“Finance” usually conjures images of staid blue suits, brass plaques, and hallways lined with nondescript carpet. But when wealth-management firm Cambridge Associates moved from Menlo Park, California, to San Francisco, Amy Callahan, the firm’s managing director of operations, sought out San Francisco–based design studio O+A to “push the limits of a traditional workplace.”
O+A design studio director Mindi Weichman spearheaded the project, helping Cambridge Associates select a stripped-bare circular space with wide-sweeping views of San Francisco. “The footprint was definitely challenging,” she said. “At first, they thought they wanted private offices for all the principals and senior associates, with everyone else in an open space. But the initial planning for this showed that the perimeter would become very inefficient. We suggested workstations with large barriers so that there would be secluded zones and privacy, but no wasted space.”
From there, open desks custom designed by Knoll were provided for the rest of the employees, and other spaces were created for varying levels of privacy—from the self-explanatory conference and quiet rooms, to the library (communal, but not social) and then the kitchen area, which serves as a place to hang out and have informal gatherings.
This design strategy required toeing the line between traditional and modern office typologies. For example, keeping the concrete floors “took a bit of convincing,” Weichman said, but it created a harmonious interplay with more classic components. “[Cambridge Associates] wanted to tell a story of permanence and timelessness—and just as steel and glass serve as symbols for those values in architecture, they also convey cost and quality in the professional world.” Walnut was used extensively throughout, lending old-school warmth to the space, and a limestone wall in the reception area is polished, but not traditional.
While these client-facing areas remain conservative, with a neutral color palette of burgundy, navy, and olive, components such as a sculptural horsehair fixture by Apparatus and tessellated walnut walls in the conference rooms keep things interesting. Local art consultant Laura Grigsby contributed architectural, abstract paintings, and photographs for additional texture and color.
Employee-only areas are more playful. In the kitchen, the ceiling is peeled back to display the building’s infrastructure—just a dash of industrial aesthetic. “They wanted to show that they have an edgy side, but in a more refined way,” said Weichman. “The design is relative to whatever is happening to the space—the kitchen is a casual, louder, and more entertaining space versus the conference room, where things are clean and more buttoned up.” In the hallway, a string of weighted pendulum lights by Roll & Hill also add levity. “They can be moved, but I think the employees are scared to touch them,” laughed Weichman.
Ultimately, O+A presents a fresh approach to the now-ubiquitous open-office model replete with “standard start-up amenities.” Though there is a distinct lack of Ping-Pong tables and kegerators, the main pillars of the modern workplace—flexible seating, natural light, opportunities for socialization and relaxation—are thoughtfully well executed.