Bar-themed office space designed to retain young talent

When Google installed wacky slides into its US offices a decade ago, it marked a new era for interior design.

Jonathan Milner, joint MD at Aire Adaptical Design. 
Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe
Jonathan Milner, joint MD at Aire Adaptical Design. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

The technology giant inspired other companies, particularly those in the creative and digital industries, to come up with their own quirky offices to inspire their staff and attract the best talent.

Leeds-based packaging design agency Aire Adaptical Design is the latest company to join in the fun with the transformation of a derelict mill into a trendy, bar-themed workspace, which houses its 30-plus strong creative team.

Joint managing director Jonathan Milner set up the company, which designs packaging for Kelloggs, Quorn and Unilever products, last year and decided to create city centre offices with the wow factor.

Looking around for suitable premises, he came across a former bar on Dock Street, which had been derelict for four years.

“The history and character of the building instantly caught our eye,” he said. “We knew it would appeal to our creative designers whilst it’s prime and prestigious location in Dock Street and opportunity to drive the South Bank regeneration cemented our decision.”

With a £200,000 investment, Aire transformed the building, originally part of an 18th century paper mill, with the help of contractor John Walker of Leeds.

Central to the 2,800 sq ft space is a fully-equipped bar crafted by Seamless Industries, a company which usually makes luxury yacht interiors.

During the week it is used for regular tea breaks and preparing lunch. But come 5pm on Friday, the office desks on wheels are moved out of the way and the whole office is transformed into a readymade party venue.

Mr Milner said: “The building already had an entertainment licence for late night music when we got it because it was previously a venue for bands to play.

“We employ a lot of designers and creatives in their early 20s and creating a fun workplace is part of attracting and retaining that talent.”

Over a five-month period, the contractor stripped back the building to the original brick work, installing a huge new American oak wooden door and copper Victorian lamp to create a new entrance.

Using original materials, it created a feature wall and built luxury period-themed toilets.

“We wanted to create something special and thought ‘what can we do that is more memorable than our competitors?’” said Mr Milner. “We now have the best toilets in the industry. Everyone who sees them says ‘wow’.”

Whilst remaining traditional at heart, Aire also installed a myriad of the latest technology, including a CAT 6 network, dedicated high speed broadband with back up lines and a 4000 watt AV system, all of which run on 100 per cent renewable energy.

Mr Milner added: “Eighty five per cent of our business is export and we have a lot of international clients who visit, so this is the perfect location which balances a modern vibe whilst demonstrating the heritage of Leeds.

“We designed everything from scratch, whilst at all times remaining empathetic to the history of the building to offer a unique commercial space in the heart of the city.”

Providing an uplifting working environment is becoming increasingly important for forward-thinking companies.

According to the Architects Journal, these days, promoting wellbeing is something that designers of office buildings have to take seriously.

During feedback from a recent survey by the publication, one architect wrote: ‘In the near future wellbeing could be the new BREEAM, a necessary standard to meet instead of an optional add-on’, while another added: ‘The next few years will see an increasing obsolescence in buildings that don’t deliver environments that foster wellbeing for users.’

Mr Milner said: “All the commercial space on Dock Street is now full and it’s a great place to come and work. We have a very talented group of people and we have spent all this money because we want to keep them.”