A few years ago, it would have been impossible to predict that Casper, a startup with a single product, would launch an entire industry of mattresses ordered sight unseen online and become a global sleep powerhouse. It was inevitable that the company would outgrow the house where it was brainstorming the next breakthrough. That its new prototyping space, Casper Labs, is now based in a former industrial laundry service in San Francisco’s Mission District is an apt metaphor for the city’s tech-driven transformation.

The company tapped hometown design firm Spiegel Aihara Workshop (SAW), led by principals Dan Spiegel and Megumi Aihara, to convert the warehouse space into its R&D headquarters. SAW’s design for the 11,500-square-foot, two-story office attests to the demands of an industrial workspace where mattresses and heavy prototypes are tested and hauled around. But it is also filled with nods to the company’s association with pillowy softness.

The architects achieved this with an unlikely material—corrugated steel in a range of perforated profiles that are meticulously layered to read like fabric. “With a rough industrial material, it was about finding ways to give it a textile nature,” explained principal Dan Spiegel. “Once we had that in play, we could experiment with transparency.”

Shop and project spaces are arranged to provide a continuous flow between design and prototyping. Projects are displayed on the custom magnetic pin-up boards designed by SAW in each room, which are outfitted with maple top project tables by Bench-Tek and Steelcase’s Think 3D Knit Back chairs.

Shop and project spaces are arranged to provide a continuous flow between design and prototyping. Projects are displayed on the custom magnetic pin-up boards designed by SAW in each room, which are outfitted with maple top project tables by Bench-Tek and Steelcase’s Think 3D Knit Back chairs. (Bruce Damonte)

On the ground floor, the white, powder-coated steel unravels at different heights, wrapping the metal shop, a testing lab, and a wood shop with rounded corners that reference the company’s iconic mattress. The opaque surface fades to a translucent screen as it rises above eye level. In other areas, the steel walls mask storage and service areas through a one-way transparency, admitting natural light without allowing views in. This play between opacity and transparency is further demonstrated in the entry area, where the Casper logo glows behind a corrugated surface. All it takes is the flick of a light switch for the letters, along with all the other signage in the space, to disappear. “We like the mystery that set up,” said Spiegel. “Even though there’s a lot of what ended up being opaque surfaces, you could begin to imagine that all of them had something going on just behind that skin.”

With much of the program left open-ended for collaboration, the main work areas feature doorless openings lined in oiled steel plate that echo the steel columns that came with the space. The custom entryway desk continues the motif of rounded corners and transparency but incorporates a warm wood framing that takes its cue from the wood joists in the ceiling, with the whole piece sliding easily out of the way to access storage beyond it.

The Pillow Cloud by SAW incorporates Casper’s own pillowcases and floats above the main common space, softening sound and light for all-hands meetings or break-out groups. A custom sliding door, also made out of perforated steel, masks industrial shelving and storage areas while still offering a hint of what lies beyond.

The Pillow Cloud by SAW incorporates Casper’s own pillowcases and floats above the main common space, softening sound and light for all-hands meetings or break-out groups. A custom sliding door, also made out of perforated steel, masks industrial shelving and storage areas while still offering a hint of what lies beyond. (Courtesy SAW)

Another design touch that highlights the tension between heavy and light, the industrial and the domestic, hovers above the common area for all-hands meetings. There, SAW’s custom lighting fixture floats like a geometric cloud composed of 117 Casper pillowcases folded and twisted onto a welded, tubed steel frame. It is details like these that elevate the lab beyond a typical industrial facility and gesture at the space’s raison d’être: a good night’s sleep.

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