After 7 years of working from a home based studio (a decision taken primarily to enable me to see my daughters develop to an age where they start school full time – I’ve seen far too many of my peers and immediate seniors while away the hours in a studio as their children grow up out of sight…much to their chagrin), we finally bit the bullet and moved into a new design studio, smack in the centre of Cheltenham earlier this year.
Having spent years adapting to the constraints of ‘home décor’ and the ever watchful eye of my better half, it was a strange thing to be given free reign to devise a fully functioning space purely for work. That’s not to say that the last 7 years haven’t been spent in a singularly work-focussed space, but a studio within a domestic habitat is not the same as a building designed or tailored to be an office space. With a blank canvas, it took me a while to settle on what I thought was necessary.
Fundamentally, I didn’t want the space to contain a desk for each person. I’ve worked for most of my career in studios where everyone has their own desk space (some tried hot-desking when CAD stations were a rarity, but it just ended up with lots of unclaimed, dirty coffee cups and half scribbled Post-It notes occupying the ‘free’ desks) and I found that a large part of each and everyone’s individual desks ended up becoming a ‘dumping zone’ and ultimately a cluttered, unusable area. People ended up working in the immediate frontal zone to the left and right of a keyboard and I reckon 60% of the deskspace in the studio effectively became an impromptu store cupboard. I’m sure that in a well disciplined studio, this never happens, but I’m a bit of an untidy animal at the best of times, so if given the opportunity to secret superfluous crap somewhere, I will.
So I decided to design and commission a single, enormous studio desk around which everyone would sit. It’s not a ‘system’ clipped together. It’s a dirty great slab of 38mm birch ply, covered in a hardwearing ‘Square Banana’ brown laminate, with a few selected holes and slots tactically placed to allow any (and all) cables to be snaked away under the slab. In fact, it’s so big that it’s been christened ‘The Mothership’. It had to be made in 3 sections and each section crane lifted into the back of the van we used to pick it up. It’s so heavy that we needed to design a completely bespoke welded steel frame made from 2″ box section tube. It’s bloody marvellous and works an absolute treat. One end of the ‘Mothership’ is used as a studio ‘desk zone’ and the other is a layout table, client presentation area, part time canteen and all-round multi-purpose surface. It gives the studio a great central hub and encourages everyone to face towards each other (albeit with computer screens interrupting quite a few lines of sight).
In addition, and running parallel to the longest side of ‘The Mothership’, we have an uninterrupted wall. No windows, doors, light switches. Nothing. A perfect surface to create a ‘scrawl wall’ – a complete surface which can be scribbled on any way we choose. After a fair amount of investigation into suitable surfaces, the easiest, most cost effective and most versatile turned out to be 5 equally sized panels of galvanised sheet steel covered in self adhesive, hard wearing white vinyl. We can use magnets, pens, post-its, tape, blu-tack…anything we want. And when we are done, we can wipe it clean and start again. If it ever gets mucky beyond repair, we simply peel off the vinyl and stick a new bit on. Simples.
With a wall full of storage (and a tactically placed large LCD TV hooked up to Apple TV and the computers in the studio), some rather natty reverse printed vinyl decals for the windows (bananas of course!) and a dirty great cutout of the Square Banana logo on the opposite wall, we now have a very functional, creative and adaptable space that we can tailor to suit an influx of designers, clients, suppliers, different project activity, layouts, discussions and multimedia presentations. All good.
So far, and a few months into the new studio layout, things seem to be working well. It would always be nice to have more space, but like at home, the more space I have, the more (usually unnecessary) stuff I manage to acquire and horde. An open space with nowhere to hide is a great way to promote tidiness and a fantastic way to make working as a group of designers in a studio a little bit more collaborative and a lot more sociable (in the very human sense). Give it time, and I may well want to revert back to a ‘closed cell’ structure, but for the time being I’m relishing it.
Anyway…after rambling on about my logic, I thought you might like to see a few sneaky peeks of various parts of the Square Banana Studio. All suitably arty of course!
If ever anyone is passing (we’re in a rather fabulous old renovated factory courtyard along St. George’s Place) and fancies popping their head round the door for a coffee, just let us know. We’d be happy for the interruption.
author : Russell Beard | Founder