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Rethinking Office Design

by Missy Sheehan + photos by Chris Jackson

Office Design

Creating a happier environment can boost morale and encourage creativity and productivity at work.

As shown by satirical comic strip Dilbert and movies like “Office Space,” jokes about the drudgery of working in a cubicle farm abound in pop culture. There’s some truth behind the humor, though, as research has shown that the less satisfied you are with your work environment, the more likely you are to be dissatisfied with your job. According to a 2010 study published in the journal Psychological Science, being happier at work can actually enhance creative problem solving and flexible, careful thinking.

So what’s the key to being happy in your work environment? The right combination of design and function works wonders, says Nicole Ingram, owner of Hagerstown-based Stacy Nicole Interior Designs & Furnishings, Inc. “Your environment is what you become,” she says. “For example, you can’t be creative if your atmosphere isn’t conducive to creativity.”

Around Washington and Frederick counties, many employers are taking this reasoning into account and designing their offices accordingly. Here’s a peek inside three inspiring work spaces.

Worx Graphic Design, 2 Public Square, Suite 205, Hagerstown

Centrally located downtown, Worx Graphic Design’s contemporary and colorful studio complements the company’s unique, creative culture. “We like pushing the envelope and doing things a bit more edgy,” says Laura Wallace, creative director. The bright lime green and teal walls match the company’s branding materials. The office is “very approachable and conversational, so you feel comfortable, like you’re in a place you can be yourself,” Laura says.

The office’s open layout gives Laura and her three employees plenty of room for collaboration. Most of the company’s team meetings take place on the green couch Laura found unexpectedly at Value City. “It was love at first sight,” she says. As the setting for Worx Graphic Design’s Green Couch Project, which invites entrepreneurs to share their stories of following their dreams, the couch has a special place in their hearts, Laura says. “Creativity is a group effort, so the green couch is the place in our studio where ideas come to life,” she adds.

Kassie Sease, junior graphic designer, says the studio makes her happy and productive. “The natural light and bright colors just make my eyes open a little wider,” she says. “They make my brain have little sparks of creativity and inspiration.”

Flying Dog Brewery, 4607 Wedgewood Blvd., Frederick

Flying Dog Brewery, internationally known for its tasty craft brews and the creepy caricatures on its packaging, has office spaces to match the company’s unique culture. The vibe is “contemporary meets chaos,” says Erin Weston, director of communications. The brewery maintains a balance between production areas, office spaces and a taproom, gift shop and patio area that are open to the public during tours and events.

The brewery’s conference room features large-scale murals of works by Ralph Steadman — the brand’s signature label artist — that were recreated by local artists. “I was sitting in the conference room one day starting at bare walls and I didn’t have to squint too hard to be able to picture how cool it would be to have Ralph’s art on the walls,” says Flying Dog Brewery CEO Jim Caruso.

Creativity plays a key role in the mood at the brewery. “We want the work area to inspire creativity as well as synergies with each other,” says Jim, whose only other design advice for the office spaces was “anything but beige.” Staff members are encouraged to personalize their individual workspaces with elements that reflect who they are, Erin says. “But most of us are so enamored by our label artist, Ralph Steadman, that his often sick-and-twisted art tends to dominate,” she adds.

Tiger’s Eye Benefits Consulting, 147 W. Washington St., Hagerstown

Nestled in a beautifully restored 111-year-old house in downtown Hagerstown, Tiger’s Eye Benefits Consulting offers a cozy, comfortable environment for owner Ted Reeder, his wife, Sandy, and eight employees. The historic, gothic revival-style building is located on what was known a century ago as “Doctor’s Row,” where several physicians operated medical practices out of their homes.

With repointed masonry and brick on the exterior, the interior of the building features gorgeous dark wood paneling — walnut, Ted thinks — and oak floors throughout. The three-level building’s antique lead-glass windows let in plenty of natural light, which Ted says plays a major role in inspiring productivity. “I think there’s a lot to be said about natural light in terms of people’s moods and attitudes,” he says. “You don’t get that feeling that you’re trapped in here — the high ceilings and lots of windows give you a real feeling of openness.”

For the detailed work Ted’s staff accountants are engaged in, the building’s individual offices, which were converted from bedrooms, offer quiet space that helps minimize interruptions. “They’re engaged in high-concentration work,” Ted says. “So it’s great for them to have their own relatively isolated space.”

With tons of other intricate details — including original Lincrusta wall coverings, a custom Moravian tiled fireplace and a gas lamp hanging outside the front door — the 7,500-square-foot space is a hit with employees. “I like that there’s so much personality here,” says Betty Markle, administrative assistant for Tiger’s Eye. “And the surroundings are very comfortable.”