With COVID-19 cases somewhat under control, in some places, and some kind of “reopening” started or restarted (again, that means different things in different places), the national conversation about What Office Work Will Look Like Now is in overdrive. Think pieces broach the subject from multiple angles--including nostalgia and regret—while businesses ponder when to go back, whether to go back, how much remote work is too much, and whether to close down again after going back prematurely. A subset of these musings is the reimagining-the-workspace treatise, which can get grandiose in its approach to an opportunity for architectural reinvention. (And let’s not even get into the whole coworking thing—not yet, anyway.)
Meanwhile, this summer, locally based Michael Hsu Office of Architecture was in the process of actually redesigning the showroom and workspace for Four Hands, which has grown from its Austin beginnings to a global designer and wholesaler of style-focused home furniture. While the primary intention behind the new space is clearly not only about creating a workplace that enhances workers’ ability to stay healthy during pandemic times, the choices made in the design process certainly contribute to that goal.
The fact that Four Hands is in the residential furniture business also guided the design. The result is a repurposed warehouse divided into three spaces imagined as homes, taking advantage of the roomy structure while scaling down to a feel that is the opposite of industrial.
"We started with the question, 'what if we built a house inside a warehouse?' With 24-foot high ceilings, and little access to daylight, how can we imbue this space with beauty, a human scale and sensibility?,” said Michael Hsu Office of Architecture founder and principal Michael Hsu. “Ultimately we landed on a house-like central axis, which defines the expansive workplace. It will house meetings, private offices, and get-away rooms. The "house" gets sliced by two light flooding paseos, bringing essential daylight and views to even the most far removed desks."
The designers made use of existing natural light as well as creating new, large punctures in the warehouse walls to allow it to filter down to the floors. Large skylights and potted trees distinguish the central common area, and light, neutral material colors throughout help make the large, airy spaces more intimate—while at the same time providing air circulation and the ability to maintain healthy distances as needed.
Non-employees can experience the unifying, calming effects of the Hsu Office’s design in the local Four Hands showroom, which recently underwent a major renovation led by the firm. The fact that Austin is the only place residents who are not professional designers can purchase Four Hands decor and furniture should make the new showroom even more irresistible to design mavens of all kinds.