Startup culture became known for several things over the years: hoodies, ping pong, beer consumption and really awesome offices. Amazing offices became a perk of startup life, perhaps thanks to the litany of amenities at the Googleplex.
But even if you're not Google, you can foster a certain vibe and inspire your team with a creative, well-designed space. And the good news is, it doesn't have to cost a fortune. We spoke with 13 startups and got the scoop on their approach to design, where they stocked up on decor and what they love most about the space. After speaking with these companies, it's clear that the essentials for a startup office are: Writable walls, an open, lofty and well lit space, plush sofas for lounging, cleverly named meeting rooms, custom art, a homage to the city, DIY projects and of course, a kegerator.
Like the company itself, the Quirky office design is the vision of founder Ben Kaufman. Quirky PR Head Tiffany Markofsky describes the space as a "modern-day invention factory — Willy Wonka meets the Jetsons," and that couldn't be more true. When the elevator doors open, you're greeted by a receptionist at a desk that's a locker flipped on its side, with tchotchkes in various slots. Through the glass walls behind her, sits the design shop that houses Quirky's 3D printers (for prototyping), laser cutter, vacuum forming and skin cutting machines, and drills, saws and a paint booth.
"The design room is the first thing you see when you walk in to Quirky, and it's where all the magic happens," says Markofsky. "Even if you're not working in the shop, you're constantly passing it when getting to and from meetings. It's where all of the inventors' ideas become a real physical product." Having the design shop front-and-center — with the countdown clock on a nearby wall — drives the team to energetically "get shit done," and make invention accessible.
There are 140 Quirky teammates in the West Chelsea, New York, digs and the massive space is decorated with repurposed and reused objects from New York City schools, gymnasiums and public parks. Desks are made of bowling alley lanes, and a conference table is built upon pallets (in the appropriately named "Pallets" room). "We took these found objects and custom-made most of the furnishings," says Markofsky, adding that these DIY pieces are mixed with items from Moss and Restoration Hardware.
Soon the company will have even more space to decorate — they're adding on another 15,000 square feet for designers and electrical engineers.
Housed in Silicon Alley, Outbrain has an inspiring and creative, yet relaxed environment for its 115 employees. The crisp, white walls are peppered with bright colors, and cubicles rock a punchy cyan hue beneath brightly colored light fixtures. The centerpiece of the office is a colorful mural by Puerto Rican artist Sofia Maldonado, who's known for colorful, organic forms.
After work, the Outbrain office doubles as a venue for happy hours, meetups, and panels (in the kitchen), while the sofa areas inspire low-key "chill sessions."
Because Outbrain is based in New York, its conference rooms are inspired by something else definitively New York — Seinfeld — and each room has a central piece of modern artwork.
The office was designed by Nuphar Ben Hur Gur, an Outbrain employee who spearheaded the design project, and Thomas J Jensen, of jidk, who did the layout, selected furniture and developed the new kitchen.
When it comes to web design, the simpler the better — Squarespace carried that philosophy to its office, which is simple, minimal and clean. The space is mostly black and white, just like the brand logo, with 16-foot ceilings and glass walls covered in code and sketches. Each of the 131 employees works at a USM desk, while sitting in a Herman Miller Aeron chair.
The office is a place of inspiration, especially the library on the 5th floor that brims with books and magazines that cover topics from programming to design. The company's been in the SoHo space at 459 Broadway — above a yoga studio, to which the team has a free membership — since fall 2010. The office was once home to Devlin & Company, a men's clothing store founded in 1847, so one of Squarespace's templates, Devlin, pays homage to the space's roots.
Foursquare's digs sit on the 10th floor of a SoHo loft and resemble the quintessential startup office — airy and light-filled, with the brand's graphics and themes permeating the space. Employees sit at desks in a large bullpen that runs the length of the building, next to a handful of big windows. Next to the bullpen are themed meeting rooms named after Foursquare's various badges. Each meeting room has its own flavor and vibe, dictated by its namesake badge — Swarm has yellow wallpaper, Herbivore is green, Photogenic is stocked with antique cameras. Meeting rooms have glass walls and Idea Paint to spur collaborative thinking, and a TV in the back of the office is equipped with video chat, so the team can connect with fellow Foursquare teammates in other locations.
