The pandemic has undeniably changed the way we work and live. The professional environment is operating under a new set of standards: school norms have changed, healthcare models are shifting, some offices are on the verge of being immaterial. Our professional environments must shift as well in order to stay relevant and productive, and at Frost-Barber we are leading by example! As designers of professional spaces, we saw an opportunity to start with our own Showroom renovation in order to lead our customers through the necessary changes that will be meaningful in their own workplaces.
In its 75+ year history, the Frost-Barber Showroom has never undergone a renovation and revamp quite like this one. In this blogpost, John Toups and Celie Webre, both Interior Designers at Frost-Barber, talk about the huge undertaking of designing their new Showroom, which came to life earlier this year, and how the changes helped shift the culture of the workplace they’ve called home for a combined 49 years.
Q&A with John Toups, VP of Design, and Celie Webre, Interior Designer
This Showroom renovation was quite a large undertaking. What was the goal and vision of this project?
Celie: When Doug [Jehle, owner and CEO of Frost-Barber] first proposed this to the team our intent was to create a fresh new look for Frost-Barber and introduce new ways to work in this new world. And the project definitely grew as we started to imagine the possibilities!
John: This renovation was all about reflecting the way our workstyle has changed since COVID. Prior to the renovation, we were tethered to our desks, and now we can work in many different spaces according to our needs for the day. It was also important that the space be inspiring not only for us to work in, but for our clients and other design professionals as well. We wanted to celebrate good design and great products that are moving us into the future of work.
You’ve both been a part of the Frost-Barber team for decades. You’ve probably seen the Showroom interior change multiple times over the years; was there anything different about this renovation?
Celie: I’ve been a part of Frost-Barber for 18 years and this has been the largest change our showroom has gone through. In the past, we would choose new products to have a well-rounded selection of furniture in the showroom without always stopping to consider the story of the showroom as a whole or how we work as a team. This time we made the effort to research each area, re-imagine how we could use our space, incorporate what was existing and then see what new products would make the most impact for our team and customers.
John: This renovation was very different. It involved not only furniture, but building changes, HVAC, lighting, and Architectural Products. We combined both new and existing products to create completely fresh spaces with new floorplans, lighting, biophilia and more! It reflects our way of working, #WorkBetter!
Being that this has been your work home for a long time, was there an emotional aspect of this project for you?
Celie: Honestly, I had no real attachment to the furniture or spaces. I have more of an emotional connection with my team. I was ready for the change….out with the old in with the new. It was like a weight was lifted!
John: Every area that changed held memories for me, but the change was definitely not sad. When I would find a little bit of history, I would relive it and share the joy with the team and then move on. I am a saver, but this process taught me to let go of some of the clutter!
How has this Showroom renovation changed the culture of Frost-Barber?
Celie: The day we decided to WFH [Work From Home] and not have a dedicated, permanent space for each person was the day our culture changed. This forced us to use spaces we normally would not have used and forced us to try workspaces we wouldn’t have tried before. And I think this has given all of us an advantage when working with customers. Now, we can tell our own stories of how we shifted to hybrid work and adjusted to a new environment.
John: Our culture changed very fast. Having the space and tools to work with mobility in mind is very empowering. Many of our sales and design staff worked upstairs at dedicated workstations, and now many choose to work downstairs in non-owned spaces. There is greater energy when walking through the space because people are choosing where they will feel most productive that particular day. The whole building is truly a working showroom now.
The new Showroom has so many vibrant color combinations represented! How did the color stories evolve in the different areas?
Celie: We thought “Let’s just go for it!” In the past, we always did what was safe and smart. This time we decided to elevate the color game by highlighting key products with very vibrant colors. I love the mix and I think it contributed to the success of the end product.
John: That is serendipitous! We have been acquiring more colorful items over the past year, and we were fortunate to find a few elements that tied everything together. A very large-scale pattern from Designtex was featured, as well as two printed rugs from Moooi. It is amazing how the right elements can make a whole design cohesive and inspiring. We know not every client can be completely fearless with color and finishes, but we felt we needed to inspire ourselves and customers to let them know what’s possible. And it was pretty fun too!
What was the most challenging area of the new Showroom to get right?
Celie: The V.I.A. Walls [Vertical Intelligent Architecture] were one of my most challenging areas. We wanted to show a wide range of products but still have the functionality we needed to work. Another challenge was juggling the existing products with the new ones to get the consistency and flow we wanted to achieve.
John: The most challenging areas were the Architectural Walls, only because they require extreme precision and offer infinite variations. Also, for them to be comfortable and usable, our HVAC and lighting had to be altered to accommodate all the new spaces we were creating. It also seemed to be difficult to get all the elements in the restrooms working at the same time; let’s just say thank goodness we had a skeleton staff during construction!
What was the happiest accident you encountered during the project?
Celie: Accident….what accident???
John: We discovered the Emu Lyze Outdoor Chairs in our warehouse that became unexpected featured stars in our Co-Creation Sandbox (formerly known as our Resource Library)! They were the perfect addition, and totally unexpected.
Have there been any surprises in how the employees are using the new spaces?
Celie: The immediate use of the 1st floor was a major surprise to me!
John: The biggest surprise was how quickly staff started to use the downstairs workspaces, even in areas that we envisioned more as demonstration areas. There is a beautiful light and sense of community through the whole building now.
What’s your favorite piece of furniture or ecosystem in the new Showroom and why?
Celie: I love the collaboration area at the front of the showroom with the Lagunitas sofa and table, and let’s not forgot about the Flying Fish Moooi rug! I love the softer colors and the function of this space. We’ve never had an area like this before and people are drawn to it. I also really like the way the Currency Work From Home office came out with the Lite Scale Architectural Wall enclosure. It was always a dead space for us and we finally figured it out!
John: This is hard because I love it all and you know I can’t say just one! Personally, I love my Mackinac wall-mounted, cantilevered, height-adjustable desk. It has changed my office and how I interact with peers and customers. And I love all our V.I.A. Focus Workspaces; they’ve transformed how we work.
When customers take a tour of the new Showroom, how do you want them to feel?
Celie: I hope our customers can find new ideas to help them reinvent their own culture. We have more to offer than just pieces of furniture to fill a space. Our showroom renovation is proof that deliberate design choices can alter much more than just the floorplan. Attitudes, productivity and motivation can all be improved through thoughtfully designed spaces.
John: I hope that guests will be engaged in the different work settings on display and begin to imagine how these could benefit their own workplaces. Furniture is flexible and can be tailored to fit each customer’s specific needs if we know what those needs are. I hope our showroom inspires them to work with us; together we can create a new culture and environment that is more than the sum of its parts. Our goal is to help everyone #WorkBetter.
What are you most proud of when you walk into the building now?
Celie: I’m very proud to be a part of “the change” we have gone through. Change isn’t always easy to accept, and I love how our team has embraced it. We are thriving. I’m proud to work for a company that trusts me to move them forward!
John: I am very proud to work for this company, and specifically for Doug Jehle, who believes in our visions and talents and supports us dreaming big! I am very proud to have collaborated with our design and project management teams at Frost-Barber and our Steelcase partners to achieve such a beautiful space. Design is often thought of by non-designers as just making things pretty, but the design process is really about problem-solving. It’s about taking what you have, turning it into something greater and achieving better business outcomes. I am proud that our space reflects the fact that design IS important, and that it celebrates function, collaboration and beauty.