OFFICES can be boring places. Rows of identikit laminated desks, drab walls brightened only by the occasional fire extinguisher or health and safety poster, endless strips of surgically bright fluorescent lighting racing across the ceiling from the far side of the room right into the centre of your headache and underfoot, a grim chequerboard of bristly, murky carpet tiles.
It’s little wonder that many office workers spend much of their day wanting to get out of there.
But at one Glasgow office at least, it’s the opposite, with members of the public coming off the street to ask for a quick look round and a chance admire the office traffic-light set, huge chipboard desks, antique clock, replica hoverboard and guitar-lamp combo.
Digital creative agency Made Brave was only set up in 2012 but with its headcount rising from one to 20 in those three short years, it has already outgrown its home twice, most recently moving into new offices at the Albus Building in Glasgow’s Bridgeton.
For its founder and director Andrew Dobbie, the kind of creativity which attracts and maintains big clients such as Radisson Blu, the SECC and Bowmore whisky can only be properly nurtured in a similarly creative office environment - and you can’t just buy that out of an office supplies catalogue.
Key to the imaginative, unusual look Dobbie wants for the Made Brave office space is smart use of reclaimed and repurposed items. “It’s important to have a creative environment in the office and these things help create that, which helps breed creativity in the office,” he says Dobbie.
I sit down in front of the computer on a Friday with a glass of wine and browse through Etsy, which has a lot of cool American handmade things; Gumtree and EbayAndrew Dobbie
At the firm’s previous office, for example, in order to create the expansive and sturdy desks the graphic designers wanted, old fire doors were used. “The doors are huge - really thick - but only cost £30,” says Dobbie. They were such a success that news quickly spread: “We had neighbouring offices in the building copying the idea.”
Perhaps likely to be copied by some businesses are Made Brave’s set of traffic lights or its replica Back to the Future hoverboard.
“We are a creative agency, so can get away with a lot more in terms of decoration,” explains Dobbie. “Not many offices have a Back to the Future hoverboard - it sets you apart. We have a traffic light that hangs down from the wall - we came across at that at Love Salvage in Govan - we maybe get away with some stuff that you couldn’t anywhere else.”
That may be true, but according to Love Salvage manager John David Flynn, many other businesses are joining Made Brave and refusing to fill their offices with identikit, brand new furniture.
“We have done quite a lot of business with offices and design studios in particular, some of whom have bought items like industrial-style pendant light shades, formica tables and of course that full set of restored traffic lights,” says Flynn.
“We have also found that items such as industrial-style furniture and more rustic pieces like whisky barrels also sell well along with the nautical style tripod lamps which have been one of our best sellers over the last two years,” he adds.
Some of those tripod lamps have found their way into Made Brave’s new office, with illumination being a prime concern of Dobbie’s. “Lighting is really important for a creative agency, he says. “We buy old angle-poise lamps of eBay, but we also have a mixture of old and new. It’s also always good if you can find old signs that light up - we are always on the hunt for those kind of things.”
Discovering “new” items for his office is something of a full-time hobby for Dobbie, who takes his hunt online when he’s not scouring salvage yards and second-hand shops for oldies-but-goodies.
Finding that perfect item takes patience and imagination, adds Dobbie. “On eBay I search using obscure terms to come up with ideas. Often when you find a user on eBay selling one item that you want, you can look at the other stuff their selling and see things there too.”
And, like any good boss, he is happy to spread the load. “I do encourage staff, if they see anything on their travels, to let us know and if we like it, the company will buy it for the office.”
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that he likes to involve his staff in the ongoing search interior design improvements because for Dobbie, the office environment and staff wellbeing are interwoven.
“My philosophy is: we’re in our work more than we’re at home, so let’s make it a nice environment to be in. My office looks the way it does because I want to be there. If you look after staff, it’s going to make recruitment, retaining staff and having a happier workforce a lot easier, which is vital.
“The look of our office is a huge part of our business and we’re known for it - we actually get people asking if they can come to the office just to look at it.”
Aside from the immediate office environment, Dobbie also recognises the wider benefits of businesses choosing to buy second-hand or salvaged furniture and equipment. “If you can buy something second-hand or work it up, it’s much better for the environment than buying, for example, new flatpack furniture with all its packaging, so we try to reuse as much as we can at Made Brave,” he adds.