New Year, New Office

We design a lot of commercial projects here at Board & Vellum, even though we tend to talk more about the residential ones (you don’t see an HGTV-type channel for office interiors, do you?). It is one of our core passions as there’s something just as transformative about designing a space that people eat, shop, or work in. Getting to infuse a place of work or a café with character only helps someone’s day be just that much better.

This is why when we were given the chance to move into a larger office space that we could design ourselves we jumped at the opportunity. Frankly, our current space stopped being appropriate about a year ago. It is cramped and all of the bodies and equipment overwhelm the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning system for those of you not familiar with that acronym…and remember, acronyms are only useful when you know what they mean!). We’re hot, crowded, and out of space to meet with clients. Our new space will be almost quadruple the size of our current one and will have some awesome features. We’re also at a point in our growth as a company that making this move makes sense. First, though, a little backstory…

When I started Board & Vellum back in early 2011, I did lots of research on HOW to start a firm. In all of my research I found a great blog post from Modative on how to start a firm. Thanks guys, I took your advice to heart! Part of their awesome series on 7 tips for starting a firm was to stay small and cheap with your office space. Consequently, the first year-and-change of B&V was spent in my attic (which coincidentally I just spent my first Saturday evening free of children in ages cleaning out as it became an easy room to throw junk in… living the life people, living the life). That certainly kept my costs down but after a while I realized I never turned work off. So, I made the jump to Pioneer Square in the Grand Central Building where I rented a tiny office. Even that expense (I think my rent was something like $600 but that actually may be too high) was shared with another Architect (shout out to Mike at Capsule!) to keep the costs down. After a year-and-change there (and after Ryan and Matt came on board making our tiny office for 2 suddenly VERY cramped with 4 people), we moved to part of our current space. Less than a year into that we knocked down a wall and just about doubled our space.

At some point, we were this ridiculously crowded before we added a little breathing room.

Each step has been incremental and carefully tailored not to knock our overhead costs out of whack in case this crazy company fell of the rails.

It hasn’t, and it was time to make the jump.

Our new space has a lot of what we advise clients to consider including in their space: Personality. Here are some of the features we’ll be including in our current space that you should consider as well for your office space. Remember that your office space is a benefit for employees (or as our current space testifies, a detriment) as well as a marketing tool to tell your story.

BRAND IDENTITY: We’re pretty aware of what our “brand” is here at Board & Vellum and part of that means that our space needs to align with that. We’re grounded in our residential roots and even the commercial and retail work we do has an approachable and comfortable feel to it. Our space will feel the same. As you consider your space, think about your work and your clients and make sure that they all align with the feel of the office you’re in.

The space has limited windows, so we embraced the bright white trim we're known for, and gave our workspace a more residential feel.

SPACE TO MATCH OUR VALUES: The thing that I am actually most excited about with our space is that we were able to secure a large space on a separate level from our main office space which will be used for meeting and events for non-profits. I’ve talked before about how we value employees as “Citizen Architects” and now we’ll be able to better back that up with space to offer to non-profits and community groups for meetings, talks, and events. This flexible space allows us to have large meetings and events without impacting our work space. If you don’t have the luxury of something like that with your office space, think of another way your space could be tailored to suit your efforts which aren’t specifically tied to what you do.

GREAT WORK SPACE: People need space to work and we’ll finally have enough desk space for everyone. Real estate, though, is expensive and there are numerous studies on how square-footage-per-person is dropping. In addition, there’s great debate about the benefits of truly open office space. In our office, each Studio of 4 will be contained within a low-walled area with 4 individual ‘L’ shaped adjustable standing desks and a communal meeting table in the middle. This compromise allows for collaboration within teams but helps keep cross-office noise to a minimum. Carefully consider how your employees work and interact and build your workspaces accordingly. We had initially though that no low walls was the answer, but after enough experience in an office without them we realized that they were actually quite helpful at bringing down the noise level and increasing productivity.

You can see the rough layout of desks and meeting tables here surrounded by low walls to hide clutter and give people a corner to talk into when on the phone.

FACTOR IN YOUR LOCATION: Our current space is 3 blocks from my house, in a wonderful neighborhood with a great commercial area, and has reasonable parking in an otherwise dense urban environment. The neighborhood itself helped shape our values and who we are as a firm. We looked at several spaces that were either closer to downtown or in a higher profile setting. Quite frankly, it wasn’t us and we were worried about “getting too big for our britches” and sending the wrong signal to our clients. We will always do small and “low-profile” projects and our space needed to convey that while acknowledging that we also do a lot of “high-profile” projects. In the end, we found a space just two blocks from our current space (so now I have a 5-block walking commute) and it will work out perfectly. Carefully consider where your office will be located and how that impacts your brand. A big misstep can send the wrong picture to your clients and make them not feel valued.

See, we're not that much farther away AND we'll have parking.

