With daylight pouring through tall windows onto planes of warm brown walnut, the offices of FiftyThree, Inc., in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, exude a suave calm. On her iPad, Laura González Fierro, founder of the design firm +ADD, flips through the handsomely calligraphic sketches she used to design the space—digital drawings with an appealingly human quality rarely found in the soulless photo-realistic world of computer renderings. In a neat turnaround of services, the sketches were produced with FiftyThree, Inc. products. Architects and designers are an important market for FiftyThree’s Pencil, the electronic stylus she used, and Paper, the tablet app that converts the stylus strokes to electronic drawings. Since the company was founded in 2011, its carefully crafted identity came to maturity at pretty much the same time as the 6,600-square-foot space FiftyThree inhabits.
The company name refers to the distance in centimeters that “links the head, heart, and arm,” explains Georg Petschnigg, one of FiftyThree’s co-founders—the part of the body “where creativity happens.” One model of the stylus, which looks like an “analog” flat charcoal pencil, comes in solid walnut, matching the wood extensively used in FiftyThree’s office interior. Its brand-mate is called Graphite, and its extruded-aluminum elegance inspired the blackened-steel custom workbenches and framing for glass-enclosed meeting rooms.
This congruence is intentional. FiftyThree aspires to keep its brand image tightly focused in a very cluttered marketplace. “We have visualized a system of values and we express them in product design and marketing, as well as with this space,” Petschnigg says.
Refining a raw space
González Fierro, whose firm has offices in Brooklyn, New York, and Mexico City, came to the attention of FiftyThree’s founders through restaurants she had designed, such as Hecho en Dumbo, where her hand is firm but subtle. “Rather than start with a standard office design,” Petschnigg explains, “we liked the idea of a restaurant as inspiration.”
The company is only the second office tenant at 60 Hudson Street, a hulking 1931 art deco building that once housed telecommunications switchgear. González Fierro didn’t embrace the machine-space rawness but tamed it, so that its best features—
15-foot-high ceilings, views, and ample daylight supplied by massive windows—could come forward. She attached acoustical panels to ceilings for sound absorption, and disciplined the layout of suspended light fixtures, sprinkler pipes, and conduits to be unobtrusive.
About two thirds of the office is devoted to long, adjustable-height, walnut-tabletop workbenches designed by González Fierro and fabricated by Brooklyn-based Mario Metal and Robert C. Phelps from RCP Builders. A blackened-steel pedestal running down the center supports the walnut work surfaces. Steel cubbies perch above the desktops, offering a degree of visual privacy and concealing wiring while leaving it accessible. The workbenches accommodate 24 employees, but the office is designed to grow to 36 people.
Spaces for gathering and focusing
The density of the space encourages collaboration and idea sharing, which is essential when pulling together teams of diverse skills to bring products of such refinement to market. The FiftyThree staff is composed of about half designers and half engineers, so product designers, software engineers, graphic designers, and people skilled in manufacturing can choose from among several kinds of space to support a variety of work styles.
The relatively dense bench space is broken up by a raised area, which has built-in bookshelves in its base, used to encourage instant gatherings. Because the headquarters staff in New York meets with a Seattle office frequently via videoconference, the main meeting room has glass walls and a glass ceiling, felt panels for acoustics, a big-screen monitor, and dropped pendant fixtures to light a wide whiteboard. Staff members have the option to draw curtains for privacy.
Outside the conference room, a casual lounge space faces a long, marble-topped table that fronts a kitchen—essential when deadlines provoke stress and long hours. Its clean lines speak the language of unpretentious conviviality that González Fierro has refined in cafes.
“The new space has been transformative in so many ways for us,” Petschnigg says. “We went from a sixth-floor walk-up that felt scrappy and temporary to an inviting space that’s built to last in a historic building.” Building on the success of Pencil and Paper, the company will next roll out an “online service where we will bring ideas together and focus on collaboration. This space grounds our ideals and makes them physical and real.”
- Architect: +ADD
- Client: FiftyThree, Inc.
- Where: New York
- What: 6,600 square feeton one floor
- Cost/sf: $275
Key Design Highlights
- Walnut wood is used throughout the office, echoing a wood stylus product designed by the company.
- Custom workbenches made of wood and steel encourage collaboration but are designed to conceal clutter.
- A raised plinth planted with trees provides a central gathering place for team members.
- A glassed-in conference room is acoustically treated to function well during frequent videoconferencing sessions.