An Office That’s The Architectural Equivalent Of A Gray Flannel Suit

Not as depressing as it sounds!

You have to wonder what the employees of Tribal DDB, a digital marketing agency, thought when they first saw their new office in Amsterdam. It has gray walls, gray ceilings, gray lamps, gray desk dividers, gray stools, gray tables, a gray staircase — gray everything. Sure, it’s got some glimpses of white here and there. But all in all, they might as well have put some buttons on it and called it Gregory Peck. They must’ve been horrified.


Except that the office, by the interior-design whizzes over at i29, is actually pretty clever. It managed to solve design problems both specific to the building and general to contemporary workplaces.

Tribal DDB wanted an open-plan office. To do that, i29 had to gut the existing space, which damaged the ceiling (where walls were ripped out) and left other visible scars. Worse still, there was one feature the designers simply couldn’t get rid of no matter what: a big, round staircase that stuck out like a sore thumb.

So they decided to patch the eyesores with gray felt. And they didn’t stop at the ceilings and staircase. As you can see in our slideshow, they proceeded to slap felt onto just about everything but the toilet seat.

The reason: Felt is an excellent sound dampener. As much as Tribal DDB wanted a nice, airy workplace, it also wanted employees to be able concentrate in relative peace. (Noise is a huge issue in open-plan offices and can adversely affect workers’ productivity and even their health.) Covering virtually every surface in fabric was the best way to ensure privacy short of throwing up walls.

Can’t tell you why the designers selected gray. But it looks awfully sharp. And it’s practical, to boot. Imagine if they’d sprung for yellow or red or some sort of dazzle camouflage pattern. It’d completely overpower the space and probably give everyone a headache, or worse. Gray, on the other hand, is neutral without being bland. You’d never mistake it for the inside of your insurance agent’s office (though you might mistake it for his suit).

[Images courtesy of i29]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.