Get cosy at work

Designed by Mr Brad Sherman (above right), online cooking community and e-commerce site Food52's office has a lounge (above) and a photo-worthy test kitchen.
Designed by Mr Brad Sherman, online cooking community and e-commerce site Food52's office has a lounge and a photo-worthy test kitchen. PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES
Mr Brad Sherman.
Mr Brad Sherman.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

Creating a homey working space can be done cheaply and it may help draw talent too

New York - Step off the office elevator and you are immediately hit with the smell: A cooking aroma, something warm and inviting (corn chowder? bread?) wafting from a spacious, open kitchen with a wall of Waterworks cabinets.

The lights are set to rainy-Saturday-at-home. Stocked metal bar carts line the back of a plush sofa in a lounge area. One woman conducts a work call inside the "book nook", a free-standing room built within the space, with library shelves and a chocolate-brown swivel chair from Chairish.com, a vintage furniture site.

Indeed, the Chelsea headquarters of Food52, the online cooking community and e-commerce site, look less like an office than a cosy loft apartment. Which is the point.

The workspace was designed by Mr Brad Sherman, a Manhattan-based commercial designer who has developed a trademark style that blurs the line between home and office.

He installs soft lighting, vintage mid-century furniture and fiddle-leaf fig trees. Or, as he did with the downtown office and showroom of Casper, the online mattress seller, he carves out rooms, staging them with artwork and used books from the Strand to create the impression that someone lives there.

If your workplace is as comfortable and welcoming as your home, the thinking goes, you never have to leave.

"A lot of start-ups can't afford the best young talent," said Mr Sherman. "So how do they attract them? With cool spaces."

The 30-year-old has created cool homey spaces for several of the city's tech start-ups, including Sakara Life, an organic meal delivery service; Jack Erwin, a direct-to-consumer men's shoe retailer; and Mobile Commons, a text-messaging platform for non-profits to connect with donors.

Clients describe him as a budget-stretching magician, able to transform Ikea sawhorses and plywood slabs into chic workstations or fashion an arty chandelier from exposed mattress springs and string lights.

"We needed it to look presentable because we had customers coming in," said Mr Philip Krim, chief executive of Casper, referring to the apartment workspace he hired Mr Sherman to design. "Brad was able to get the job done in a scrappy way that allows us to live on a start-up budget, but have an office we're very proud of."

The office-as-home concept has been perfected with Mr Sherman's latest finished project, Food52. Giving a tour of the space one recent afternoon, he pointed out the chrome-and-rattan rocker he found at Amsterdam Modern, a vintage store in Los Angeles, and paired with an Ikea coffee table. "It's about the mix," he said. "I spent money where I thought it would improve the sophistication."

Ms Merrill Stubbs, a co-founder of Food52, wanted a space that "evokes hunger but is also soothing, super- functional as an office and also feels like a home".

As the staff use the office for photo shoots, the test kitchen also had to feel warm and lived-in, in keeping with the brand's focus on home cooks.

But will her employees feel too much at home? "We're online and available all the time," said Ms Stubbs. "Giving people a place to feel comfortable at the office is much needed for recharging."

However, being the guy who can over-deliver on the cheap is not the most lucrative path for a designer. But as Mr Sherman's firm is growing and maturing, so are his clients.

He is designing a new, much larger office for Casper, which has already outgrown its downtown space and turned to him because, as Mr Krim said: "Brad knows our aesthetic and we know we'll get something really great."

He persuaded Mr Krim and his partners to lease a space in a building along Broadway, north of Union Square. The office, currently occupied by a brokerage firm, is rundown and man cave-ish.

But as Mr Sherman explained on a recent visit, he sees potential in the expansive northern and southern views, the skylight and other cost-saving elements already present.

His eyes lit up, appraising the potential.

"First thing I look at is, What can I reuse?" said Mr Sherman, adding what may as well be his sales pitch. "We can accomplish a lot more for a lot less."

New York Times

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2015, with the headline 'Get cosy at work'. Print Edition | Subscribe