Mixing Work and Pleasure

A Manhattan design firm’s new office ensures employee happiness with domestic touches.

Comfortable, uncluttered, and cubicle-free—the Soho office of design firm Eyeball NYC hardly looks like a workplace at all. There’s a living room in the back, where a pair of sofas and a scattering of molded-plastic Eames chairs flank a flat-screen TV; a coffee bar-style counter in the center that conceals printers and a refrigerator; and on two walls, enlarged prints of Justine Kurland’s photographs of nudes in eerie utopian landscapes. With an office this nice, why go home?

This, of course, is precisely the point. Eyeball NYC’s advertising work for clients like American Express and Best Buy demands long hours of its creative staff, and the small office—completed last October—is intended to soften that intense commitment. “I want them to have a place that is comfortable so that when they’re working long hours it’s not so offensive,” says Hyejin Hwang, who designed the space and shepherded its six-month transformation from a neglected storage dump to an inviting interior.

But the workplace is as functional as it is comfortable. An open arrangement of desks facilitates informal collaboration, and two private offices double as impromptu conference rooms. Their walls also break up the 2,000-square-foot space, carving out nooks for a small waiting area at the entrance and the lounge area at the back, which can be quickly converted into an in-house photo studio with green screens and rolls of seamless paper that glide down from the ceiling. Everywhere you look there are similarly thoughtful features: desk dividers conceal wires behind nifty coatracks; table legs are capped with stainless steel to withstand mop water (the cleaning staff makes twice-daily rounds to keep the place spotless); in the bathrooms toilet-paper rolls are neatly stored in recessed wall slots.

All of these details are the result of Hwang’s near obsessive involvement in the process. Serving as a hybrid designer-architect-contractor, she not only designed the desks and bookshelves but also scoured area lumberyards for the wood. To ensure a quiet and efficient cooling system she studied ductwork and collaborated with the air-conditioning installers. She even grouted the bathroom tile herself. “She’s a perfectionist,” says Limore Shur, creative director and owner of Eyeball NYC (and Hwang’s boyfriend). “When she commits to a project, she works twenty-four hours a day.”

Hwang is already parlaying her experience into her biggest project yet, a 10,000-square-foot office for Freestyle Collective, one of Eyeball NYC’s competitors. While she is looking forward to the challenge, the 34-year-old remains fond of modest spaces, where she can focus on the small elements that she hopes will improve people’s day-to-day lives. “I really want to do a Laundromat or a deli,” Hwang says. “That would be my dream.”

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