In some Nashville offices, space that works doesn’t feel like work

Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 2:40pm
By Ashley Akin, City Paper correspondent
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The Jarrard Horse Barn (Courtesy The Jarrard Horse Barn)


Office space. For most people, those words bring to mind weak coffee, beige cubicles, or — at best — an old joke about staplers and TPS reports.

But for some people in Nashville, office space is pretty incredible.

It is a place that oozes personality; a place where they want to come to work each day; a place that allows them to do what they do in a fun, comfortable, unique way that cultivates success.

For different companies, that means different things.

For Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock, that place is a converted horse barn in Maryland Farms in Brentwood that provides much needed calm in the fast-paced world of health care public relations.

“Our work can sometimes be stressful and high intensity,” says CEO David Jarrard.

“Our space is the opposite of that. Having a work environment that is calming and warm creates a nice balance for our team.”

For email marketing company Emma, a centralized, open conference room called the “Thunder Dome” sets the tone for their business. Their office also has a “Beer-Thirty Room,” complete with Kegerator and foosball table.

“[We wanted to ensure] that folks were not stuck in one spot of the office all day,” says COO Bo Spessard, “and we needed to be intentional about how folks ‘bumped into’ one another on a daily basis.”

“We know that those random interactions are the ones that can spark an idea or thought that could become a new way of doing something.”

For law firm Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz, the sweet spot is a multi-floor space in a downtown building that now bears the Baker Donelson name.

Pushing the boundaries of the lawyer stereotype, their reception area doubles as an art gallery and their event space is used for everything from Thursday morning breakfasts to hosting foreign dignitaries.

“A lot of law firm offices are cold or imposing,” says Scott Carey, managing shareholder of Baker Donelson’s Nashville office.

“People have this vision of dark wood paneling, and we wanted to go away from that and make it more of an inviting place.”

The City Paper recently caught up with Jarrard, Spessard, and Carey to find out how they made their spaces great and how those spaces make their businesses better.


Jarrard: The historical, comfortable classic

The Jarrard Horse Barn is a sleek, traditional space steeped in local history. While its essence is Southern elegance, its design is open and casual enough to make anyone feel at home.


Who designed your office?

David Garrard: Built in the 1930s, the Horse Barn at Maryland Farms was originally the centerpiece of a 500-acre farm. It’s located on Ward Circle, which was named after Maryland Farms founder Truman Ward. Ward owned WLAC radio in the 30s and 40s and named the farm after his wife, Mary. In its heyday, Maryland Farms was famous for its saddlebred and Tennessee walking horses.

In the early 1980s, James Edwards of E+H Architects turned the building from a true horse barn into office space. Since then, E+H has updated individual spaces in the building, and in 2007, our firm moved in.


What were you looking for as far as atmosphere?

Our work is very intense. We do crisis and campaign work for hospitals around the country. We needed an office that balances that high-energy work with a calm, warm and open environment.

We are also very collaborative and team oriented in our work. There are a variety of meeting spaces here for quick strategy sessions, and our offices are very open with lots of windows and glass doors. We are always able to see each other, which makes it very easy to engage.


What is your favorite feature?

Every office was originally a horse stall (insert joke here). There are also the spiral staircases and the natural light coming from the numerous windows and skylights. The running fountains also create a very calming environment, unlike what you would find in a traditional office park.

The layout and furnishings are also very welcoming, making our open spaces great for conversation or entertaining. We also have three patios with seating where we can celebrate great wins with our colleagues and clients. And some of our in-town clients even use our meeting rooms as retreat space to escape their offices for an hour or so.


What do you think is distinctly Southern about your office?

Only in the South could you say, “I work in a horse barn.” It’s certainly a conversation starter. It also harkens back to the day when Brentwood was the country. It’s really a reminder of the Southern roots of this town.


Emma: The unconventional, modern collaborative

At Emma, communication and movement are key. With input from literally every employee, Emma’s setup fosters planned “random” encounters that make it the funkiest, most collaborative space in Nashville.


Who designed your office?

Gilbert McLaughlin and Casella Architects.


What did you ask for?

We requested a modern, open work environment with lots of areas to collaborate for small teams and larger groups.

