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Workplace furniture design: the Danish way

Ten years ago, Icons of Denmark established itself as a distributor of Danish furniture for the U.K. market. Since then, they’ve been hard at work evolving from representatives of Danish design to creators of it. Through their unique market-led approach, they’re bringing Danish design to the modern office…one sleek sofa at a time.

Tell us about Icons of Denmark’s background.

Icons of Denmark started as quite a traditional furniture agency, representing Danish furniture brands for the U.K. market. We’ve always had a hands-on approach to representing furniture and pride ourselves on being very knowledgeable about our products. We have a high level of technical know-how for how the furniture can be used, what sorts of applications the furniture has, and certain activities in an office where the furniture has relevance. 

That approach led us into product design and manufacturing. We’ve taken what we’ve learned in the market and now work with Danish designers to come up with new furniture  for the modern office. 

We engage with an international client base who we keep up-to-date with Danish design and furniture through products we produce. Our projects are primarily large-scale commercial projects.

How did you transition from representatives of Danish design to creators of it? 

When the furniture designers we represented decided to launch new products, we were required to go out to the market and sell. This work didn’t always reflect what we thought of the product and it’s usability in the marketplace…which got a bit old for us. 

In 2016, we took the first steps to create our first product. We were able to brief a Danish designer and manufacturer on how we wanted a sofa to be made, which became the first example of how we create furniture today.

How is your approach to creating new products unique?

The way we design furniture today is extremely market led. When we got started, there was a lot of residential products being brought to the workplace environment. Contrastingly, we consider specific workplace needs and create designs based around those.

Our process starts with identifying gaps in the market: we notice a certain need or an area of a project that we repeatedly don’t have the right products for. We bring that brief back and collaborate with designers and manufacturers to come up with the new product. That’s what sets us apart from many other firms. We are in no way led by product designers. We are led by the needs of interior designers and clients.

 The Private High Back addresses privacy for commercial interiors, providing a space to focus and host informal meetings – without the need for partitioning or room division.

For example, the most recent area we identified is banquet seating. Banquet seating is something that is often designed bespoke for each project. We identified this as an area for a new product. Since we have become very experienced in sofa making and upholstery work, we decided to dip into this category. 

To create this new type of sofa, we started drafting in 2D first, agreeing on certain dimensions and concepts. This was then further developed as a 3D model that was eventually built at our workshop in Denmark. 
After we create a prototype, we go back to the drawing board to refine the 3D model and finalize the piece—working out the final details such as stitching and leg position. This is the process we used for our new product, BANK, which we debuted at Clerkenwell Design Week this year.

What was your first experience using SketchUp?

My first encounter with the product was in 2007 selling furniture for a Danish manufacturer. I came across the software through an architect. I was quite excited about it so I started promoting the tool among furniture dealers as a potential tool they could configure our products in. 

When I moved to London in 2009, one of the first things I did was to upload our models to 3D Warehouse and start using the platform as an integral part of our selling process. The user friendly aspect of 3D Warehouse and SketchUp Pro itself enabled me to convert all of our DWGs into SKP files and make them more publicly available. 

We quickly found that we were gaining a huge following and considerable number of downloads on these products. Ten years later we are still using the platform to upload and share our models.  

SketchUp is a tool that we use in three different categories of our business: product design, configuration, and interior design.

Can you talk about your showroom and the products in it. Were any of these designed in SketchUp?

We work with many product designers. At the moment, we are working with one designer who develops his designs in SketchUp, Peter Barreth. Trained as an upholsterer and sofa builder, he is a self-taught user of the product. of SketchUp is a tool that he has found convenient and fast to work with. 

The Private Sofa was one of the first solutions created under the Icons of Denmark brand by Peter. That product was based on a few very basic principles about comfort, seat height and flexibility of sizing. The process started with 2D drafting. 3D models were created in SketchUp from those initial ideas. Once the first prototype was built in Denmark, we sent it to our showroom in London.

We used that prototype to get market feedback and understand what else needed to be done to refine the function and form before we brought it to market. It was almost a year later that The Private Sofa was actually born as a complete product from our research and development with London’s commercial interior design community.

Where do you see the most value from SketchUp?

Most of our product designs are available in various sizes and finishes that can be configured to a client’s specific project. 

When we started selling meeting tables for example, we realised it’s an advantage to allow clients to choose their own size. We can visualize and configure the tables from our existing design to match the clients’ needs exactly. This is where we use SketchUp everyday. Our ten-person sales team all use the product.

The Forum Table series comes in a variety of table top sizes and colours for the frame and edge.

