Douglas House: a communal office that balances work and play / Design
Douglas House: a communal office that balances work and play

The Office Group and Note Design Studio create an avant-garde coworking space full of surprises.

The Office Group and Note Design Studio create an avant-garde coworking space full of surprises.

After the past year, flexible working patterns are predicted to be the new norm. Now, conversations about ‘the future of work’ aren’t just shaping what businesses and employees think the proverbial day at the office should look like but what the office environment should be. And coworking spaces are looking like a timely option.

Nowhere is this more obvious than at Douglas house, a non-conformist six-floor coworking space by The Office Group (TOG) in London’s Fitzrovia. Joining forces with Note Design Studio, the duo have radically redefined the potential of office design. “We wanted to create somewhere that suited a variety of workspace styles, that broke with the conformity often associated with the office, and which conveyed a sense of journey and discovery,” explained Nasim Koerting, Head of Design at TOG.

Breaking the monotony of Douglas House’s traditional and monotonous 1930s framework, Note Design, a Stockholm-based multidisciplinary practice reconceptualised the run-of-the-mill office with bold colours, natural materials and statement interventions like the curvilinear glass wall that weaves through the centre of it. 

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Its modern features focus on the connection between our surroundings, our emotions and our productivity; users can take advantage of a gym, a roof terrace, breakout spaces, a cafe and a plant-filled ‘oxygen’ room. “Of course, the building fulfils the practical needs of a modern workplace, but our focus has been on the emotional qualities of the space to stimulate the users’ minds with a lot of different experiences when they move through the building, taking a big step away from the conformity of most office spaces,” says Jesper Mellgren from Note Design Studio.

We reached out to the architects of Douglas House to pick their brains on the challenges of retrofitting a traditional, rigid blueprint with an energising and punchy personality.

What were your initial and final thoughts before and after the completion of the project? Did you have a eureka moment?
Johannes Karlström (JK): The initial thought was that the building had some qualities in the original structure that we could work with, but being a quite straightforward and functional building, it lacked a lot of the softer elements. For us, this was a great opportunity to embrace the freedom that it offered, to do something unique and set the tone exactly as we wanted it. It was built during the pandemic so we could not follow the building process as closely as we are used to, but when we finally saw it completed, it was amazing. 

How did you strike a balance between creating a space that was non-conformist but still inspired productivity?
JK: The building fulfils a lot of the needs for a modern workplace with a large variety of places to work in as well as a gym, café, a green terrace and beautiful, fully-equipped meeting rooms. But we were also keen to work with the sensibility of the space and not against it. This raised important questions for us during the process. How would users interact with the materials and structures? How would the colour palette shape the experience of the building, particularly since it is zoned into spaces for different work settings and moods? 

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How did you ensure synergy between the original architecture of the building and its transformation?
Jesper Mellgren (JM): The working title for this project was actually ‘break the grid’ - referring to the very strict, repetitive exterior of the building as well as the idea of a contemporary workplace. The exterior of the building might suggest very traditional businesses with monotonous working patterns – this old fashioned notion of work and workplace was something we wanted to move away from; it’s not relevant to where people want to be. We challenged this by creating a rich and fluid interior, far beyond what you might expect before entering. But once that first impression has settled, it becomes apparent too. how we worked with the architecture, developing a strong relationship with its structure and spatial qualities.

How did you weave in elements of holistic and eco-friendly design? Will emotion qualities be a greater consideration when designing offices for the future?
JK: Too many workplaces are designed like factories, with an attempt to squeeze more and more productivity out of the employees – but we’re humans, not machines. Douglas House is anything but a monotone office. There’s a diversity in function built throughout, with special attention given to people’s shifting needs. These change from person to person over time and by the specific work task that needs to be done. Sustainability was key too; for this one, we re-used the old wooden flooring as much as was possible, in combination with either natural materials or artificial materials that can be fully recycled. 

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What is your favourite design feature? 
Charlotte Ackemar (CA): We have a couple of favourites – it’s hard to choose. The curved glass wall that runs through the whole building is a major feature that brings a lot of personality. There’s also a custom ceiling light fixture that is just as smart and striking. The reception desk is quite grand and has a beautiful stained blue veneer that is exceptional. They all tie the space together in their own specific way, engaging the senses of the visitor on many different levels. A major project like this always comes down to the details.

Douglas House is the forward-thinking reconceptualization of an office that meets the needs of today’s freelancers, consultants and creatives. Travelling to London for work? Browse our properties for a design-led place to stay.

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