Twilio's 150-person team is based in San Francisco, in an office designed by architect Sarah Willmer and Twilio's in-house design team. The vibe is functional and professional, yet laid-back — the 40,000 square-foot space has more than 25 couches, an oversized kitchen, custom murals and a wet bar.
“We were lucky in that we were starting with a blank slate (the site was previously a textile factory), so we were able to design the perfect space for our needs,” says Natasha Whitledge, facilities manager. Twilio sourced furniture from CB2, Steelcase, West Elm, MScape, Novi Decor and Unica Home.
The space has more than 30 conference rooms, so the team came up with a few fun naming conventions — fake elements (Kryptonite, Unobtanium, Solonite), cocktails (.ie. Manhattan, Negroni, Old Fashioned), inventors (Ada Lovelace, Guglielmo Marconi, Grace Hopper), owls (Snowy, Barn, Great Horned) and San Francisco-based movies (Bullitt, Dirty Harry, Vertigo).
Chartbeat's Union Square pad are located in a former yoga studio. Building it out was a full-team effort — the admin, HR and brand teams picked furniture, while the design team created custom wall paintings, and the dev teams created data big boards on hanging screens.
While some startup spaces have uniform design throughout, Chartbeat's 51 employees get to choose their desk and chair style — they can select a standing desk, bosu ball seats, an oversized beanbag or even a farmers table. There are no offices, and everyone sits together in the bullpen, with CEO Tony Haile in the middle. But more often than not, Chartbeaters are up and about, working with one another to solve problems and iterate. Every surface is writable, whether it's a window or a glass wall, and magnet walls track product launches, meetings and user feedback so everyone's on the same page. And because Chartbeat is a real-time data company, the space is flanked with big screens that show customer data. "Our number one rule before building any feature, product, anything is, 'Look at the data,'" says Lauryn Bennett, Chartbeat's head of brand. "It's incredibly important for us to be surrounded by and living in an environment of data all the time."
Because startup life is fast-paced, the number one goal for Chartbeat's office design was to make sure the environment was collaborative, yet also respectful of individual needs. You can collaborate in a meeting room, snuggle an office puppy, disappear into the quiet library, lounge on the sofa, or play on the vinyl turntable. "We have a really diverse crew, and the tone in the office changes from boisterous tomfoolery to heads-down quiet focus in seconds, so we really needed to support the different working styles, levels and personalities from the very beginning," explains Bennett. To inspire their best work, meeting rooms are named after superhero lairs — Stark Tower, the Bat Cave and Wayne Manor, to name a few.
The space is decorated with items from Ikea, Target, Overstock, Crate and Barrel, CB2, West Elm and some local places, like Fishs Eddy, and of course, Etsy. There's also a quirky, giant blue shark head on the wall, an homage to confusion about the company's name — it's Chartbeat, not Sharkbeat!
7. Tasting Table
Tasting Table is an online destination for foodies, headquartered in a SoHo loft at 447 Broadway in New York City. The 6,000-square-foot space is "open, bright and energetic," with the 40-person team working in one contiguous space under four enormous skylights — there are no walls, cubes or individual offices. "Open plans make it easier for everyone to know what's happening across departments, and it keeps the team energy level high," says Samantha Bernstein, communications manager at Tasting Table.
Given that it's a food media company, Tasting Table has not one but two kitchens where the food department develops and tests the recipes that appear in Tasting Table, and the smells waft through the office's open layout.
Conference room tables are from CB2, chairs are from White on White, kitchen appliances are Jenn-Air, and desks, storage and cabinetry are from Ikea (but spruced up by a Brooklyn artist). The big splurge? Corbusier LC2 conference room sofas from Cassina and bartered USM Haller shelving from Germany. Tasting Table's friends at Stella Artois hooked them up with a kegerator — proof that an alcohol brand is a good friend to have.
(Bernstein says that during a high-growth period, they found few helpful recommendations about cost-effective build-out, and her team will field inquiries and send you a thorough list of products, as well as construction guys, electrician and plumbers, if you email Concierge@tastingtable.com.)
8. General Assembly
General Assembly is a global network of campuses that teach classes on business, technology and design. Their New York City headquarters is comprised of two neighboring spaces that were designed by General Assembly founders Jake Schwartz, Adam Pritzker, Matthew Brimer and Brad Hargreaves, along with GA Design Director Mimi O Chun and Andrea Steele, an independent architect. Furniture was designed by Alex Proba (senior designer) and Leilana Arita (independent designer).
