Since joining Perkins+Will in 2005, associate principal and New York office interior design director Meena Krenek, IIDA and LEED AP, has proven that office space can be a destination for design, not just a workplace. The winner of three ASID Annual Design Excellence Awards from the Georgia Chapter, Krenek has designed Atlanta-based offices for for AutoTrader.com, Carter’s, McKinsey & Company, and Shaw Contract Group, among countless others. Here, she discusses the importance of storytelling, why she based a stairwell on a carpet tufting machine, and the joy of a beautiful case of pencils.
Interior Design: When was the first time you really noticed the design of something, and what was it?
Meena Krenek: When I was six, my family spent some time in Yugoslavia—now Croatia. One afternoon, my mother purchased a leather trifold case of Staedtler colored pencils for me. Being in Europe was interesting, sure. But I was taken with the trifold and how it could house over 24 different colors, an eraser, sharpener and sketch pad. Each pencil had its own specific position, fastened by a stitched leather loop, and all of these beautiful pencils were organized on a backdrop of the softest leather packaging I had ever felt. I closed the trifold with a hardware clip, making a soft and satisfying sound when it was fastened shut. I’m still fascinated by packaging, product design and textures—I would love to get my hands on a similar leather trifold today.
ID: Was there a mentor during your education who really influenced you?
MK: I had a professor in college, Tracy Moir McClean, who taught me how words can be expressed through architecture and space. In her class, we studied poetry and learned to interpret prose and translate the meaning into architectural sketches and collages. In my experience with Perkins+Will, our design concepts start with a vocabulary derived from the clients’ drivers and specific needs; then we turn the verbal language into a visual one, creating truly meaningful environments. Tracy provided me a unique perspective to design thinking that is fully integrated into my process, and a level of confidence that allowed me to evolve as a designer.
ID: You’ve designed a number of corporate headquarters. What are the specific challenges associated with designing a headquarters, as opposed to other corporate spaces?
MK: Honestly, I find no difference between smaller corporate spaces and headquarters projects because no matter the size or scale, all corporate interiors work entails a full immersion into the organization’s culture. This deep engagement with our clients allows us to identify opportunities for experiential and human-centric design in their workplace that will ultimately strengthen their culture and create brand loyalty. I approach all projects with the understanding that the client has a unique story to tell and every end user should feel an emotional connection to their work environment and organization.
ID: How do you think interior design can influence retention and recruitment?
MK: As designers, we have the ability to affect the way people interact, exchange ideas and function within an environment. This is powerful. I believe well-designed spaces can serve as a business tool. By brand mapping, telling stories within the interior architecture and crafting experiences strategically, we are crafting emotional moments and in turn, creating personal ties to the place. I’m thrilled when employees of the spaces I’ve designed want to share their workplace with family and friends. “Come see where I work, it’s the coolest!” is the greatest indirect compliment to hear. The spaces we have designed continue to rank as “Best Places to Work.” We are proud to create destinations.
ID: Your work utilizes a lot of text and graphics; what appeals to you about them?
MK: If designed well, graphics and text can be extremely memorable and emotional. As designers, we must be mindful of inclusivity and recognize that not everyone is a visual communicator, carefully balancing text and graphic expression. In all of my projects, I want to leave a mark and impact to the end user, no matter who they are.
ID: For the consulting firm, why did you choose to reference stables for the coworking spaces?
MK: This consulting firm wanted to celebrate its southern regional office. The project was called Southern Hospitality, or SOHO for short. The workplace layout is carefully planned for three strong design elements that support their way of working, and emphasizes southern roots. The “living wall” holds writable, tackable surfaces, an open coat closet, and shelves that display objects for inspiration. The hospitality element is placed in the center of the space to mimic a home-like environment and includes a kitchen, living room and fireplace with a ceiling pitch shaped like a residential roof. This space is called “gathering” because it is designed to support collisions in the work environment, and encourage informal meetings. As you mentioned, we incorporated “stables,” which are semi-enclosed spaces that encourage co-working and support different work styles. The stables have no enclosure, but host a barn door to create separation. Employees use the wall sconces to signal whether they are open to interruption or if they are not to be disturbed. Within the stables we provided custom banquettes and millwork work tables with height adjustable surfaces.
ID: What was the inspiration for the dramatic stairway in the Shaw Contract Showroom?
MK: We were designing a showroom space to inspire and provoke the senses for the architecture and design community. The sculptural staircase design is modeled after the carpet tufting machine, and creates a platform for viewing carpet patterns from above. The complex curves visually simulate yarn moving through the carpet production process. The stair design is called “sense of possibilities,” a grand reminder of originality and creativity in design.
ID: For many years, we’ve all talked about the need for increased diversity in architecture and design, specifically about ethnic and racial diversity. Practically, how do you think the fields should go about encouraging it?
MK: We need to continue to share our stories and journeys with others, and provide platforms for this dialogue. We are all diverse and complex individuals, not only by race or ethnicity, but by age, gender and economic background. We as an industry must evolve to fully support the individual as a whole, not mere facets of the person. We must make a concerted effort to spread our experiences and share openly and should begin at an elementary level (K-12), creating awareness for the value of design thinking and the positive influence it has on society.
ID: If you could change one thing about current architecture and design, what would it be?
MK: I think that outsider perceptions of the design industry are skewed, partly due to the superficial depictions of designers in the media. Design is a blend of the emotional, the scientific, the artistic, and the methodical. Awareness of the complexities of the trade is crucial for mainstream society to understand so they can appreciate our influence and become informed partners. We need to continue to transform the things we create and build, and elevate these experiences to affect the human condition.
ID: What would your dream project be?
MK: I would like to be involved in a project that is truly Transformative with a capital ”T.” Throughout my career, I have personally transformed corporate cultures and impacted businesses through effective storytelling; however, I would be honored to work with a client that wants to do something big, opting to disregard normalcy and embrace risk-taking. I’m looking to partner with clients that want to be expressive and bold, pushing design to places that are unthinkable. This year we’re incorporating the phrase, ‘Bold, Brave and Brilliant’ into our design thinking. In order to live up to this, we need to build mutual trust with our clients so that together, we can explore new design possibilities that positively transform all aspects of their businesses.