The Wow Factor

From the Orange County Register

Issue Date: 01/10/2001



From the outside, Gary Bastien's Tustin office looks like hundreds of others in office parks throughout the country, its name and street number the only identification on its nondescript white exterior.

Even the contemporary design of Bastien and Associates Inc.'s entryway feels familiar, with its white walls, black-trimmed cherry reception desk and its beige leather and chrome chairs.

But then, to the left, comes a hint that this may not be your average workplace: two 14-foot tall Egyptian statues stand like sentries against the wall. Step into the hallway and you move from 21st-century contemporary into 12th-century Gothic. Carved stonelike columns soar 18 feet to a vaulted ceiling. A navy and burgundy Persian-style carpet runner carries your eye 60 feet to the end of the hallway, where two 6-foot-tall griffin statues guard the rear exit. If it seems like you've suddenly stepped into the hallway of "The Haunting," you're right.

Bastien, an architect who specializes in film-studio work, bought a set from the 1999 DreamWorks movie and designed his offices around it. He's one of an increasing number of business owners who want to make a statement with their office design. "The Haunting" set definitely accomplishes that. "We watch people come in and their jaws drop open," says Bastien. "It gets our clients' attention."

But it goes beyond being a marketing tool - people work here. Bastien says the Gothic motif works surprisingly well in a modern office. Through archways to the right off the main hallway are modern workspaces complete with computers, telephones and all the usual office accoutrements. Across the hall, workstations sit under the vaulted ceiling of "Theo's room" from the movie. "It's definitely different from being in an office building - particularly at night when you're leaving and the lights are turned down," says Stephen Placido, design director.

The effect didn't come cheap. Bastien only paid $1 for the set, but moving it, doing the engineering to meet fire and earthquake standards, re-erecting it and supplementing the original lighting came to $40 a square foot for the 7,000-square-foot office. Debra Taylor, a designer at the Newport Beach Gensler design firm, says some clients are looking for an edgier kind of "wow!" That's the direction she took with Chip Shafer when he moved his neoBrands Inc. into an old brick warehouse in Costa Mesa. "I wanted a feeling of innovation - 'Let's think in a different way,'" says Shafer, whose company integrates public relations and marketing for Internet companies. The result hits you when you walk in the door, greeted by a lifesize 35-foot-long billboard of a woman in a business suit carrying a sign, "Collaborate or die." There are no enclosed personal offices, so departments are defined by their design, punctuated with orange and purple. A chain-link fence and razor wire surround the accounting office, referred to as "The Cage."

An inverted cone with translucent fiberglass walls houses the "Thinkubator" conference room. For amusement, you can run down the 140-foot orange steel catwalk suspended from the 24-foot open ceiling and slide down a 30-foot fireman's pole. But most work is done in "The Café," a living-room like area with overstuffed chairs and work tables next to a coffee bar, which lends itself to conversation and collaboration. Shafer says employees and clients alike love it.

Offices, however, need not be Gothic or edgy to make a statement. Home and family were words that came to mind to Steve Herron, owner of the appraisal firm S.S. Herron and Associates Inc., when he designed his new offices in Tustin, just a few doors down from Bastien's office. Herron created an open floor plan that includes an overstuffed sofa and chairs, a long maple library table illuminated with green library lamps, and a wrought-iron patio table and chairs. The walls and fixtures are in warm shades of red, ocher and forest green. Looming above it all is a water tower - a town landmark Herron remembers from his Kansas childhood. Herron wanted informal areas that invited people to gather and work outside their offices. "This place definitely enhances the team spirit, as we often pull together to meet important deadlines," he says. It may be too homey.

Herron recently hosted an appraisal industry talk and mixer at the offices. "It was scheduled from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., but people didn't leave until 10," he says.

Contact Milbourn at (714) 796-3646