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photography by JASPER SANIDAD

It’s not news that tech startups and companies who bring innovative products to the marketplace (hey, Yelp!) send their employees to work in buildings that reflect the company mission, usually resulting in cooler than cool work spaces… But when we saw the Yelp sales offices, located at 55 Hawthorne in San Francisco, California, we were blown away. Designed by Studio O+A, an SF-based studio who states their “…central idea is that every client has a story and that a work environment is a great vehicle for telling it”, did just that for Yelp when they concepted and created four unique floors that were each influenced by the design and culture of major Yelp marketplaces. Read on to learn about the inspiration behind the design, the thought processes that lead to the incredible amount of detail you will see below, and much more from Michelle Richter, Senior Designer at O+A.

(Pst, O+A also designed office space in another Yelp building back in 2012. You don’t want to miss that either.)

I UNDERSTAND THERE WAS A SPECIFIC FOCUS ON INCORPORATING DESIGN FROM CITIES AND MARKETS WHERE YELP HAS A LARGE PRESENCE. HOW DID THIS IDEA COME ABOUT? The overarching goal was to develop a vertical campus that did not feel like a radical departure, yet spoke specifically to the culture of their Sales arm. Our focus turned to global marketplaces as a means to influence each floor, further promoting movement within the building. Function within our spatial layout may be familiar but experientially, no two spaces are the same.

CAN YOU SPEAK A BIT ON EACH SPACE (ISTANBUL, TOKYO, LONDON, AND AMSTERDAM-INSPIRED)? As we tailored our research for each marketplace, we focused on balancing two key principles for the region. This strategy was used as a tool to hold ourselves accountable for the overall concept throughout various design decisions. It was important to consistently filter our ideas back through these principles to avoid overt references. To us, the Istanbul Grand Bazaar was ‘Textured, but Simple.’ Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market was ‘Minimal, but Crafted.’ Spitalfields Market in London was ‘Weathered, but Elegant.’ Amsterdam’s Blomenmarkt was ‘Poppy, but Clean.’

I’M PARTICULARLY INTERESTED IN THE BLUE TWO-TONED WALL. WHAT INSPIRED YOUR TEAM TO LEAVE THE LINE UNDEFINED? This idea came about as a way to resolve the height transition of the perimeter window assembly. The undefined quality aligns well as a subtle nod to many of the precedent images we had collected from Istanbul. A nice texture that doesn’t feel too precious!

THE FLOORS ALL HAVE VERY DISTINCTIVE DETAILS—THE TILE IN THE KITCHEN, THE POLKA DOT AND SEASHELL-LOOKING PAINTED PATTERNS, AND OF COURSE, THE AMSTERDAM-INSPIRED DESIGN THAT SPANS ACROSS WALLS AND FLOORS. WHAT INSPIRED ALL OF THESE DETAILS? Each of the patterns are a direct reflection of the marketplace chosen as the primary influence. Abstractions of woven textiles, architectural details, ceramics, streetwear, color in landscape, etc. reflect cultural associations discovered within these regions. The furniture collections, textures and mood of each space are intended to visually communicate this story.

THE LIGHTING FIXTURES AND CEILING HANGINGS ARE ALSO AMAZING. FOR READERS AT HOME, HOW DO YOU RECOMMEND BALANCING BOLD LIGHT FIXTURES WITH OTHER DECOR? I tend to find that one element takes center stage and all other decisions should lend a complimentary backdrop. For example, as we were planning the canopies we knew they would be a dramatic gesture commanding the attention and setting up a particular state of mind. Fixture selections all around disappear from your first impression. Where people are gathering at an island or communal table, it’s nice to drop a beautifully crafted fixture or series as these instances are the perfect place to celebrate an artisanal touch. A bit of jewelry is a great way to start up conversation.

This space was inspired by London’s Spitalfields Market!

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PIECE IN THE OFFICE? My favorite piece in this project is a large-scale collaboration table locally fabricated by a custom millwork shop. Our design balances three commonly recognized materials, layered to represent a modern interpretation of Japanese joinery. There is such a refined beauty in the simple nature of this piece. The execution was also of fantastic quality.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THIS DESIGN PROJECT? Developing the environmental graphics package! Our team had a fantastic vibe jamming on the pairing of palettes and patterns. We studied scale and contrast in the printed context as well as spatial relationships. Each region was built on a palette of four Pantones. The wallpaper surrounding conference room door and glazing assemblies were conceptualized as storefronts. To offer variety at the face of these rooms, we played with the inverse of our palette across three patterns per floor. A few simple rules added great drama (at low cost) for each of these regions.

WHAT ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE SPACE OR ROOM? Wow tough question! Narrowing down to one specific space is challenging. I think I would recognize the coffee bar as one of my favorites. This space is the heart of Yelp’s social vibe! Here their barista’s curate a rotating selection of the Bay Area’s finest roasters and employees are drawn to this space regularly throughout the day. I am thrilled that we were able to design a floating volume with lightness. To do so, a great amount of focus was placed on coordinating the logistical infrastructure from the floor below. People are able to flow around the entire structure which helps alleviate congestion in queuing and their overall experience.

This Amsterdam inspired space is a nod to Dutch artist Piet Mondrian and also reflects how the Dutch tulips fields look from the air!

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY OF THIS DESIGN PROCESS? Detailing. I love to geek out on the smallest of details and coordination. Each in their own way they tell the story and without that level of attention, these spaces would not be nearly as compelling.

Follow along with Studio O+A’s team and design process onInstagram and Twitter and learn more about the 55 Hawthorne Yelp office space at O+A.