Fuel Up

PROJECT Fuel Advertising Office, Toronto, Ontario
DESIGNER Bartlett & Associates
TEXT David Steiner
PHOTOS Tom Arban

Renovated warehouse spaces–the kind from early in the last century–are a precious commodity in Toronto. They trade on their exposed wood charm and proximity to everything urban. Due to limited stock, demand is rising and space is becoming rare. Though no proof exists that working in an office tower leads to diminished creativity, it has become accepted that old and exposed equals edgy and exciting.

Fuel Advertising Inc., a 100-person company that deals mainly in print media, was located in an office tower in mid-Toronto for 20 years. Their departments–creative, administration and photography–were split over three floors. It was rare that people from the various departments would unintentionally cross paths, and employees felt compartmentalized. In addition to the undesired layout, much of the city’s creative advertising community had migrated south to the core of the city, especially to a west-end area of early 20th-century warehouses around King and Dufferin Streets. The time had come to consolidate their work space and retool the shop.

Moving offices was cathartic. It gave Fuel a chance to detach itself from years of ad hoc growth that resulted in a disjointed office. As company president Cyndy Carruthers says, “It was depressing not having a continuous space.” She wanted an office that would combine all their administration and creative teams together in one space to encourage casual meetings and informal discussions amongst the staff. By moving to a new space in the city’s trendy Liberty Village area, they could rethink themselves and their image, sharpening their brand and projecting a new air to clients.

Bartlett & Associates, an interior design firm that has been working in Toronto for 25 years, designed the new offices in three months and oversaw construction in three more. What the team designed is lively and bright, making the most of the building’s good bones, a slim budget and frugal materials. Two adjacent office suites, divided by a fire exit corridor, house the company’s creative and administration departments. Consistent colours, materials and furniture unite the parts into what feels like one continuous space. Though much has been packed into 930 square metres, there is an airy, open feel when walking amongst the desks and down the corridors. Partition walls around offices and boardrooms are only three metres high, allowing the mechanical elements free passage along the ceiling. Simple furniture made of aluminum and white laminate, with quasi-industrial lighting, were all chosen from Canadian companies that manufacture in Canada–cost-effective and patriotic.

Spots of colour add the understated punch that Fuel wanted: translucent acrylic panels in red, pink, green and purple hang off exposed metal studs, making a dividing wall between desks; the eight-metre-long boardroom table has a bright red top; framed cotton fabric printed with retro flower graphics by Finnish textile designer Marimekko are hung in the staff lunch area. A number of wacky coffee tables are made from logs culled from the summer home of the project’s metal fabricator, and are placed alongside a custom couch clad in bright green vinyl.

With a very small budget, the designers focused on making simple details special–inset door handles, magnetic tack boards and the reception desk cladding are all made from galvanized sheet metal usually reserved for mechanical ducts. Office doors are custom made, hung on sliders and finished with a white lacquer. Tectum acoustic panels (boards that look as though they are made of compressed spaghetti) hang over the reception desk, fastened to a grid of metal track, and a drop ceiling in the entry hallway is constructed of corrugated metal. The fabrication of such prosaic materials is deft, allowing the design to remain discreet.

“We wanted a neutral campus because it’s our clients’ ideas that matter,” states Carruthers. The walls are left bare and white save for large, framed fabric posters of inspirational quotes from famous people: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free,” Michelangelo announces from one wall. The project’s success is most evident in their clients’ enthusiastic response. As Carruthers says of their new offices, “Our clients have been using our boardroom space for meetings that sometimes don’t include us.” CA

David Steiner is a freelance writer living in Ontario.

Client Fuel Advertising
Architect Team Inger Bartlett, Michelle Gray, Joel Stevenett, Genevieve Bergman, Alexandra Samouk
Structural Quinn Dressel Associates
Mechanical The Mitchell Partnership
Electrical Mulvey + Banani
Interiors Bartlett & Associates
A/V Westbury National Show Systems
Contractor Structure Corp.
Area 20,000 ft2
Budget n/a
Completion October 2008