TMC client Studio O+A featured in the San Francisco Business Times

Studio O+A was recently featured in the San Francisco Business Times as the go-to architect for dozens of hot tech companies. Studio O+A prides themselves on crafting distinctive interiors to reflect a company’s personality and mission.

Studio O+A worked with TMC Financing in the summer of 2013 and funded their loan with the SBA in August of 2013. With the help of an SBA loan they were able to open a second location creating and retaining more than 35 jobs.

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Studio O+A: Office culture by design
by Mary Ann Azevedo

In 1990 Primo Orpilla and Verda Alexander had just founded Studio O+A in Fremont. The design firm’s base was largely tech-oriented and interiors were on the simple side with lots of cubicles.

“We were young and took on anything we could” Alexander recalled. “We did clean rooms and labs and helped build cubicles.”

“Design is an opportunity to show what their company is about. Right now it’s about creating a soul a personality for an office space” says Verda Alexander above with partner and husband Primo Orpilla.

The husband and wife-team made their way to downtown San Francisco in 1997 and have been there since. Nestled in the heart of SoMa at 950 Howard St. Studio O+A is now one of the hottest names in the Bay Area office interior design world. The 25-person firm slowly built and matured its practice and its extensive client list includes startups such as Facebook Open Table and Zazzle as well as established titans like Samsung Intuit and Cisco Systems.

In 2008 Studio O+A landed what was to be one of its highest-profile projects yet: designing the Palo Alto headquarters of a little old startup called Facebook Inc.

“By the time we landed Facebook we’d been in business for almost 20 years with a lot of experience under our belt” Orpilla said. “It was at the point if we could get in the door it wasn’t hard to convince people.”

Describing the period as a “pivotal time in interior” Orpilla said Studio O+A was conscious of the fact they were in the midst of a recession and that Facebook was a new company and its culture was still emerging. From the beginning it was clear that it was important not to over-design.

“We wanted to allow them to put their stamp on it. It became very much about them and in general that’s something we adhere to — it’s always about the client not us” Orpilla said.

The project was a success and being attached to Facebook’s first headquarters space in Palo Alto no doubt boosted Studio O+A’s profile in a big way.

“It essentially put us on the map” Alexander said.

From there work exploded and the design firm has been in serious demand since.

No cookie cutter design

The ability to design modern clean functional yet comfortable spaces draws companies to Studio O+A. But besides serious design chops Studio O+A has developed a reputation for taking the time to dive into a client’s culture. The firm believes that no two companies are alike and as such no two offices should be.

“We do our research and make sure that research is woven into the process” Alexander said. “Design is an opportunity to show what their company is about. Right now it’s about creating a soul a personality for an office space and that soul is linked to the corporate values of a company.”

For example with online reservation startup San Francisco-based Open Table Studio O+A designed a big mockup kitchen in the main lobby to show off the company’s food-centric mission.

Offices have evolved into more democratic space with much less of hierarchal structure and executives and management blended with staff. Gone are the cube farms replaced by relaxed yet functional work environments.

“These days — because technology allows you to roam — you can work anywhere and there is a need for variety” Orpilla said. “The workplace of the past was very siloed and very linear but now people are working on couches in a hallway in the kitchen or in a conference room — not just one place.”

One thing for sure noted Alexander Studio O+A is not about following trends.

“We’d like to think our clients are more sophisticated” she said.

Orpilla agreed. “This DIY culture is driving aesthetics. We’re looking to introduce a lot more comfort and more familiarity. We’re not looking for sources from one place. By design things are beginning to look more eclectic.”

Small budgets small spaces

In the Bay Area where commercial real estate prices are among the highest in the nation many companies are also seeking very efficiently designed space.

Overall as spaces become more collaborative and the individual workplace shrinks Alexander believes it will be interesting to see just “how small that space gets” in the workplace of the future.

Studio O+A takes it as a challenge to work with smaller budgets and interiors.

“We think it’s a great challenge to work with less” Alexander said. “We focus on key areas such as kitchens and lobbies and put the dollars there.”

At the same time it’s a priority to make areas comfortable for employees — especially in a competitive hiring environment.

“The interiors of a space can help with that” Orpilla said. “We know that is important especially if square footage is small. Ancillary spaces — such as cabanas — need to be more special. Employers need to be OK with employees playing pingpong at 10 a.m.”

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