Since our products can be made to size, we communicate details such as positioning of the legs, the split of tops in a table and the integration of power. If the client wants a specific edge detail, we can visualize that. That has to be visualized quickly for us to get the commitment from our clients and so that we’re all in sync. Our table Forum, for example,  has a fairly simple geometry which lends itself to fast customisation in the product. We can redraw these tabletops very easily to fit the customer’s sizing.

We send those drawings back to our producers in Denmark when we are placing the orders. This allows us to sync very quickly with the producers and manufacturers before an order gets placed. That’s actually where we find the biggest value of SketchUp for our business. 

You mentioned that Icons of Denmark contributes to the interior design piece of a project. What does that workflow look like?

We’re very often being invited to pitch our products in cooperation with an architect. Similarly, sometimes we collaborate when the architect needs some inspiration for a certain setup and that often requires a fast turnaround time. 

Here, SketchUp allows us to play a part in the designer’s work by not just pitching a sofa, but actually pitching a full configuration of our furniture and visualizing it together with our collaborators’ proposals. 

In this instance, we would be taking a brief from an interior designer or architect, suggesting some ideas for the space with our products, and preparing a proposal for the space’s layout. This doesn’t just show our individual products but shows how the products will work in situ on a larger scale.  

When it comes to interior design, I think that’s where some of our products really come into their own. For example the EC1 sofa is a modular sofa. You can play with the different pieces of this product, changing them around based on the space that you’re in. 

And this is just as important to us as the previous two ways I’ve mentioned we use the product. You want the product in a certain size but you also want it in a certain shape and positioning. I think that’s why the EC1 has proven to be one of our most popular products on 3D Warehouse.

How do you collaborate between different design tools on your team?

Aside from our sofa line, our other product designers work in SolidWorks. Regardless of the product designers’ workflow, this all feeds into DWG files, which makes it possible for us to work off of a format that we can read and make sense of quickly. 

That’s again where SketchUp becomes the common ground. We always ask our product designers who are working in SolidWorks to give us a DWG model. We can then work to create SketchUp models for sharing via 3D Warehouse or use ourselves when we configure or use the products in situ. 

For exporting, it’s extremely handy for us that we can instantly create DWGs either as 2D or 3D files of the products that we design from scratch. SketchUp provides us with a compatibility advantage across all of the stakeholders we work with.

Where can we find more examples of your work?

About Icons of Denmark
Since their foundation in 2009, Icons of Denmark have become known as the London home of Danish Design for commercial interiors. Committed to bringing the very best of Danish design to the commercial interiors market in the UK and beyond, Jesper and the Icons of Denmark team work closely with a circle of talented designers and craftsmen who hold a deep fascination for refined beauty, natural materials and functional design that the Danes pride themselves upon.

Design at Starbucks: Brewing the right stuff

David Daniels heads up Starbucks’ America East design teams, overseeing over a hundred designers across New York, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, and Latin America. David and his team have executed over 1,400 major Starbucks renovations and new builds in 2016 alone. As well as being a passionate (and productive) designer, David is also a SketchUp aficionado, so I was thrilled to talk with him about his approach to design and decision-making at Starbucks.

Hello David… Care to introduce yourself and your team to the SketchUp community?

Sure. I’m an architect and the Managing Director of Design at Starbucks and I look after our teams and projects in the America East region. I learned SketchUp years ago from a guy from Kathmandu and I’ve been using it on projects ever since. As time’s gone on, I’ve moved more into leadership, but I’ll still play around in SketchUp developing concepts and carrying out massing studies.

The Starbucks design studios are cooking with SketchUp. If you walked through, you’d see about thirty designers working on different projects that look completely unique. We’re the biggest SketchUp fans; seeing my teams tweak SketchUp’s style palette to infuse their own flavor into the renderings has become a really fun part of the design process for me.

How did your team get going with SketchUp?

At one point I was working out of the Miami office and there were a handful of designers, including myself, who worked on high profile flagship stores. We used SketchUp for design and rendering, but not everyone did.

As a design leader, part of my job is to review and approve designs. I’m looking at a lot: this year alone my team has executed over 1,400 designs, and I have to review them quickly.

Some folks brought me black and white wireframes or two-dimensional visuals. This made me uncomfortable because it meant I would be putting my stamp of approval on a store, palette, or look that I had to try to construct in my head with no visual proof of how it would really go together. At that point we started to insist that everyone use SketchUp to model and paint in textures and surfaces so that I could approve designs with more confidence and authority.

