Hanging wicker swing chairs, a meditation room, vertical gardens and dog beds beneath open-concept desks blur the lines between home and headquarters at Etsy’s 200,000-square-foot office space in New York.
The online marketplace for approximately 2.4 million artists and makers is based in a 1926 industrial building in Brooklyn that once housed Jehovah’s Witness printing presses and still has caution tape on the concrete floors.
It’s not your father’s cubicle farm.
John Mulling, principal and design director of Gensler, the global architecture, design and planning firm responsible for renovating the workspace in 2016, says a lot of commercial clients are looking for an atmosphere “more like someone’s home, because let’s face it, everyone is spending a lot more time in the office.”
We paid Etsy a visit to find secrets we could steal for our own homes.
Start with a plan
“Vision is really discovering and defining,” Mulling says. “It’s about asking, ‘How do you want to feel in the space, how do you want the space to function and what are the most important things for you in the space?’ “
“In a vision session, we might show a client [groupings] of imagery to help them visualize what resonates with them and their space,” he says. “We start by helping them identify, ‘This feels like us,’ or, ‘We would never do this.’ . . . Then, those images are used to define what the look and feel should be.”
At home: Create a road map to help guide design decisions and prevent becoming overwhelmed. When you’re staring at a wall of paint colors, a room full of area rugs or shelves full of table lamps, it’s easy to get distracted. Setting a vision will help you stay true to your goals. “Once you have a good idea of the intention for the space,” Mulling says, “you can draw inspiration from various channels — social media, for example — to create a mood board that aligns with your aesthetic and vision.”
A mood board could be digital (Pinterest) or analog (magazine cutouts and fabric swatches on poster board). Attach images of colors, patterns and materials that you’re drawn to; graphic images or words that illustrate how you want to feel in the space (meditative, playful, productive, energized); and pictures of dream furniture to help you hunt for something similar.
Handmade pieces have soul and go a long way toward making a space feel original. More than half of the Etsy office’s furniture and decor was handmade and sourced from micro-manufacturers.
“They wanted to celebrate what they do,” Mulling says. “They borrowed a lot from makers around Brooklyn to show all that beautiful artwork, that sculpture and those art installations.”
At home: Shop local, and support artists and makers you find online or at craft events. Create your own art (don’t be so self-conscious about your work!), or display the art and crafts of friends and family.
“They had a rule,” says Mulling, referring to one of Etsy’s guiding pillars of design, “that wherever you stood, you needed to be able to see a plant or see greenery, and it makes a difference in how you experience your day.”
Biophilic design is the idea of mimicking nature. The company brought in a consultant to select plants and create interior and exterior gardens. It installed a 3,500-gallon rooftop cistern to collect rainwater used for plant irrigation.
Natural materials, colors, textures and imperfections of organic design also create a sense of being surrounded by nature.
At home: Houseplants, natural color palettes (soft blues, greens, earth tones), natural fabrics and organic materials (natural woods, stone, jute, metal, clay) will help bring the outside in. It’s not quite forest bathing, but it’s a start.
Sentimental icons from Etsy’s former headquarters found new callings in the updated office space. Quilted logo panels stitched by employees now welcome team members to the “green library,” and architectural felted wool screens made by Etsy employee Trevor Dickson that once graced the front lobby were cut into sections and used as room dividers. Wall segments decorated by employees were removed, framed and hung for posterity.
“We wanted to make sure we preserved those memories and translated them in a way that fits this space,” says Etsy trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson.
At home: Isom Johnson, who is also a judge on the NBC crafting show “Making It,” suggests finding ways to incorporate special items from family members. “There’s always a way to fit it in,” she says. “For me, I framed my great-aunt’s recipes, and they now hang in my kitchen. It might not be exactly how she would have done it, but it works for my personal style.” Other ideas: using a family quilt as wall decor, displaying childhood art projects under glass cloches, creating a gallery wall of vintage family photographs or updating unused vintage china with sassy press-on decals and hanging the plates.
Be a label reader
More than 1,500 materials used in the Etsy renovation were checked to make sure they were free from Red List materials, a list of “worst-in-class” chemicals found in building and design products compiled by the International Living Future Institute. The list includes chemicals that the organization says pollute the environment and could harm construction or factory workers; among them are asbestos, cadmium, PVC, halogenated flame retardants and more.
“We did a lot of solid-surface countertops or wood cabinetry,” Mulling says. “Things like concrete and wood, wool, metal, iron and steel were kind of the mainstays.”
James Connelly, vice president of projects and strategic growth at International Living Future Institute, was instrumental in guiding Etsy’s vetting process for safe building materials. He also founded the Declare labeling program aimed at informing consumers about toxicity in the products they are buying. Connelly’s dream is that all building products and furnishing materials will one day carry such labels, akin to the product labels on food. For the time being, Declare labels are completely voluntary. “There’s nearly a thousand products in the Declare database,” Connelly says, “and it’s growing quickly.”
At home: Connelly says the free database featuring Declare-labeled products contains materials used mostly in new builds and renovations; however, some materials also apply to those refreshing a space. Think: paint, sealants, carpet, flooring or insulation. “Even if you can’t find the Declare label, you can ask a furnishing company, a mattress company if their products are Red List-free,” Connelly says, “and that advocacy really helps to transform and change the market.”
Repurposing old items is a hallmark of crafting culture, and, not surprisingly, Etsy embraced it. Recycled materials and found objects give a space soul — and are sustainable and thrifty to boot.
Mulling and his team used reclaimed wood from the building’s old water tower to build stairs and feature walls. Desks and dining tables, decorated and personalized by employees at the previous office, found new life as decorative wall art.
At home: “There are many ways to preserve and refresh items that have either been passed down or salvaged from old homes,” Isom Johnson says. “Old window panels can be revived with a fresh coat of paint, a quick addition of cork backing and turned into an organizer board. . . . Old doors can be quickly transformed into coffee tables with the addition of sturdy legs and a glass top, or your childhood bike rims can be transformed into whimsical wreaths and updated with seasonal baubles.”
Think before you toss; imperfections can lend character and charm. Check out online sites (Pinterest, Etsy, Houzz), magazines, craft fairs, antique markets and DIY shows for how-to inspiration.
Create dedicated spaces
Carving out spaces for quiet time and personal interests creates a holistic environment. At Etsy, a meditation/yoga room offers dedicated space for quiet reflection, and an entire floor is a craft area (naturally) — complete with 3-D printers, craft supplies, screen printers, work stations and more.
At home: For daily meditation, create a nook or corner space using a pile of soft cushions and plants for added greenery. For creatives and makers, Isom Johnson says, “a small workspace can be built in a large closet. Remove the doors, add a desk for sewing or crafting and deck out the back wall with a peg board for additional storage and inspirational art.”
For readers, “grab an unused, sun-drenched corner of any room,” Isom Johnson says, “and transform it with an oversized chair, a throw, side table and lamp.”