West Elm’s new office in a converted warehouse on the Brooklyn waterfront looks, in a word, Brooklyn. Exposed wood beams? Check. Polished concrete floors? Yes. Brick walls? Of course. Swanky furniture? Naturally. The space embodies the warm-modern sensibility that has brought the brand financial success in the past few years. But look more closely at the composition–handmade goods, office furniture, and artwork all manufactured by West Elm and its partners–and you’ll see a physical representation of the brand’s growth and evolution, from a residential retailer into a design behemoth as it spins its trademark domestic aesthetic into the world of offices and hotels.
Last year, West Elm launched Workspace, an office furniture line developed in partnership with Inscape. Instead of the institutional look associated with a lot of desks, storage cabinets, and task lights, the company channeled the materials, finishes, and silhouettes of residential products into office equipment. Then, this summer, West Elm announced plans to open a fleet of hotels outfitted with furniture from its line of contract pieces–furniture specially engineered to withstand the hard knocks of high-traffic environments like hotels, offices, and commercial spaces. In short, West Elm is bent on being a lot more than a residential furniture brand–and the new office reflects that.
“This is West Elm’s past, present, and future in one go,” Peter Fowler, VP of workspace and hospitality at West Elm, says of the new headquarters located in Empire Stores, an adaptive reuse project a block away from West Elm’s previous office. “We’ve pushed past thinking as a retailer–we’re in the contract market and we’re in the hotel market. The concepts, architecture, and interiors responded to where we wanted to be and where we want to go. We think of the design as being practical, emotional, and inspiring.”
The space is outfitted with task chairs, workstations, and sofas–and lounge chairs from West Elm Workspace customized with upholstery from its textiles partner Designtex. Virtually every iteration of the products is also available to residential customers or professional interior designers. Communal spaces look like mini living room vignettes, complete with plush couches, vibrantly patterned rugs, punchy throw pillows, and eye-catching occasional tables. Over 170 pieces of artwork and artisan-made crafts from West Elm’s vendor partners around the world accent the space, like a tapestry of the Brooklyn Bridge woven in India, breakout space housed within a massive rattan cocoon made in the Philippines, and sequin wall hangings woven by the same artisans that create fabric for couture gowns.
“We wanted it to be like an art gallery,” Sebastian Bauer, head of visual merchandising at West Elm, says. “We’re inspired by art, design, and history. The office celebrates our artisan partners around the world, and we wanted to make sure this element of craft and design was palpable in the spaces. Making is an important part of the brand.”
To Fowler, the eclectic mix of furniture and materials speaks to a growing trend in office design. “People are looking to move away from commoditized, white, techy products in offices,” he says. “As they’re figuring out how to retain staff, attract millennials, and get people excited about their workspaces in new ways. They’re looking for texture.”
As West Elm’s new headquarters shows, all the comforts of home can be had at work.