saint-Ouen, the industrial suburb where Citroën started making cars in 1924. (Today, Saint-Ouen is legendary for its flea market).
Saguez was immediately seduced by the factory's south-facing brick facade, which reminded him of an American department store from the 19th century. Less enticing was the back of the building. "It was completely rotted out," says Astor. "A sort of shed with a corrugated roof, taking up the whole of the courtyard." It would require nine months to get the site into shape.
The street-front factory building was gutted to make room for offices: the creative team on the second floor and marketing, accounts, and administration on the third. In the back courtyard, Saguez and Astor designed a new entrance in the form of a concrete cube. This houses not only reception but also two communal workrooms, rest rooms, and a boutique selling eclectic fashion and home accessories, plus house-brand apple juice—the apple is the Saguez & Partners logo. The cube also links the factory building to the new incarnation of the shed. Stripped ' to its wooden frame, then outfitted with 7-foot-high louvered windows, the onetime outbuilding became an airy "atelier," home to super-chic meeting rooms and the stylish staff canteen.
Saguez compares the canteen to a "school dining hall." It must be quite some school. In the morning, coffee and croissants are served at the communal table that runs down the center of the soaring space, on axis with an open hearth. Additional tables and seating run along a sidewall, below a row of black-and-white photographs detailing the different stages of the construction work. Wine bottles now occupy the mailboxes of a desk that Pierre Chareau designed for the French post office. Meanwhile, the tall "sideboard" is a filing cabinet found on the street and spruced up with lime-green and mauve paint.
Right outside the canteen, a garden planted with apple trees and box hedges also supplies vegetables and herbs to the agency cook. "It's a nod to the traditional working-class allotments in Saint-Ouen," explains Astor. '
The boiler plant's manufacturing heritage lives on, too. Throughout the 21,500-square-foot interior, Saguez and Astor ran exposed electrical and data cables along galvanized-steel tracks. Air-conditioning ducts remain in full view, and the light switches and pendant fixtures would not look out of place above an assembly line.
In the creative department, furniture is mainly white, but vivid flashes interrupt the calm. Fuchsia, bright red, and fiery orange chairs and sofas sit at the far ends of the open-plan work area. Purple and green wall paint jazzes up the rest rooms.
Alternative work spaces include the second-floor library and a third-floor meeting room, which gives onto a terrace used for get-togethers in the summer. "It's deadly boring to be in the same spot all the time," says Saguez. A case in point: His own office is separated into two distinct zones. On one side is a simple, solid beech-wood desk specially designed by project managers Stéphane Sorin and Daniel Contorni; on the other side stands a pair of Antonio Citterio sofas.
Italian designer furniture doesn't come cheap. But Saguez is proud that, overall, the renovation cost totaled just 3 million euros. "Our agency has a reputation for expensive, complicated projects," he confides. "Here, the cost per square meter is more like a supermarket than a company headquarters."