Cultivating collaboration with artistic desks

Cross-departmental collaboration and open lines of communication are the keys to success for relentlessGENERATOR. Servicing the entertainment industry, and originating as an extension of Sony Music, GENERATOR is made up of creative-minded people looking for innovative ways to promote brands, like Daft Punk, Pitbull and Christina Aguilera (to name a few) to help them reach and interact with fans. Forward thinking and collaborative doesn’t mingle well with conventional and confined.

GENERATOR had the stereotypical corporate setup complete with mundane cubicles and blocked off offices when it was a part of the larger Sony umbrella. Conference rooms existed for meetings, but spontaneous brainstorms were a rarity. Awhile after splitting from the Sony Music label and becoming relentlessGENERATOR, the creative group got the green light to move to its own office. Daniel Frydman was excited about the opportunity to start fresh with the interior design.

A self-proclaimed spacial savant, Daniel checked out GENERATOR’s newly rented warehouse space and was inspired by the openness of the high ceilings and floor plan. He saw his chance to break out of a space filled with standard cubicles and office walls and seized it. Instead of building walls, Daniel planned on filling the office with well-designed furniture that spoke to the morals and vision of the company. “I wanted the office furniture to be appropriate for the brand,” said Daniel. “Any of those pre-built models are trying to shove us into some kind of a box and what we do is so much larger than that. I needed something that was really going to reflect our character and the kind of work that we do.” Custom furniture was his best option. 

With a broad concept in mind, Daniel turned to CustomMade to find the best Maker to create 65 desks to fill the converted warehouse space. He submitted a relatively vague project request and quickly heard back from several Makers inquiring about deadlines, requested materials and preferred style, to help further refine Daniel’s idea.

Chris Gorney of Second Life Studios responded to the public post that day touting the expertise of Mitch and Ryan, the skilled Makers in the three friends’ small Kansas City workshop. Chris knew it was a bigger order than anything Mitch and Ryan had built before, but believing in his friends’ abilities and the power of, “it’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission,” he sent ideas along to Daniel who loved Chris’s enthusiasm, confidence and creativity.

The Second Life Studios workshop filled with birch wood for the desks.

Chris approached Mitch and Ryan with the opportunity. It was pretty straightforward: build 65 desks, source an artist for tabletop graffiti, and get the finished pieces to New York City, all in six weeks. Mitch and Ryan’s gut reaction was that they didn’t have the capacity to get the job done, but given Daniel’s excitement and Chris’s encouragement, they decided to take on the challenge and commit whole-heartedly to the project.

Mitch and Ryan immediately set to work and hand-selected the best American-made birch for the tabletops and steel for the leg bases. Multiple layers of birch were pressed together to achieve the desired thickness before securing all sides and edges with more birch to make the table appear to be one piece of solid wood. Sanding and staining came next; a careful process that required several applications to get the desired pop of wood grain.

Artist Dan Reneau drew the design on the taped tabletops before cutting it out with a razor.

Meanwhile, Chris reached out to a local Kansas City abstract artist, Dan Reneau, to see if he could incorporate artwork on the tops of the tables. Keeping the idea of cultivated collaboration in mind, Dan came up with a simple never-ending design. He covered every inch of the built and stained tables, including the sides, with two-inch wide tape and then went in with a razor to meticulously cut out the design. Black paint was used to fill in the cut-out areas, and after it was dry the rest of the tape was removed to reveal the stained wood and final artwork. Artistically created in a square mass, each table was numbered to ensure a cohesive design after the desks were transported and set up in the new office space in New York City.

By this time, the Makers at Second Life Studios were logging 14-19 hour workdays, committed to meeting their deadline. Mitch and Ryan smoothed out the painted tables, then poured and spread an epoxy finish by hand to make the tops workspace appropriate. After the tables were covered, a blowtorch flame was applied to even out the final look. The steel bases were deeply welded together to ensure durability and each was oiled and dried to prevent rusting. 

What started as an unthinkable task, finished with a 10-hour day of loading 65 pieces of art onto a shipping truck. The three buddies then made their way to the Big Apple to see the project through and help with installation right on the dot of the six-week deadline. 

Ryan, Mitch and Chris at the relentlessGENERATOR office in New York City.

The desks ended up impressing Daniel and the GENERATOR team even more than anticipated. Although Daniel approved every step along the way and received progress photos, seeing the final pieces in the office setting blew him away. The elegant simplicity of the lines went so far as to inspire other design elements in the office. Artwork in the entrance area, the shelves that line the office walls, and even a painted tiger in one of the conference rooms all play on the design that artist Dan Reneau came up with and painted on the constructed tables. 

One of the biggest changes the team encountered after moving to the new office was the end of confined cubicles and offices and the beginning of a completely open space. Daniel thinks the effect has been enormous. “People hear what [others] are saying and what they’re working on,” said Daniel. “When something big is going to release, it gets loud, people crowd around, the open desks have become big in terms of communication. It’s not forced between teams, people are just organically talking between them.” 

In the context of the office, the subtleties of the design show that the desks are connected, but an onlooker or office visitor wouldn’t necessarily mentally connect the lines throughout the entire space. The larger idea is something ingrained in the culture of the company: every person is a contributor in a bigger team and everyone rises and falls together. 

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