The shift to SketchUp kicked off in the Miami studio where one of my senior designers led the effort. Since then, the Miami studio now designs more collaboratively, hosting a design charrette every week where they get together with their computers and a big monitor. They co-author five or six core stores in a day, figuring out the spatial design, palette and flavor, all within SketchUp. In the days where everyone was using different software, it was impossible to do this.

After testing the workflow out in this office, we got the entire Latin America studio using SketchUp, and then New York and Dallas shortly after. Over the past year and a half, we’ve been able to roll this out across the four offices I oversee. I’ve found that once my designers learn SketchUp, they genuinely have a lot of fun using it over other software. SketchUp has unlocked latent talent in our up-and-coming designers.

How does this get you closer to the finished product?

Our architects carry out site surveys and create the building shell in Revit. We export this model into SketchUp and carry out all of the interior architecture design in SketchUp. This includes refining the colors, materials, furniture, fixtures and fittings. We create a beautiful three-dimensional schematic design which we then hand over to our Architects of Record (AoRs). That’s what we give them to create the construction packages.

Every store is extremely special to our brand and to our customers: it’s their ‘third place,’ a space where people can sit and stay, or shop and learn. We aim to find the sweet spot between being brand-appropriate and being locally relevant so that the store feels right for that neighborhood, or the building that it sits in, or that part of the city.

And because the parameters are different every time, it means that each store has to be unique, right?

Exactly that. Within the stores, we have some simple principles that are really important for us. When we find a building, I think it’s really important to work with the bones of the space. So if the space has brick walls, or some surfaces that are distressed, or it has some great exposed trusses in the roof, then we want to celebrate the envelope, not cover up a bunch of stuff. This shell provides an envelope that hosts the hero of the space: the coffee bar.

“Where the bar sits, what it looks and feels like, the sight lines to and from it, how it’s lit, are all very important. We invest a lot of time into ensuring it’s like a finely crafted piece of furniture because it is the grand stage where we create “coffee theatre.”

Where the bar sits, what it looks and feels like, the sight lines to and from it, how it’s lit, are all very important. We invest a lot of time into ensuring it’s like a finely crafted piece of furniture because it is the grand stage where we create “coffee theatre.”

Your new store at 10 Waverly Place would be a case in point. What’s your favorite bit in this design?

10 Waverly Place is a reserve bar which means it’s a special store with an elevated coffee experience. The way that we prepare and brew coffee in there is pretty special. We have a Black Eagle machine, a Siphon — which is a Harry-Potter-like brew, — a Nitro brew, which means we can offer our customers cold brews on tap. The building itself was an existing building with a beautiful white terrazzo floor which happened to be in the same color range as our flagship store, The Roastery, in Seattle. So we preserved and resurfaced that, kept the existing brick walls and also commissioned some hand-drawn custom maps and artwork from a great artist called Tommy Tailor that I’ve collaborated with over the years.

What does the Starbucks design workflow look like?

Once we’ve found a building that can functionally hold a Starbucks store, we create a functional layout, that then develops into the first detailed floor plan. If this proposal gets the green light from our operations team, then we kick off the interior design work in SketchUp. Here we test out ideas for the bar, the lighting, and store palette. Doing this in SketchUp makes it feel like we’re working with clay: a lot of ideas can be tried out very quickly. The speed this affords us means we can rapidly visualize ideas, identify the ones we like and build on them as the design progresses.

What’s the one functionality you’re glad SketchUp has?

Without a doubt, it would be Style Builder. The way that we can tweak the default style to achieve a hand-drawn, warm, and not-too-perfect finish helps us to aptly portray a range of design aesthetics across our stores.

Rapid fire tech Q&A with Eduardo Meza, LEED AP and Senior Designer at Starbucks’ Miami Studio

1. We noticed that your team uses an impressive selection of materials. Where do you find and curate materials? 

The most commonly used materials had been created from photos and scans of our standard catalog.

2. Do all teams have a separate materials library? Or do you share your materials between offices? 

The Miami studio created a library with our standard materials and this is a library that we shared with other Starbucks Studios. Materials outside of our Standard palette are custom made per project.

3. Do you or anyone on your team use any SketchUp extensions within your workflow? If yes, could you tell us your top three? 

Yes; LSS Matrix, Section Cutface and Smart Drop.

4. What keyboard shortcut could you not live without? 

Shortcuts are a must for my workflow. Here my favorite and most frequently used custom shortcuts: M = Materials, C = Components, L= Layers.

10 Waverly Place, Brookfield Place and Broadway & 9th reserve bars have just opened across Manhattan. Pop by to see how these SketchUp visuals became a reality.

