You could say I grew up in an “art family.” My father has been an avid collector for at least 40 years now and I spent many a day walking around galleries as a child. So, it’s probably not surprising that I appreciate art and its place in design, whether residential or commercial.
Many of our clients share my passion. Some have massive collections they’d like displayed, others are eager to incorporate works but don’t know quite where to begin and some are unsure and look to us for guidance. No matter where they lie on the continuum, we’re always happy to engage clients in a discussion about how art can enhance their office design.
Over the years, we’ve worked on all kinds of projects where art played a role. There was the space we designed for a fast growing technology firm, in which the front desk was artwork in and of itself. We’ve also assisted tech startups in taking a fun, lighthearted approach, punctuating their spaces with art created by those who work in the building or live nearby. Then there were offices that, similar to our own space, featured a few intriguing conversation starters to add interest and inject a bit of personality. Hedge funds and financial firms often go this route and it works remarkably well for them and for their clientele.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from all these various assignments, it’s that, done well, art can make a dramatic impact. One Madison Avenue trading company we worked with had dozens of existing pieces they wanted to include in their new offices. Wisely, they were willing to discuss art with us in the early planning stages–it’s something we strongly advocate–so that we could help them achieve the best results. Doing so dramatically affected the entire design, from lighting and spacing to proportionality.
That’s not to imply that the carpet has to match the artwork, but some components of design, such as lighting, are integral to highlighting art. Discussions with a firm’s in-house expert or external consultant may be in order to advise on measurements and to come to a mutual understanding on how the art will be featured. Decisions may include the color palette — warm or cool — and what types of bulbs and lighting fixtures will bring out the best in each piece. Walls may need to be designed to accommodate key pieces, dictating the dimensions of rooms or where the partitions are placed. For instance, a sculpture can become either a focal point or be tucked in a corner — that ought to be discussed beforehand.
Art is so crucial to design that, at times, it can be a guiding factor. We’re currently designing such an office space for an advertising and branding firm. The direction we were given was to let the client’s artwork serve as the color for the neutral space, with pieces from well-known artists acting as “wayfinding” transition points for each work area. While it will not look like an art gallery, the art definitely plays a defining role, with sculpture throughout and pieces suspended from high ceilings. Employees will know exactly where they are at all times based solely upon the artwork!
Now, a word of advice for companies relocating, expanding or moving into a fresh space: let art be part of your plan. Early on, in the schematic design phase, decide what role art will take. Your architect can work closely with a curator, take a look at your collection or introduce you to a consultant, artist or a photographer, depending on your budget and preferences. If heavy works, such as steel sculpture, are something you’d like to incorporate either now or down the road, walls can be constructed with that in mind, saving time and money. Wall colors can also be chosen in anticipation of paintings you’d like to acquire at a later date.
Art is a part of every project we talk about…and for good reason. So, when you hear your architect make mention of it — and they should–pause for a moment to consider the possibilities. It need not (and should not) be an afterthought!