May 1, 2012

Just Us Kids: Kids II’s Whimsical Atlanta Office

You’re on the 19th floor, already late for a brainstorming session on 18. How do you get there. . .fast? If you work at the Atlanta company Kids II, which encompasses such well-known brands as Baby Einstein, you could bypass the elevators and take the slide, spiraling down in a few whirlwind seconds. And while the slide may be the big wow, the whole office is bright and airy, with mid-century furniture and juicy jolts of cherry red borrowed from the corporate logo.

Let Google have its Googleplex. Kids II now boasts a statement-making home base where Ping-Pong tournaments erupt in the rec room, alongside old-school video games and Verner Panton-style rockers. Design Atelier principal Melanie Millner masterminded this hive of activity: 100,000 square feet sprawling over four office levels in a glass tower, plus 5,000 square feet of showroom entered straight from the street. Millner began developing the lively look back in 2004 when Kids II commissioned her for its previous headquarters, in a suburb. She then distilled the result into a style guide for satellite offices around the world. Growing 20 percent annually, Kids II decided to move its headquarters to the heart of Atlanta as part of a drive to raise the company’s global profile, and Millner took the helm once again. “The sophistication had to be ramped up,” she says. To help transform a standard Class A shell into a vibrant workplace that would support and inspire staff as well as broadcasting the message that Kids II is a design-driven innovator, she pulled in Joel Laseter Architect.

The showroom certainly delivers on that directive-with a 35-foot ceiling and, along the window wall, sheer red shades cut in graduated lengths to create a huge swooping curve. Millner’s touch is evident in a vignette that visitors see on entering the showroom: A teak-veneered screen, 8 feet in height, curves to embrace two red Egg chairs by Arne Jacobsen and a white pedestal table by Eero Saarinen, introducing the residential feel carried through to the office high above. “All of Kids II’s products go into people’s homes,” she points out. “So we made the workplace like a home.”

Indeed, the teak-paneled reception area is a far cry from the typical corporate waiting area. “It’s more penthouse suite than standard office,” Joel Laseter says. Gas flames crackle in the fireplace, while red sofas by Joseph Paul D’Urso face each other across a low steel table by Warren Platner. White wool shag is underfoot. Directly above, in a light well enclosed by glass, floats a mobile in the Alexander Calder mode. Millner and Laseter kept all the office levels as open and as transparent as possible. Where there are private offices on the perimeter, their fronts are glass, so everyone in the center gets a glimpse of sky. Rather than breaking up those office areas with traditional cubicles, the designers embraced benching systems and group gathering places that suit the teamwork required to cook up, design, package, and market infant and toddler toys, gear, and fashion.

“We had conversations about the new generation and how they work,” Millner says. “We came up with a lot of collaborative spaces where people can plop down with a laptop or work from their iPhones.” Banquettes are set into cozy alcoves in the café and coffee bars. In the latter, employees grab their mail not from standard cubbies but from wall-mounted red mailboxes, another residential touch. When real fireplaces proved too complicated and costly for each of these coffee bars, she installed a flat-screen TV near Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s sofas and set its default mode to flickering flame.

A lounge is just off the atrium surrounding the slide, which was made by a German manufacturer of toboggan runs, shipped in pieces, and assembled on-site. Millner had been itching to include a slide in one of her projects after seeing photographs, published in Interior Design six years ago, of artist Carsten Höller’s triple slide installation for London’s Tate Modern. She filed the idea away until the right moment came. That moment has clearly arrived.



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