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Every company has its own unique story to tell, ethos to espouse and goals to reach. Interior designer Primo Orpilla, co-founding principal at Studio O+A in San Francisco, has been communicating those narratives through his workplace designs for a wide range of clients over more than 30 years. “We like to understand the why of what the company is doing,” says Orpilla, who can wax poetic on offices in terms that are both practical and poignant.

Primo Orpilla and his team worked closely with Slack when designing its California headquarters. The scheme drew heavily on the philosophy and hiker etiquette of the Pacific Crest Trail.

From the earliest workplaces of Silicon Valley to the offices of today’s most prominent design and business leaders, O+A’s portfolio has made it a frontrunner in its field. “Agile work has been adopted in a big way, but we are already seeing chinks in that armour – too much noise, not enough concentration, too much visual information,” says Orpilla, who travels globally to study and shed light on the subject. “We are thinking of what Workplace 2.5 or 3.5 will be, thinking ahead and investigating what people will need to feel happy, engaged and well taken care of in the workplace.” 

Each of the 10 levels at Slack’s HW brings a humanistic and outdoorsy experience inside, with materials, finishes, and patterns reflecting those found in nature. Here, private A-frame “cabins” invite focused work.

Although the landscape of office design is ever-changing, the firm’s process remains consistent. Understanding and reflecting each company’s individual makeup steers its plans. “The objective is to understand you by talking about you, by engaging the employees and the people who go through the space. The more we can convey who you are, what your culture is about and how you treat people, the better we can design the space around that. The rest of it is just finishes and details,” says Orpilla. 

Birch planters and murals depicting mountain ranges and lake topography reinforce a naturalistic aesthetic.

For Slack’s San Francisco headquarters, for instance, the narrative was inspired by the rugged West Coast and especially the Pacific Crest Trail, a place near and dear to CEO Stewart Butterfield. Employees traverse terrains of micro-habitats with varying sizes, materials and functions, engaging in experiential treks across the office’s multiple levels. In doing so, they benefit from a truly varied work environment that gives everyone in the office access to all kinds of spaces. “Slack was one of our most aggressive projects in terms of the number of rooms in relation to head count,” says Orpilla. “Back in the day, there was a conference room for every 20 people; then it was 10. Now we are one for one. You will always have a place to go.” These ancillary spaces, from mossy walled nooks to a sun-soaked café, reflect the office’s natural influences. Furthering the outdoor experience are woodsy A-framed sofas, planters holding stands of birch logs and murals depicting mountain ranges and lake topography.

Semi-private nooks are lined with live walls and framed by wood-slat partitions.

Workspaces defined by a company’s unique “cultural touchstones or values,” as Orpilla says, convey a lot to prospective employees – much more than just slick furniture and pleasing aesthetics. O+A’s research into how a team works together, communicates, socializes, seeks out privacy and interacts informs the end result. “People are very savvy in selecting a company these days,” he says. “This is especially true of the newer generation of workers who really want to be part of something bigger. We explain how to convey that meaning through the environment. Everything is about the people.”

Poetic Interiors: Studio O+A Designs Workplaces Rich in Narrative

O+A’s Primo Orpilla takes the office to the next level by delving deep into work habits and employee happiness.

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