In an overcrowded co-working market where the big, homogenous players are falling like dominoes, it's the niche providers who are demonstrating their staying power. Banyan Workspace looks set to last the distance.
Opened in October and grounded in social purpose and sustainability, this boutique work and event space in Quarry Bay delivers a refreshing dose of authenticity to Hong Kong's shared office landscape. Founders Rasheed and Amy Shroff believe that business and community responsibility must go hand in hand, which is why they give 2 percent of members' rates to the NGOs they work with (Plastic Free Seas, One Sky, Teach for Hong Kong and Redress). They also plan to give their time, and encourage their members to do the same, with Giving Back Days every three months. And if that were not enough, they open their events areas to the charities they work with.
In-house, there's a recycling station (managed very effectively by Zoe Stevenson, head of marketing and client relations), air-purifying plants are everywhere, and the firm adopts an approach driven by being energy conscious, reusing and making ethical choices.
These ethical choices extended to the materials used throughout Banyan and as a result the shared office is richly layered and eclectic – and it feels rooted in nature.
"Our intention was that you'd have that connection with nature through these materials, but it's still a sophisticated workspace," says Lo Eli, co-founder and principal designer at S.Lo Limited.
Slow design is really at the core of our values. Going into spaces like Banyan Workspace where there’s this mindfulness, and where you can feel this green and sustainable impact – that was key for us.
Eli's own love affair with materials is behind the calm, thoughtful and lush character of this workspace. She worked as a senior furniture, fixtures and equipment designer at AB Concept before establishing S.Lo with Sabrina Ettedgui, who brings in-depth knowledge of luxury goods, hospitality and wine to her role as chief executive of the design studio.
"As soon as I heard what Rasheed and Amy had decided on for the name [Banyan], I immediately knew we'd go heavy on wood and we'd have lots of plants," says Eli.
This was the starting point for a space that's an elegant blend of eucalyptus and paulownia wood, raw and honed stone, linen, rattan and 100 percent raffia, with polished concrete floors as the foundation. Bespoke leather desk chairs and velvet elements – in the form of custom-made, green velvet jacquard curtains that can section off the double-height library for events, and upholstered banquettes in meeting rooms – add a luxurious touch.
"[Rasheed and Amy] worked with us from the beginning right through to the end, and they reminded us about sourcing materials ethically," says Ettedgui. "We used a few up-cycled items, like the lights, as well."
"There were times when we would suggest materials from Europe, and they would say, 'No, that's just too far away,'" says Eli. "The local materials we sourced ended up working into their story and they tied into their values – and ours."
"Slow design is really at the core of our values," says Ettedgui, who opened the studio with Eli earlier this year. "Going into spaces like Banyan Workspace where there's this mindfulness, and where you can feel this green and sustainable impact – that was key for us."
To maintain the ethical standards Banyan required, the duo sourced most materials themselves and they worked closely with contractors to ensure every aspect of the design was thoughtfully and ethically executed. "Communication was vital," says American-born Eli, who is fluent in Mandarin.
As well as sourcing challenges, the layout of the space raised a few issues. "When we scouted out spaces, we went for this one because of the view," says Eli. Sitting on the harbour-front in an old industrial building in Quarry Bay, the two-storey space has unobstructed views of the water, but it also has low beams in odd places that, when combined with a bizarre original layout, made for obstructed flow, particularly upstairs.
"There was a staircase for each section upstairs," adds Eli. "When we first looked at it, we were all puzzled. We wondered how we would make this work."
But make it work they did: they reconfigured the space, reorganised the flow so they could remove some of the staircases, and opened up a section to create a beautiful atrium with double-height ceilings. The library now sits at one end of this lofty space, serving as an event space when necessary. "When we've been to events here, we've noticed that people tend to congregate around the double-height space," says Eli. "But the atrium's purpose was really to allow each of the five private offices upstairs to have a breakout window and a view, so that you're not just surrounded by four walls." To solve the beam height problem, S.Lo positioned Banyan's six dedicated workstations so that the desks sit under the beams, while allowing for plenty of space and height for the chairs.
While they wanted a degree of privacy for the dedicated desks and to separate this zone from the hot-desking area that seats 16, they also wanted to keep the whole workspace feeling open, light and airy. In response they created a repeating pattern on the walls behind each of the dedicated desks using an open raffia weave.
"We didn't want the space to feel smaller than it was. And we wanted privacy, but the raffia allows you to still look out," says Eli. "It's little details like these that make a complete difference to how you're able to work."
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