From furniture and fixtures to tech-savvy workspaces: See the Grammarly office in Kyiv

Leading architecture and interior design firm, balbek bureau, was chosen to design an entirely new space for one of Grammarly’s largest offices. This large, forward-thinking corporate space is located in Kyiv, Ukraine and hosts 150 employees. We connected with the lead designer, Andrii to discuss the details, challenges, and why they chose SketchUp for this project.

Give us some background on you, your team, and the types of projects you work on.

I graduated from the Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture where I earned my architecture degree. After that, I started working at balbek bureau as an architect. balbek bureau works on various types of projects. However, we prefer the corporate and commercial sector; though, we are not limited to a particular type of building or a specific style. In line with this scope of work, we recently completed the new Grammarly office in Kyiv.

Our design team consists of 40 people, including architects, designers, visualizers, and project managers. We work in creative teams where there is a team lead architect, architects, designers, and a project manager. In general, each team consists of three to ten people. Because balbek bureau provides interior design services for a wide range of industries, the creative teams are formed according to the specific type or style of the project. For example hotels, large office spaces, medium-sized offices, cinemas, gas stations, beauty salons, showrooms, “adaptive reuse”, and restoration projects. 

For those who are not familiar with Grammarly, who are they and what do they do?

Grammarly is a global company with offices in San Francisco, New York, and Kyiv. They operate 24/7 and are used as a digital writing assistant by millions of people across the world. Grammarly uses a plethora of  IT devices and utilizes a high volume of communication and data exchange, both within individual and group settings.

What was the reasoning behind building a new Grammarly office? And did they have any requirements?

The Grammarly Kyiv team has grown significantly over the years and in 2016, they had outgrown their space. They needed to move to a larger space to accommodate all of their employees and operations. With that, Grammarly required a variety of spaces for different activities, including: 

  • A large conference hall with a seating capacity for 150 people
  • Multiple, smaller meeting rooms equipped with quality audio and video technology for conferences across the globe
  • Reception zone
  • Soundproof recreation room
  • Canteen for employees
  • Nap room
  • Several lounge zones
  • Restroom areas

Other requirements included eco-friendly materials, a warm color palette with a homely feel for the interiors, and adaptability and flexibility of the space. Our team was responsible for the location of the office, office layout, interior concept, and all of the furniture, fixtures, and equipment.

Did you have to create different iterations of the design? If so,  how did you do this with such a large number of requirements?

Above all, designers are artists. For this reason, we developed only one design proposal, taking into account all of the above requirements. After that, the clients provided feedback on the design and requested changes. We made the requested changes, where it was needed, but in general, we didn’t create a range of design solutions, only some layout variations.

What was your design process for the Grammarly office?

We started by choosing a location for the new office. We had to choose between five different locations with seemingly different layouts. The winner was Gulliver business center in the city center. Since we didn’t have much time for the design project, the decision was to do all visualizations using SketchUp only, not using 3DS Max, as we normally do. We saved about three to four weeks using 3D models to get approval on the design with the Grammarly team.

After that, the design project was delivered in short terms for all engineering work. While choosing furniture and decorative materials, we were also checking all engineers’ layouts and drawings with accordance to our design project. The construction phase lasted for about one year.

Did you run into any challenges? If so, what were they?

Yes, the design was very unique to the space, so we encountered many challenges that we worked through including creating an open working environment with two levels, a suspension bridge, a nap room, and incorporating natural light and other elements to create a work-friendly environment.

The original office area consisted of only one level and a mezzanine of 300 sq. m. To use the space at its maximum, we divided the office area into levels with a suspension bridge and connected it to an open staircase. We also expanded the mezzanine area up to 450 sq. m. This created a siloed work environment for employees. After meeting with the Grammarly team and understanding their needs, our layout idea was to have a meet-up zone on the ground floor where everything would be centered around and would make employee interaction a focal point. The meet-up zone was essentially the “heart” of the office and had six open-plan working zones surrounding it with soundproofing for privacy. We had to make sure this separated the working spaces but also allowed for a sense of “openness”. To do that we developed a radial curve to separate the working areas, and connected the first and second floor with an open staircase. 

The nap room was another new design element for the building. This room had to be quiet and comfortable so employees could rest, relax, and recharge. We designed a space for three napping blocks. Each block had dark curtains to block out any light and a sensor under the mattress that would alert people if the room was occupied so people would not interrupt. 

Another tricky area was incorporating the suspension bridge. The length of the bridge is ninety meters, it loops around the office in a gentle curve, overlooking the entire office and expands slightly to accommodate rooms in its path. The bridge has no ground support, it is merely suspended from the ceiling. In order to keep the thickness of the bridge to a minimum, we passed the sprinkler system pipes under the main floor, and incorporated their fragments into the body of the bridge, blending them with the bridge’s structural elements.

