In this month's behind-the-scenes feature, we talk with Homepolish's Nina Isabella about the groundbreaking co-working space brought to the Flatiron tech scene by Barclays: Rise New York.
Photos by Claire Esparros.
Nina, we still remember when we got the call from Barclays to design this space. We were ecstatic in the Homepolish offices! Why’d they come to us in the first place?
“Rise New York is a new construction within a two-floor build-out. The parent company, the British banking firm Barclays, has an internal design department that created all the branding, signage, designed custom furniture, and sourced furniture alongside The Future Perfect. They came to Homepolish for help with the finishing styling touches, including art, decorative objects, inspiring books for their library, pillows, throws, plants, etc… all the things that make the space feel personal and warmer.”
And that personal touch is essential for any office. So you were mainly in charge of finishes and styling?
“Exactly. The new construction was beautiful, so the starting point was pretty awesome and ideal. I came in to make the space feel edgy & lived in as a communal workplace and event venue. Working with the UK Design Director and NYC office managers, the main objective was to get the final office ready to launch with a press event at the space.”
Sounds like you had to work efficiently. How did you manage to pace the work and complete the commission?
“After giving it some thought, I proposed to work the project in two phases. In phase 1, I sourced items that should be ordered online and delivered to the space. I presented two options per item and laid them out on a design board that had a product image, link to the vendor site, cost, and availability. The client would sign-off, and the chosen items would be purchased and sent to the new space.”
Seems straight forward… what was phase 2?
“In phase 2, we compiled a list of areas that needed styling, mostly custom bookcases and common areas. I put together a map of retail stores that I wanted to hit up to look for items. I then hired an assistant, and the two of us would run around the city. We did this for three days in a row. We went to a bunch of shops in an area, took out items on loan when we could, and purchased items with the intent of returning whatever the client decided not to keep. We loaded up my car and then went back to the new space, unwrapped everything, and laid it out on three long conference tables. Then we would present my ideas to the client. They would decide what they wanted to keep and what they wanted to return.”
That must’ve been a lot of fun for the client to see all those options! Were there any hiccups?
“Well, I hit a small snag on the first presentation day. Up until that day, I had been working directly with two people who made every decision for the project. Their vision for the office was warm and homey to make people feel like it was a comfortable, hip space. However, when I presented my concepts and items from the first day of shopping, I found out there was one guy, and one guy only, who would have final say. Turns out he had a VERY SPECIFIC vision and it differed from the two original people I had been working with.”
Ouch, that’s tough! How did you deal with that?
“I had told everyone at the start of the day that there was no ego involved for me. I wanted very much for them to feel like the items I was bringing to the table represented their brand. It was true, and I’m glad I told them this. The #1 guy told me that night that he wanted the office to be more edgy, tech-driven, and unexpected. He told me later that he felt like he could tell me that after the comment I had made earlier. I’m glad I did, because ultimately he clarified the vision. I was able to better utilize the next couple of days. I ended up having to return almost everything from that first day, which was kinda a bummer, but when it’s crunch time like that, you just do whatever you need to stay positive and get the job done.”
That’s a great can-do spirit! During all that shopping, did you find any vendors you especially loved?
“My friend Jessica Porter at Porter Contemporary. We met at a co-working space I used to have at In Good Company. She’s a super sweet, talented art dealer. I brought her in to outfit the space with emerging artists. She sent me a Dropbox with pieces available, I picked out selections I liked, and then she brought them to the space and installed them with her art hanger. Originally, the client rented the pieces from her, but they have since decided to continue that relationship. Great art at rental prices? Awesome.”
And we love that it all has slight British allusions, tying back to Barclays! But what ended up being your favorite part of the project?
“Actually, the bookcases are my favorite part! They are so totally unique. They have a collection of beautifully curated items such as a light-up book from the MoMA store, a bunch of Jonathan Adler ceramic pieces that are always fun, not to mention, a big leather bulldog to greet people at the main reception desk. It will always feel like a funny inside joke and a nod to their British heritage.”
So when you look back on it, what was the most fun part of the project?
“Being able to focus strictly on styling instead of furnishings gave me an opportunity to utilize my retail relationships and have fun running around the city finding treasures at shops I love. I keep lists of all my go-to shops in the city.
Oh, would you please share some?
“Well, there are quite a few, and there’s quite a range. You’ll recognize favorites like CB2, West Elm, Anthropologie, Canvas Home, BluDot, and DwellStudio, but there are also lesser-known sources. The Taschen store and Bookmarc are great for both books as well as accessories, and I can’t resist stopping by Ochre and Jung Lee NY.
Ummmm… can we come with next time?
For more action with Nina Isabella, follow her on Instagram at @ninaisabella!