An image of a daycare center with blue walls and a mural with a sign that says brella
Brella Playa Vista. Courtesy Brella

Brella Brings a Tech-Savvy Model to the Design of Childcare Centers

The company matches social-emotional experiences with design intention in three locations throughout Los Angeles.      

As an architect and a parent, Darien Williams has a strong sense of how the typical physical experience of childcare centers can be vastly improved. Williams, a SCI-Arc graduate whose résumé includes positions at SOM and OMA, partnered with marketing executive Melanie Wolff to launch Brella, childcare centers that blend an unique business model and design approach through an app-enabled booking process.

“We value the power of environment and design,” Williams explains. “Especially in these moments that can be kind of high anxiety for both child and parent, there was so much opportunity to enhance that through design and make it more comfortable.” More often than not, a childcare facility “feels like hospital—super clinical, unfriendly, sterile feeling—or it’s just overly gimmicky, over-saturated, and makes me anxious physically being in that space,” she observes.

Brella’s first location for children ages three months through preschool opened in 2019 in a new build mixed-use development in the Playa Vista section of west Los Angeles. Brella’s second location is in the final stages in another mixed-use swatch of Hollywood developed by the CIM Group, with neighbors in adapted structures that include the Jeffrey Deitch Gallery and Gigi’s restaurant. A third outpost in Pasadena is in the works for this summer.

an image of a hall in a daycare center with colorful mural on wall and arched entryway
Brella Playa Vista. Courtesy Brella

Leasing 6,000 to 8,000-square foot spaces located in high-traffic, mixed-use urban settings is an intentional component of Brella’s strategy, given that childcare “is sort of the elephant in the room,” Williams says. “Thinking about live, work, and play—childcare is such an anchor to all of those things for families. It should be more visible and have a placemaking presence.” Rather than being tucked away on a suburban street or on an anonymous thoroughfare, Brella locations are part of a neighborhood fabric along with  cafés, grocery stores, boutiques, and offices.

Williams and Wolff collaborated with L.A.-based design and branding firm Project M Plus to establish a visual identity, upon which Williams and her team developed the architectural and interior design schemes. (The vibe is more akin to what one might associate with popular direct-to-consumer brands rather than daycare.) Williams describes the palette as “focusing and grounding” with deep blues, light lilacs, and peachy tones. “We wanted the space to feel rich and colorful but not in an overwhelming, over-stimulating way.” She also maximized natural lighting wherever possible.

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an image of the interior of a daycare center
Brella Playa Vista. Brella Courtesy Brealla

Brella offers a flexible model and on-demand booking through its proprietary technology and an app, which helps accommodate full-time clients and families who need less frequent care.

A vaulted ceiling, for example, can provide an organic sense of transition and comfort. Classrooms contain seven learning zones “to encourage different modes of play and engagement” which are differentiated through architectural and design features like lighting, volumes, varying ceiling planes, and interactive wall surfaces. Different sensory needs are supported, too. Materials and furnishings are a mix of off-the-shelf and customized (but not too bespoke.) Certain details will need “to get reproduced in a different market,” given that Brella plans to expand and operate at scale while keeping the brand and design experience consistent.

As an architect, Williams gained a clearer understanding of the challenges of reconciling the building code with the strict requirements of operating a fully licensed childcare and early child education business in the state of California. (Spoiler alert: they don’t always align.) “You get it going through the process—why childcare centers look like hospitals,” Williams says. “It’s not very exciting, but it is not out of reach to go one step further and design from there, and get creative with your millwork and your space planning so that it doesn’t feel so prescribed.”

an image of two women smiling in front of a mural
Brella Founders Darien Williams and Melanie Wolff

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