A long-time admirer of their transcendent mindset, UXUS the multidisciplinary design company first caught my eye across a crowded London high street whilst on a retail recce, happening upon their store design for House of Kipling the label which designs chic, feminine and fashionable bags for women. A girl whose head is easily turned by quirky detailing and razor-sharp visual merchandising, I was hooked by the fun and colourful interior design, story-telling approach and manifestations of HoK’s well-travelled monkey mascot, reinforcing the retailer’s brand ethos of playful, accessible and a rejection of the mundane.
The sublime interiors designed for the Merus Winery in California, US were next – discovered, not (sadly) on any vineyard recce but in a write-up for a prestigious publication. With their wines made from carefully chosen fruit in very small quantities, Merus set about positioning itself as a premium luxury product. With an unsparing attention to detail and inspired level of excellence, UXUS have fused refined heritage with modern sophistication and mixed styles and periods together, creating an exciting and unforgettable experience for the winery’s visitors.
And for those others of us who frequent the highstreet, we are very likely to have come across UXUS’ work without realising, in the current store set ups for H & M Home. A key initiative for the fashion retailer, the concept was rolled out in their existing 1500 locations throughout the globe. With clean lines, layering and bold statements where the product is boss, eye-catching POS and a ‘help yourself” handling of the product information points have delivered the most commercial of VM principles.
With well-known brands including Nike, Coca-Cola, Selfridges, Rijksmuseum, Heineken, Even Hotels and Nokia (amongst many others) on the UXUS client list, there are countless examples available which show their poetic sense of design style, aligned thinking and practised commerciality at work (and play!), no doubt reflected in their clients’ increased footfalls, bottom lines and repeat projects with the design agency.
So how does UXUS’ creative eye and story-telling approach transfer across the identity and style of its own workspaces? With offices in the US and The Netherlands, this is what I went looking for when visiting their european HQ in Amsterdam.
Located on Keizergracht in the ‘Astoria’, one of the most famous Jugenstil buildings in the city, the Dutch office of UXUS occupies two refurbished uppermost floors and clock tower. The building, having been designed by acclaimed Dutch architects Gerrit van Arkel and H.H. Baanders and built 1904-05, has in more recent times been awarded National Monument status.
Having arrived for my rendezvous and stepping in off the street through the original solid timber entrance doors, I was met by the breathtaking scale and filmset-like glamour of the foyer and staircase, which could very easily be the inspiration for the lair of some gothic villain in a graphic novel!
Climbing the grey coloured marble staircase to the first floor, make a point of catching the charmingly slow elevator, another original feature, to the upper floors that are home to UXUS. Upon this gentile mode of arrival, you are met, greeted and led through to the reception and seating area. It’s here that you have to stop yourself audibly proclaiming a “wow”, “awesome” or the like, the first of many instances during this visit; on this occasion triggered by the breathtaking view outside (surely one of the best of the city and canals), followed very quickly by your attention being grabbed by the scene inside. Here the long tall, open-planned space, 3/4-height glazing (with more of ‘that’ view), wall art, soft neutral hues and buzzy creatives at their workstations, help to make you feel like you have walked into what is to become a journey through the inner workings of a team of design superheroes out to save the world from aesthetic ruin (and from the aforementioned gothic baddie!).
I was taken on the walkabout by Zoey Tsopela, UXUS’ Marketing and PR, an American who has made the Dutch city her home. Her pride and enthusiasm for the design company and very enviable working environment, fizzes as we meander around, through, in, out, up and down the different spaces, layered and treated to ‘unfold’ and tell a story through carefully created sightlines, eye-catching focal points, optical illusions, in-house art installations and quirky product design, all whilst being very aware that this is a finely tuned and functioning workspace. Zoey explains how the partners had “…wanted to create an environment that encourages creativity, but also brings Brand Poetry
… (UXUS’) design philosophy, to life. Brand Poetry is inspired by the artistic principle of the ‘in-between, or the tension of opposing forces… (deciding) to recreate this poetic quality in (the) workspace, because it evokes multiple readings and interpretations, so each time you come to the office, it feels new.”
Left to wander on my own, I filled my boots with UXUS’ curated narratives; the ‘floating’ solid door inset into the full height glass wall to the Partners’ office; the swathes of floor-to-ceiling curtaining that soften and hide storage areas; the industrial elevator engine, fully restored and encased in a glass ‘box’ as if an exhibition piece in a museum, dividing resting and meeting areas; the rows of state-of-the-art, desk-top tech which mean serious business; the chapel-like apse in the clock tower that has been repurposed into a stunning meeting room. The juxtaposition of transparency/solidity, soft/sharp, old/new creates an ever-changing space that stimulates the imagination.
I have to say that I wasn’t surprised to see that UXUS ‘practise what they preach’ to their clients, within their own workspace. The environment is relaxed with a feeling of openness and sharing that encourages creativity, productivity and a sense of being part of a mindset that both works and plays together to gain the desired outcomes; the table football in the staff room was ‘fired up’ several times whilst there (beating, hands down, the squishy rubber ‘stress ball’ I used to have on my desk!) and the laid-back vibes of The Jam, David Bowie, Lana Del Rey and The Who playing softly from the sound system; all helping establish UXUS as a true champion of the (design) world and this designer’s designer!