Specializing in database technology, CO-Sol is a Japanese company that provides its clientele with 24-hour support service. To create its new satellite office in Toronto, it turned to the local design studio UUfie, which transformed a compact suite in a massive mixed-use complex in the city’s north end for the firm. Taking advantage of the time difference between Toronto and Asia, CO-Sol’s seven employees handle nighttime duty for Japan out of the space. It’s the type of quirky cult-film premise — a tiny band of transplanted computer whizzes (plus one Canadian) quietly at work in a quasi-suburban residential and commercial building — that sparks the imagination. And the interior, replete with bold gestures and moody details, more than lives up to the cinematic promise.
Eiri Ota — who runs Uufie, an interdisciplinary outfit, with Irene Gardpoit — set the scene from the beginning. Having assisted CO-Sol in finding the 92.9-square-metre office space, he regards what other prospective tenants might have seen as a drawback — the view outside its wraparound windows is partially obscured by a green roof — as a decided plus. “There’s a lot of natural sunlight and they’re facing the rooftop, which is a bit of a barrier, but also really nice,” says the architect, noting that the space is both open and private.
Ota delights in other details. Upon traversing the first security barrier — a glass-doored alcove — he points out the canted metal supports that hold the security camera and keypad on a small desk. These types of devices, he says, are usually affixed to walls, but that felt cold and intimidating; in his view, placing them on the desk was much friendlier.
Further inside, this sense of warmth continues. The narrow semi-corridor that leads into the office proper, for instance, is lined on one side with custom-crafted millwork clad in a stained white oak veneer. Carved into the millwork, which features elegantly recessed vertical pulls accessing storage space behind it, is a backlit arched alcove with a bench at its base. Opposite this wall is an all-black kitchen, which at first appears like a good way to conceal dirty dishes, although Ota — who revels in eccentric design decisions — notes that the opposite is true: Everything that’s placed on the counter appears in sharp relief.
Just beyond this entrance area, a glass wall encloses a meeting room that’s painted a deep teal and contains a live-edge wood table. (“We chose a very Canadian table,” jokes Ota.) Object/Interface’s plant-filled Babylon pendant lights, painted black, illuminate the space. As counter-intuitive as this dark palette might seem for such a small room, it’s very effective. “It feels like you’re in the shadow of a tree,” Ota says. And despite the architectural panorama on display outside the window wall, it also creates a sense of intimacy and compression — which is instantly countered upon entering the adjoining main workspace.
Here, the expansive open layout features white furnishings, white flooring (cushiony Division9 cork planks, which Ota likens to “paper underfoot”) and a massive cross-shaped overhead light fixture painted — what else? — white. “I liked the idea of just ignoring all the ductwork and overriding it with a giant X,” he says of the fixture, which was built out of MDF and is powered by LED strips.
The only colour accent — and it’s a striking one — is a gradient wallcovering from Calico that morph from green at the top to silvery at the bottom. “It’s a way,” Ota explains, “to connect the outside to the inside.” The main furnishings — the low-slung storage that hugs the perimeter of the room, the desking with its mirror-finish aluminum base that gives it the feel of a sculpture — are also all custom. Even the bronze-tinted smoked-glass wall that conceals the computer servers was detailed with much consideration: To vent the overheated nook, the designers cut out a small rectangle at the bottom of the glazed enclosure.
“No matter how small a project, we always do 100 per cent custom,” says Ota, whose instincts have proven spot on. Under UUfie’s direction, a series of compact rooms in an otherwise sprawling complex have coalesced into a perfectly executed — and perfectly idiosyncratic — hub of activity.
For a Japanese tech firm’s satellite in Toronto, local studio Uufie conceives an idiosyncratic yet highly functional office replete with bold details.