GA is all about collaboration, and the space was developed to foster it. The open, light-filled space is filled with blackboard paint, whiteboards and cork walls to encourage hands-on learning and ideation. The walls resemble real-life Pinterest boards, and students pin sketches to the wall or draw on table-top dry-erase boards.
Because the space is used for classes, co-working, events and to house the GA team, it was important that the furniture be modular, so it can be adapted to whatever is happening that day. The team partnered with Vitra for Prouvé school chairs and the Bouroullec Brothers' Alcove Sofas and Joyn benching systems, and they tapped emerging designers for light fixtures and other pieces.
Betaworks is based in New York's Meatpacking District, and it houses around 60 people who work across several teams on things like Digg, Dots, Tapestry and Giphy. "We are definitely a creative company," says Lauren Piazza, operations manager at Betaworks. "You feel that vibe the second you walk in."
The Betaworks crew collaborated on the office's design, and they brought in a variety of cool and cheap furniture from Knoll, Ikea and West Elm, as well as random accents from local shops. Piazza's favorite item is the tardis for private phone calls, which is equipped with an iPad for Skype or FaceTime calls and was created during an office Hack Day.
Piazza describes the office as "comfortable, creative and collaborative,” and adds that office design is an ongoing process that's inspired by whatever the team is working on at that time.
Birchbox is a lifestyle company, and as such, its office is modeled after the "Birchbox Life." The space at 28th Street and Park Avenue South in Manhattan houses more than 100 Birchboxers, and the vibe is cheerful, inspiring and creative. Meeting rooms throughout the office are named after rooms in a home, like Gallery, Guest Room, Living Room and Den. Each room is decorating according to the name of the room and has a color associated with it, says Jessica Williams, Birchbox's creative director. The Den is red, with hand-painted wall illustrations of a fireplace and mantle, as well as 3D papier mache animal heads. The Gallery is a large white room that showcases Birchbox's Instagrams, and the Workout area is painted orange, and the area is adorned with hula hoops, weights, jump ropes and fun workout equipment for easy weekday workouts. The purple Living Room is shown above — it features comfy furniture and photos of customers, so it has more casual vibe. Birchbox partnered with Design 3, but they chose the decor, paint colors and room themes to make the space fun and modern, while channeling the bright and cheerful personality of Birchbox.
Furniture was sourced from Ikea, Allemuir, Steelcase and Gordon International. The reception area features work by Custom Mill, and and the cafe was done by FM Kelly.
"Our office décor is truly inspired by our brand and subscribers," says Williams. "The space was designed to surprise and delight, which we aim to do for our customers."
Last year, social discovery company Tagged expanded its San Francisco footprint to 40,000 square-foot digs. The space is equipped with a coffee bar, fully stocked kitchen (free lunch and dinner!), and an official zen room, where teammates can do midday yoga. The top floor is an open co-working space for startups and tech community events.
Dating site HowAboutWe is based in a former warehouse of the Grand Union Tea Company in DUMBO, Brooklyn. The space has an open foor plan that's permeated with natural light, and sofas are strewn about for small and large meetings alike. The walls house a handful of flatscreen TVs that show real-time metrics so each department can produce smart, data-driven work. The kitchen is fully-stocked with fruits and vegetables, sandwich supplies, salads, cereal, yogurt, candy, chips, trail mix, granola bars, peanut butter and more, so teammates can make a meal or have a snack without having to break from their work. On the beverage side, they have juice, water, soda and beer. A fresh batch of coffee is delivered every morning from Brooklyn Roasting Company — hot during the fall and winter, iced during spring and summer.
The open floor plan means the office can be transformed for game nights, taco bars, July 4th celebrations and the daily push-up and sit-up competitions.
You turn to Fab to add personality and spunk to your own life, so wouldn't you expect the Fab headquarters to be Fab'd out, too? Indeed they are. The 50,000 square foot West Village space spans two floors and packs in more color than a Crayola crayon box. The company's mission is to make its users smile with great design, and every nook and cranny of the office has something fun and quirky to ogle.
The office is filled with Fab products spanning all price points, but every employee gets the big office splurge — a Herman Miller chair. Though in a true "high and low" design approach, the desks are DIY'd with sawhorse legs and Ikea table tops.