Other challenges included the use of eco-friendly materials. We had to creatively think of ways to reuse these materials throughout the office space. This also included a natural light requirement to help create a positive work-life balance for the employees and contribute to a higher level of comfort and efficiency. 

For the natural light requirement, how did you know how much natural light would help with comfort? Did you analyze this?

Guided by the knowledge of the environmental design code of urban commercial buildings, a perimeter depth of 6m, or twice the floor-to-ceiling height, can be potentially daylit. Thus, the buildings deeper than 12m require more artificial light. The Grammarly office in Kyiv is 8.8 m, respectively; therefore, we placed the working areas closer to the source of natural light and the auxiliary rooms deeper into the office where they were supplemented with additional lighting.

Why did you choose SketchUp to design the Grammarly office?

We chose SketchUp due to the ease of use and speed. This project was under tight deadlines and we needed a tool that would allow us to work fast. Normally we would incorporate 3DS Max, but there was no time to do that. So we created everything in SketchUp—from the original design to the nitty-gritty details including textures.

What was your workflow in SketchUp?

First, we started designing the 3D models using measurements on site. After some work on the design construction, we moved onto smaller things like incorporating furniture, lighting, and textures. To save time, we used models from 3D Warehouse or from manufacturers’ websites. Our favorite part was the presentation of the model. We used cameras and scenes to showcase funny things, like a birthday cake in a table drawer. Also, we did not use any extensions. This was all native in SketchUp.

What are some benefits of using SketchUp in a corporate architectural project like Grammarly?

SketchUp allows you to work with a big, complicated model in one file, not dividing it to smaller ones. I also like SketchUp Viewer because we can easily present our designs to clients on their laptops. 

How did you manage the SketchUp model size and performance with such a large file?

Actually, it wasn’t a big deal. We kept everything in one model because the office had an open-plan layout. Based on this spatial concept, there were a minimum number of polygons, and all the interior details were in the separate files. The invisible elements weren’t included in the general SketchUp model.

How did team members collaborate on the same model? Were there challenges?

I worked on the general SketchUp model and assisting team members helped with the detailed objects in the separate files. It made our workflow easy and very efficient which helped with the tight deadlines we were under. 

Have you used SketchUp in any other projects? If so, what were they?

Yes, we use Sketch Up in most of our projects. The latest include:

Bursa hotel

4CITY

What’s your favorite SketchUp command?

“Flip”

Credits:

  • Architecture and interior design firm, balbek bureau
  • Architects: Slava Balbek, Andrii Berezynskyi, Anastasiia Marchenko
  • Project manager: Borys Dorogov
  • Client: Grammarly Kyiv
  • Photography: Andrey Bezuglov, Yevhenii Avramenko

Around the World with SketchUp

This month, we’re taking a trip around the world to celebrate all the places your projects are taking shape. From Barcelona to Bangalore (and everywhere in between) SketchUp users create noteworthy designs, often influenced by their unique surroundings. We want you to share how your surroundings inspire your designs using #SketchUp_Global on social media for a chance to be featured. Here’s a round-up of our favourites.   
First up, Diyar Aydoğan imagines a tranquil escape from the bustle of London, UK.
   
Soaking in the southern hospitality. Ten Over Studio creates this 3D animation to capture a unique meaning of “home” in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, USA.
 
OPM Render Studio shares a glimpse of this snowy scene.
     
Step into this forest house, hidden away in the pristine hillsides of Peru. By Alets Alvarado.
     
Doig Architecture takes us to Melbourne, Australia with this design featuring gorgeous views out to Port Phillip Bay.
     
Onxy Design Collective has us daydreaming with this mountain getaway in Park City, Utah, USA.
   
An oasis in the city. Maria Alarcon designs a rooftop in the heart of Barcelona, Spain where the hardness of stone and wood blend with the freely growing greenery.
   
This southern California, USA home truly has no bad angles. Architect Steve Giannetti combines a worn, antique look with natural materials to create a timeless and fresh space. Animation by Voxl.Vision.
     
Nad Design transports us to this lush getaway on the coast of Indonesia.
   
Now that’s an office! We love this interior by Tacata Arts in Bangalore, India.
       
Up next: we’re highlighting Doddy Setiawan’s tropical home featuring gorgeous green accents, inside and out.
   
We’re wrapping up in Brazil with a bucket list kind of view from Marco Corrêa.
  Thanks for joining our trip around the world! Remember to get involved using #SketchUp_Global.   Stay tuned for our next design theme.