The staff made me the first Found Local and ran one of the first stories about Workshop. I wanted to get involved with the site so badly that I became a writer. They’ve supported my creative efforts — and those of a whole cast of local characters — so when I learned that The Bold Italic moved into a new office space, I knew I had to be the one to design it.
I had previously designed my own businesses (Workshop and Still Life, a vintage store from a few years ago), as well as Shotwell and Gangs of San Francisco, and a few apartments for friends, but doing a large-scale commercial space was new territory. I decided this would be the dream project where I’d use dozens of ideas from my personal inspiration files, and where everything in the office would be handmade. I would also source all the supplies, materials, and help locally. The Bold Italic is, after all, all about the local.
After we agreed that I’d take on the project, I couldn't stop designing in my head. Having a good space inspires people and – well, let’s admit it – gets their minds off the long hours they’re working. In a city of start-ups that offer employees ice cream socials and creative hideaways, I wanted The Bold Italic to play ball with the big boys and have an office that reflected the personality of the staff.
The goal: Take DIY interior design to a new level, building and making 80 percent of the items for the space by hand. Despite the fact that the headquarters encompass three floors and nine rooms, I would avoid the prefabricated crap and keep to a budget while upcycling and bringing in my creative crushes for specific design challenges (more on that in Part Two of this story, which runs in Vol. 3 of The Bold Italic’s magazine).
The team: Myself; Nick Sass, my buddy and carpenter, who would help build all the crazy stuff in my head; and Amanda Durbin, my sidekick, armed with paintbrushes galore. Toss in a dozen or so friends, who I bribed with pizza, Thai takeout, beers, and office chair races.
The plan: I set out to create a number of distinct areas, including a playful events space, a work area with nooks and dividers between stations, an interesting conference room, a colorful lounge, a mezzanine that transformed the storage and heating duct room into a rec room, and, of course, a game room where the staff could slaughter one another in lunchtime foosball battles.
This is how things came together:
For the events space, which was by far the largest area, we needed lots of seating, storage, and pieces that could be utilized for a variety of purposes. Everything had to be easily moved or wheeled elsewhere. A bar was also needed, because every space needs one – hello.
We covered the main wall with 100 pieces of vintage hardwood flooring strips, then painted “San Francisco: The city that knows how” on it using a projector as our stencil. We popped some 1930s movie seats (Craigslist score) in front of the lettering and voilà, we had a showpiece for the room.
One of my favorite projects in this room involved riffing on the idea of world clocks. We localized the concept by creating a wall of “neighborhood times” using $2 Ikea clocks. (You’ll notice the Haight is stuck on 4:20, the Fidi is fast, and the Mission is a little slow.)
We also turned large beams into small benches with the help of a chainsaw (Nick's are the perfect ones, mine might be the slightly crooked ones) and painted the tops so they all look dipped.
Finally, we decided to play off The Bold Italic writing theme by creating a wall of typewriters, which we’d grabbed off eBay. We colored them with sign painters’ paint so they look like candy-coated M&M's (please don’t eat them).
With my design OCD kicking in, I couldn't very well leave a room white and empty. So I accented the game room with plenty of color – including a vintage foosball table.
We added eye candy around the periphery too, with a recycled wooden bull’s-eye and a library-style table we created from a hacked Ikea bar, recycled wood, and some spray painted desk lamps.
Offices can be seriously boring. I worked in a normal, cubicle-laden one once, and lasted only a few months before I went bananas. I wanted to encourage creativity and brainstorming and generally make The Bold Italic staff excited to be there. Luckily, their office area has gorgeous brick walls and a long, open layout that gets peeps mingling.
The wall design came from me taking the office supply concept literally. I decided I would incorporate an insane amount of pencils, clipboards, and typewriters into the space. The wall hosts over 4,000 pencils in three gradient colors. Yes, you heard me. I glued those 4,000 puppies in place during one of my all-nighters with the aid of extreme caffeine and danceable oldies music. I placed two classic Eames chairs in front and a table we made from table-saw legs and a hand-built cube. I also added a typewriter and a sharpener – to keep all the pencils scared straight, and to be a smart-ass. The simple, textured look that came out of that repetition was a total win. It still gives me a design stiffy.
Maybe I watched too many episodes of That '70s Show, but there’s something to that '70s basement look. It makes me think of stacks of vinyl, a beat-up record player, an epic couch, and the shag rug that your friends could lie on while watching old horror movies and eating popcorn. The odd little room between floors at The Bold Italic screamed for such a rec room.
For the mezzanine area, I morphed that '70s vibe into a sexier, more grown-up style complete with slab wood tables, a shag rug, monotone colors, trippy pillows, and a handmade early modern style credenza. I’m pretty sure that if someone from the office can’t be found upstairs, chances are they're napping here, with a vintage Creedence LP playing.
Just to get your brain around the scope of the project, it took about seven weeks of work, which was mainly focused on building furniture. It also took about 18 trips to the hardware store, eight full truckloads of wood from Building REsources, half a dozen days of hair metal blaring, and another half dozen listening to the Bell Biv DeVoe station on Pandora. We burned out five power tools and churned through three work aprons. I learned how to use a chainsaw, won zero of those chair races, and drank about 60 Blue Bottle coffees.
Although I'm still fishing out a few splinters, the office redesign is now complete. As I pack up my boom box, tools, and leftover wood, I feel a little sad. I’ll miss this place – and I wonder if the staff will miss my Sabbath blaring from the garage. [Editor’s note: Yes, we do. Very much so.]
Interior design should be fun, whether it involves your office, house, or a tiny studio apartment. Don't be afraid to take risks, work with crazy colors, and use objects you love in the space.
Tips to becoming your own interior designer: