Former Tobacco Factory Transformed into Innovative Office Space

Innovative companies need cutting-edge workspaces that are flexible and fit their corporate personalities. When Boston-based Mullen Lowe needed to open a new office in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, they turned to TPG Architecture, who had revamped the original company headquarters. The result is a feng shui converted tobacco factory that is as creative as the game-changing advertising agency it houses.

Creative Agency Creates an Innovative Office in an Old Industrial SpaceView in gallery
Creative Agency Creates an Innovative Office in an Old Industrial Space

The new office is in a 37,500-square-foot space in the city’s newly developed Wake Forest Innovation Quarter. The design makes the most of the 1930 building’s large, deep floorplan, 14-foot ceilings and metal-frame windows. The overhauled space is as creative, diverse and “scrappy to the core” as the essence of the company is.

MullenLowe is a merger of two small agencies that has emerged as a global creative boutique and works with some of the world’s most innovative marketers. Quite fittingly, the office design focuses on the staff members, who work in multidisciplinary teams for diverse clientele. The concept respects the original structure by leaving the industrial ceiling and weathered walls untouched. Freestanding rooms — like boxes placed between the columns — form the individual spaces in the office.

Sleek wood is a textural contrast to the weathered beams.View in gallery
Sleek wood is a textural contrast to the weathered beams.

The two wings of the office are dictated by the L-shaped floor plan. Situated at the vertex of the L, the reception area is an open atrium with stairs to the lobby. The rest of the raw space is divided into “neighborhoods” and provides a variety of open creative spaces along with smaller private areas for quiet meetings.

Modern furniture works well in a large, open industrial space.View in gallery
Modern furniture works well in a large, open industrial space.

The raw concrete floor serves as a blank canvas for the modern chairs in the reception area, as well as the whimsical lighting shaped like paperclips. Simple pendants along the ceiling also provide illumination.

The waiting area is defined by the gray rug, which adds texture and not color.View in gallery
The waiting area is defined by the gray rug, which adds texture and not color.
The conference room area is defined by the black "box" that encompasses it.View in gallery
The conference room area is defined by the black “box” that encompasses it.

A common theme throughout the space is the ability to leave spaces wide open and close them off only when necessary. Some meetings can be held in the open, while others need more confidentiality, so the large slider can close for privacy.

The large sliding door looks just like a large wall when closed.View in gallery
The large sliding door looks just like a large wall when closed.

Throughout the rest of the office, designers used a system of perforated metal screens that can serves as magnetic pin-up boards and define the space without disrupting the openness of the design. Thanks to its fluid floor plan, MullenLowe can use the space to host events for local groups and outside vendors, such as the local coffee house that provides the staff with on-site barista.

The metal screens provide some privacy yet let the sunlight stream through the space.View in gallery
The metal screens provide some privacy yet let the sunlight stream through the space.
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From the reception area, a long wall of large windows leads visitors to the rest of the office.
The metal screens are a modern complement to the weathered paint on the wall.View in gallery
The metal screens are a modern complement to the weathered paint on the wall.

The long hallway makes maximum use of the space with long tables and stools, perfect for socializing or casual, ad hoc meetings. Ample daylight helps keep the area open and airy. Along the table, Steelwood Stools by Magis of Italy provide seating. The high stools are made of steel plate covered in an epoxy resin and have solid beech wooden legs.

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Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec designed the stools that line the long tables.
The area is good for employees to spread out and work, alone or in collaboration.View in gallery
The area is good for employees to spread out and work, alone or in collaboration.

While most of the work meetings can be held in the open spaces, some really do require privacy and so the architects included a small space that is a closed conference room. The neutral, gray space is highlighted by the blue chairs that pick up on the vestiges of pigment that remain on the column outside the glass wall. The Eames DSW polypropylene chair was designed in 1950 and is an iconic mid-century modern design. This version was revamped in 2015, when Vitra adapted the seat and height of the chair to modern requirements and expanded the color selection.

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The iconic Eames chairs are a pop of color that enlivens the space.

Other small spaces are built especially for one-on-one or small group collaboration. These nooks include benches and rolls of paper that facilitate notes, drawing and the flow of ideas!

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Small cozy spaces can help groups innovate.

For larger meetings, the main conference room is adaptable and includes all the technical equipment necessary for today’s meetings. Both sides are open at the head of the room, but the doors can slide shut when the situation demands privacy. The wood panels in the room are more refined than the rest of the space and it is otherwise reminiscent of a traditional conference room.

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The conference room is flexible and fully equipped.
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The long room can accommodate a large group for meetings.

A large part of the office is an open work environment with common areas. This type of set-up allows for more accidental discussions and natural collaborations, which are all benefits when trying to attract new talent and pitch potential clients. In addition to the casual spaces, the office has a main area that is wide open and eliminates the stereotypical cubicles.

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Tall ceilings enhance the open work environment.

As you can see, the office includes an assortment of collaborative spaces, such as the conference rooms, huddle booths, photo and recording studios, and a media screening room with stadium seating. Throughout the offices, structural columns and beams were left exposed. The thick coat of layered paint is nearly a century old, so it was  minimally sandblasted to prevent peeling.

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The colors of the chairs were sampled from the peeling paint on the concrete walls.
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The old paint layers on the wall are very multidimensional.
The juxtaposition of aged industrial finishes and modern furniture is awesome.View in gallery
The juxtaposition of aged industrial finishes and modern furniture is awesome.

A wide open coffee bar area is perfect for entertaining groups and for casual employee gatherings. The long counters and stools are versatile for many purposes. It also serves as a buffer between the conference room and the area that includes the sofas and playground. Television screens allow for presentations as well as the latest news.

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The long counters provide plenty of work space.
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The kitchen is open to the area and is sleek yet industrial.
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A full coffee bar area is a big perk for employees and serves a bar for catering events.
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Comfortable leather sofas make up the lounge area.

At the corner of the office are game tables next to the lounge area and a bank of cafe tables and chairs run along the length of a seating bench. The area is perfect for casual interactions that can lead to innovations and ideas while employees relax and chat.

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Lounge areas are very important in fostering collaboration.
Games allow the mind to wander and foster creativity.View in gallery
Games allow the mind to wander and foster creativity.
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In an area like this employees can work as well as interact.
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When not in use by groups, the lounge area can offer solitude for some employees.

MullenLowe’s office space is versatile and a model for innovative work environments everywhere. The repurposing of an abandoned industrial space is a highly desirable way to develop creative work spaces and this design has all the bells and whistles a disruptive company would want.