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Business Week Frontier
Magazine
November 6, 2000

By Larry Kanter and
Stephanie B. Goldberg



Dream Offices

What does it take to turn a drab workplace into a perfect environment? A little cash and a lot of creativity

An office is more than a place to house employees. These days, it's a place to seek the inspiration of an urban skyline or a peaceful sunset. Not to mention a place to shoot a few hoops, play some ping-pong, take a nap, sip an espresso--or build a little buzz.

Today's small companies seek an environment that quickly communicates an image of success and creativity, one that wows potential clients, reassures investors, attracts hard-to-find recruits, and helps employees forget how hard they're working. Achieving all that can mean going to extraordinary lengths.

Consider Future Protocol Inc. The Austin (Tex.) computer network design company spent most of its five years in a stodgy, uninspiring office complex. When their lease expired, the partners asked their real estate brokers for something really different, and they got it: an abandoned adult-movie theater.

To convert the former porno palace into a high-tech headquarters, Future Protocol punched windows into the walls, added skylights, and tore out the theater's seats to make room for workstations. The balcony was extended to add a second level of offices and conference rooms. The theater's marquee is now used for free advertising. The price tag? Just $200,000 (not counting exterior improvements paid for by the building's owner). Not only did the renovation generate considerable publicity, but the company's 25 employees love it. ``I've seen the motivation level climb to a new height,'' says Jennifer Hussey, Future Protocol's 34-year-old CEO. ``People seem to get here a little earlier, stay a little longer.''

Indeed, attracting employees in the first place and enticing them to stick around motivates many of the most innovative office designs. Bob Cagle, CEO of Thuridion, a Santa Cruz (Calif.) software developer with 48 employees, offers a light-soaked, 15,000-square-foot office, packed
with amenities like a communal kitchen and coffee bar, a comfy upstairs
lounge, and a balcony where employees can hook up to the Internet and enjoy the ocean views. ``It gives people--both job candidates and customers--the feeling that they are going to be treated well here,'' says Cagle, 41.

Image may not be everything, but it certainly comes close. In the following pages, Frontier takes a look at companies that have creatively defined their dream offices, often by utilizing startlingly simple and inexpensive materials and making the most of their building's innate virtues. While some of these entrepreneurs admittedly have splurged on their spaces, they know that a really good-looking office, like the right clothes, often pays for itself many times over.

 

Bringing Nature Indoors
By Stephanie B. Goldberg

David Oakey Designs, La Grange, Ga.
What It Does: Textile design and manufacture
Employees: 12
Goal: To inspire creativity and make the best us of natural materials and the landscape
Cost: $1.4 million

When designer David Oakey creates his soft, muted textile and carpet pattersn, he often draws inspiration from the countryside around him. So it was only natural to set up shop among the rolling hills of LaGrange, Ga., an hour's drive from Atlanta.

Welcome to Pond Studios, David Oakey Designs' 12,000-square-foot headquarters, named for its picturesque meditation pond. Formerly house in an old Coca-Cola Co. bottling plant in LaGrange, the company moved in 1997 to a custom-built headquarters on six wooded acres.

Designed by the St. Louis firm of Rubio|Durham Architects, the two-story steel-and-concrete building is actually three separate, connected structures: a design studio, a conference and display area, and a small manufacturing facility. Floor-to-ceiling windows keep employees in touch with nature and create a light and airy ambience. Adhering to Oakey's green esthetic, his architects desgined an energy-efficient building and chose local building materials, such as Georgia cedar siding and the rustic touch of exposed nailheads.

Bringing the great outdoors indoors has proved to be every bit as inspirational as Oakey had hoped. He recenly designed a new line of carpet tiles that mimic the random pattersn of a field of grass. What could be more natural?