KNOW YOUR BUDGET: This one was the biggest leap. As I mentioned in my little recap of how we got to this new office space, our mantra was always “go cheap”. Basically, we were building savings and keeping our costs down. We still maintain low overhead but we all felt we’d passed the hurdle of actually establishing the company and that we could afford to spend a little on our office. We’ve been very careful to set a budget that keeps our overhead low, while actually investing in a great space that we’ll be in for at least a decade. We’ve made smart decisions and are spending money where it counts. We also know that this isn’t just money spent on furniture and walls, this is an investment in marketing. When people will come into our space they’ll know who we are, what we can do, and that will be money well spent. When you’re considering budget look at all the factors that plug into this equation such as employee benefit, marketing, how it impacts your overhead rate, and how long your improvements will actually last.

As we move ahead we’re hoping to be in the space around the middle of April and our entire team is beyond excited. Look out for one heck of a party in 2016 to celebrate our 5 year anniversary and a great new space.

This post is part of the ArchiTalk series in which Bob Borson of Life of an Architect selects a theme, and a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s theme is New Year, New_____. To read how others interpreted the theme please click the links below.

Enoch Sears – Business of Architecture (@businessofarch)
New Year, New Community on Business of Architecture

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)

Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
New Year, New CAD

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
New Year, New Adventures

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
new race new year new start

Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect (@EntreArchitect)
New Year. New Budget.

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
New Year, New Goals

Collier Ward – One More Story (@BuildingContent)
New Year, New Business

Nicholas Renard – dig Architecture (@dig-arch)
New Year, A New Hope

Jes Stafford – Modus Operandi Design (@modarchitect)
New Year. New Gear.

Cindy Black – Rick & Cindy Black Architects (*)
New Year, New Casita

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
New Year, New Underwear

Rosa Sheng – Equity by Design (@EquityxDesign)
New Year, New Era

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
“new year, new _____”

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
New Year, New Plan

Amy Kalar – ArchiMom (@AmyKalar)
New Year, New Adventures

Michael Riscica – Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
New Year, New Life!

Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
New Year, New Home

brady ernst – Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
New Year, New Adult Architect

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
A Little Premature

Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)
new year, new [engagement]

Sharon George – Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
New Year, New Business

Brinn Miracle – Architangent (@simplybrinn)
New Year, New Perspective

Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice AIA (@egraia)
The New New

Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
New Year New Reality

Anthony Richardson – That Architecture Student (@anth_rich)
New Year New Desk

Greg Croft – Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
New Year, New Goals

Jeffrey A Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
New Year New Office

Aaron Bowman – Product & Process (@PP_Podcast)
New Year, More Change

Kyu Young Kim – Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu)
New Year, New Office Space

Jared W. Smith – Architect OWL (@ArchitectOWL)
New Year, New Reflection

Rusty Long – Rusty Long, Architect (@rustylong)
New Year, New Direction

The participants of this ArchiTalks blog post series are asking you to help a friend of ours who is dealing with a family tragedy. Rusty Long is an Architect based out of Portsmouth, Virginia, whose son Matthew is fighting for his life. Here is Matthew’s story, as told by his Dad, Rusty:

Matthew Long was born May 29th, 2013, happy, and seemingly healthy. Less than two days later his mother and I found ourselves in an neonatal intensive care unit waiting room, listening to a rushed intensive care doctor explain how our son needed immediate dialysis to save his life. The disease, he briefly explained, was one of a group of disorders called Urea Cycle Disorders, which impact the way the body breaks down protein. We later discovered that Matthew’s particular variant is called OTC Deficiency, a particularly severe form of it in fact, which results in a rapid rise of ammonia in the blood, called hyperammonemia, resulting in devastating neurological damage. This form of OTC is so severe, Matthew has virtually no peers who have survived it. Once the immediate crisis was arrested, we came to find out more about the disease and the impact of this initial event.

The disease is inherited, and the damage is permanent. Treatment consists of a combination of medications, low protein medical diet, and ultimately a liver transplant. Matthew was fortunate to experience no additional hyperammonemic events in the following fifteen months of life, and had a liver transplant on August 24th, 2014. The cure for the disease, a transplant, isn’t so much a cure as trading one condition for another. While we will never risk the chance of another ammonia spike, Matthew is on a half a dozen or more medications at any given time to avoid rejection. Despite these challenges, intensive daily therapy for cerebral palsy (a result of the initial damage), limited motor function, and various other challenges along the way, our son is remarkably happy and has changed all our lives for the better. He’s taught us to be stronger than we ever thought possible, to have faith beyond human understanding, and the immeasurable value of life.

The #ArchiTalks community is hoping to raise $5,500 to help Architect Rusty Long and his family reach their financial goal on If each reader of this post contributes a small amount, our impact will be massive and we can make a difference for Matthew’s family. Click here now and donate $2.00.

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