We created 10 design teams with all the people in the company and asked each team to come up with their ultimate design of the new office and present the designs to the company. Once we had all those designs, we worked with the architects to come up with a list of the most requested designs.


What are your favorite features?

The circular conference room in the middle of the building — [aka the] Thunder Dome — with glass viewing area conference rooms above on either side. The Thunder Dome has its interior wall covered with continual whiteboard.

[Another favorite is] the bistro area, which was designed for Emma’s use on a day-to-day basis but also designed for the occasional event or party. ... [You won’t find any] traditional “offices” throughout the whole space.

Jeff Casella, principal at Gilbert McLaughlin and Casella Architects, said the modern design of Emma’s offices was created by integrating personality and function.

“Whether the end goal is for a traditional or modern space to be realized ... it is vital for the designer and owner to realize the strengths of the building you are working with,” Casella said.

“The exposed brick, existing paint patterns, bowstring trusses and steel-framed windows of the Trolley Barns pointed our design team in the [right] direction. Exposed concrete floors and ductwork, painted steel, frameless glass panels and warm wood tones all supplemented and enhanced the strengths of the existing building in lieu of fighting them.”


What do people like most about it?

The juxtaposition of an older building [with an] industrial feel and the modern architecture (glass, steel and angular design). We designed the spaces for the three different types of work environments: quiet, sort-of-quiet and louder.


Is there anything quintessentially “Nashville” about your space?

The historical component of the actual buildings, as they were city-owned buildings where Nashville’s police and other public works departments cleaned and maintained their automobiles and trucks.


What is the key to successful office planning?

When we moved to the new building, we increased our space footprint by almost double. So we designed the space and the amenities — kitchen, lobby, bistro, game room, conference rooms — [so that] people “bump into” each other on a regular basis. We really do enjoy hanging out with each other and we know everyone has excellent ideas, but daily interactions can sometimes just be the small teams you work with.
We wanted to design that “bumping into” [factor for] everyone on a daily basis.


Baker Donelson: The sophisticated, southern view from the top

The 2010 redesign of the Baker Donelson offices married modern law and Southern tradition.

“In our reception area, we’ve got a repurposed farm table and a flag that was flown over the Capitol in honor of our veterans,” says Scott Carey.

“You get a sense of who we are as a law firm by looking at this wall.”


Who designed your office?

Scott Carey: Sorci & Swords Design was our architect; Carter Group did the construction; and Jo Ella McClellan was our decorator. We moved into the building in 2000 and underwent a full redesign in 2010, taking over Pinnacle Bank retail space.


What did you ask for?

The way the practice of law is now, we’re interacting a lot more with our clients. We use our reception area and our special events space frequently. We partnered with the Nashville Chamber of Commerce to host the new consul-general of Japan. During election season, we had a fundraiser for Gov. Haslam and hosted two presidential candidates: John Huntsman and Newt Gingrich.

We also wanted it to be a place that was conducive for our employees to work because we’re there a lot. And we were successful. Our office space is one of the reasons we are consistently named in the best places to work list.


What is your favorite feature?

We’ve tried to make our reception area reflect who we are: a Southern-based law firm representing national and international clients.

Interior designer Jo Ella McClellan, owner of Surroundings, says the redesign hinged on balancing history and modern efficiency.

“Incorporating pieces that are more unexpected in a commercial space helps create a more relaxed feel,” says McClellan. 

“We rescued a wonderful old refectory table from a workroom, and after some TLC from the artisans at Davis Cabinet Co., it sits front and center in their reception space.

“Also, using classics from a range of eras always adds interest. We used Florence Knoll side tables and Platner coffee tables, both of which are midcentury classics that work beautifully with the repurposed refectory table.

“By using classic pieces, we were able to hold on to the rich history of the firm.”


Is there anything particularly “Nashville” about your office?

All of the art is local.

[Currently on display are works by Joe Sorci, artist and husband of architect Cindy, who designed the Baker Donelson offices, and Jim Sherraden, curator at Hatch Show Print.]

Also, with the redesign, the building became known as the Baker Donelson building and the sign went up on top. I think has been really great for us.

We’re proud to be downtown and proud to be part of the Nashville skyline. Every time Monday Night Football or the ABC show Nashville airs, there we are. It’s a good feeling.