Seeing Workspace as a Home Away from Home

Seeing Workspace as a Home Away from Home

Featured Project: Atlas Holdings LLC

Cozy, contemporary rustic, and homey are words that have been used to describe the conversion of an office building and residence into the new global headquarters of a fast-growing financial services firm. Although atypical for this buttoned-up industry, the new Atlas Holdings LLC campus does embody the culture of this progressive, innovative organization focused on building business through collaboration and mutual respect.

“Atlas Holdings has a strong culture,” said John Mack, AIA, FIIDA, HLW Design Partner. “Ultimately, the space we designed arose from a deep understanding of who they are as a company, which is effectively a big family.”
Mack explained that the Atlas team “shares a lot of information and works together,” but individual offices for private calls and meetings are still a necessity. “We recommended that they model their office space after a big house where communal meals are shared and quiet time can be easily found.” HLW encouraged Atlas to see their new workspace as a home away from home.

Design Brief

The Greenwich, CT, site includes the main facility, originally built in the 1960s, plus an annex building (formerly a barn, circa 1870) and outdoor amenities. Consisting of approximately 10,000 sf total, the project involved creative solutions for high quality video conferencing and mobile working, staying healthy, and building community among staff. The main office space is organized around a central great hall—a large breakroom flanked by glass-front offices on the sides. This design solution eliminates hierarchy within the structure.

The project team addressed two key client objectives.

  1. To demonstrate Atlas Holdings core principles: People First, Personal Integrity, Performance Excellence, Passion.
  2. To create an easily navigated space that facilitates open communication and communal activities.
“This project is an example of diving deeply into an organization, understanding it, incorporating regional characteristics, and creating a space that absolutely works for them in terms of efficiency, collaboration, and privacy,” said Mack.

Concept: Workspace as Large Home

The new headquarters contains many of the hallmarks of a home, including a front door, places for dialogue and recreation, and a sense of community and shared purpose.

Main Building—The project involved removing a central portion of the second floor, creating a two-story space. This accomplished a number of key objectives, but mainly allowing The Central Commons, or Great Hall, to house the communal functions, e.g., food, meeting, stair, connectedness. Significantly, the Atlas Holdings culture is dismissive of the idea that physical demarcations between internal groups should result in an “us versus them” attitude. The communal space is ringed on both floors by offices. A fireplace, interconnecting stair, and communal table (where all-staff meetings are conducted) further aid in reinforcing the idea that individuals are to work together to achieve their objectives.

HLW created a high-impact, central commons area for Atlas Holdings’ Connecticut office. Distinct from the surrounding private offices and conference rooms, the open, two-story space fosters a collaborative and social atmosphere where staff can meet around a custom, 18-foot reclaimed wood table. A functional kitchenette and glowing fireplace with bench seating bookend both sides of the table. The suspended “nest” room looks out over the “heart of the office.”

Barn—The project transformed the 19th century structure into Atlas Holdings’ premier conferencing facility. The barn also contains a lounge, service pantry, and boardroom with seating for 26. This portion of the project addresses the client’s communication objectives. The lower level of the building houses a gym, a direct response to the client’s desire to holistically meet employees’ needs.

Design Aesthetic –We used blackened steel with a beeswax finish, reclaimed black walnut plank flooring, a stacked stone wall, distressed and reclaimed barn wood siding, and reclaimed chestnut tabletops. Ultimately, we achieved a residential feel, but one specific to the local character and to the client.

Design Results

The functional innovations were all about achieving balance—between open collaborative areas and quiet, well-lit niches or private offices. This meant blending the old with the new and using a very modernist aesthetic with emphasis on craft and traditional materials. “We were charged with creating a new home for Atlas Holdings, one that would reflect a close-knit organization and be capable of attracting and retaining top talent,” said Mack. This was accomplished by blurring the line between office and residential in support of the client’s unique, highly collaborative work culture.

Note, Atlas Holdings is a recent winner of the Interior Design 1st annual MakeItWork Awards, a design competition that celebrates the new ways that we work. The project won the “MakeIt Social” award.