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August 31, 2021



We have arrived.

How Proverb used placemaking to create a re-entry friendly office space

The idea of “the office” will never be the same again — and for us, this felt like freedom. Freedom to curate a place that elevates our business. To activate zones that unleash our highest potential. To design a physical space that facilitates the work we want to create. To re-engage our staff in a way that is meaningful, inspiring and unmistakably human.

Our return to the office post COVID will be in a brand new space: a fully-evolved, industrial-chic, former retail space that overlooks a transforming historical neighborhood. Our new office is the exclamation point after nearly 25 years of placemaking, and a fresh muse for all our upcoming projects.

While hybrid work is here to stay, a well-planned, well-designed office has the power to ignite the spirit of a company.

Proverb is officially fired up. We sat down with our founders, Daren Bascome and Chris Needham, to explain the spark behind the flame—and all the design considerations that went into creating an engaging, re-entry friendly office space.

Tell us about the new space. What was your inspiration?

Chris: The new space is beautiful, of course, but it’s also quite dramatic. We have high ceilings, lots of windows and unreal wallpaper game. The vibe is industrial-chic, and we grounded the space with a healthy dose of black, white and charcoal, natural wood, green botanicals and vibrant splashes of color.

Daren: We wanted to achieve a feeling of whimsy that would inspire creativity within our team and curiosity within our community. When people walk by, they are intrigued by our space — we’ve already had a number of people stop by to see what’s happening on the other side of our window decals.

Everyone is asking the same question, which is, “How do we come back?” For us, part of that answer was owning our own space.

How did you choose the new location?

D: Our presence is a former retail space on the same plane as the street. This was an intentional choice — the interaction we have with the city is a metaphor for the work we do to connect people and communities. Our windows face one of the most diverse areas of Boston, and that energy is crucial to us in terms of addressing the needs of cities and creating a sense of belonging.

And what made you decide to buy the new office, as opposed to renting?

C: Everyone is asking the same question, which is, “How do we come back?” For us, part of that answer was owning our own space. It was important to us to start from the top — to establish a campus that is safe, with human touches that take everything we’ve learned in the last year into consideration. We have control of our noise level — our ability to set the right mood with music and cancel out noise when we need it — of the flow of traffic in and out of our doors, the cleanliness of our work zones, the privacy of our outdoor spaces. This oversight is a huge part of respecting and protecting our team.

D: Investing in our physical space gave form to our work — we felt a tangible swell of purpose. This space was a vacant storefront for years. Buying gave us the opportunity to activate a dead zone and invest in the long-term future of the community we’ve worked in for more than two decades. We’re part of the South End’s rising design district and owning was a critical step in supporting that movement. The creatives are here to stay.

COVID placed incredible emphasis on digital tools for work, and many found that they could do the bulk of their job from a laptop. How will the new office space function as a useful tool for creativity?

D: We believe connection is an integral tool in our business. Face-to-face interaction brings a cadence to ideas that simply can’t be replicated across pixels. When you’re in a room with someone, throwing thoughts on a board, there’s magic there — you’re pushing each other into new territory. When it comes to onboarding new staff and engaging our team, a gathering place is crucial. Our office is full of both defined and undefined zones, to foster all kinds of collaboration.

C: We designed designated areas for every discipline, so each team has a space that’s theirs and an undisturbed place to brainstorm. But we also left some areas refreshingly open, so people from across disciplines can gather and learn from each other. Our desks aren’t assigned — our people can sit wherever they feel most comfortable on any given day or choose to get together with a specific project team. If COVID taught us anything, it’s that flexibility is a tool in itself.

Re-entry is an invitation, not a mandate.

Can you share some of the specific design choices you made for the space?

D: We wanted the new space to feel good on an emotional level. We chose wallpaper designs that generate joy. We put a lot of thought into botanicals and chose a mix that improves our air quality and infuses our space with beauty. We look at colors and textures all day, so even the hue of our lightbulbs was a consideration — we wanted the lighting to be as close to natural sunlight as possible. Our window decals are more than a branding element, because they were strategically placed to create privacy for our team. Things like standing desks and AirPods Pro give our team the tools they need to be successful.

Did you bring any pieces from the old space into the new office?

C: Sustainable design is critical for us, so we are always looking for ways to repurpose what we have. We went for a layered approach — a balance of old and new. We brought a lot of our old furniture with us. Just like there is history in every place, used pieces hold stories and energy. Appreciating that energy and carrying it forward was a special way to reflect on how far we’ve come as a company.

D: Paired with upgraded art and décor, our existing pieces feel refreshed. We’re viewing our company with new eyes, furniture included.

Now that collective spaces are reopening, there is global focus on what makes a great place. What has COVID taught you about placemaking?

D: You know, one of the best things to come out of COVID is the fact that we don’t have to lie about being human anymore. The world is messy. Our lives are messy. But a dog barking or a child screaming in the background of a video call doesn’t make a person unprofessional — it just makes them human. And now that we’ve seen the unfiltered sides of one another in this way, we wanted to create a culture in which our team can bring their whole selves into work. We honored this idea with our design choices — elements like burnished concrete floors and exposed ceilings feel honest.

C: A lot of this is about flexible spaces, comfort and safety. Part of being human means knowing that re-entry may cause discomfort, and conflict may arise as we re-engage with each other. We have an awesome HR team to support the process, and a clear protocol for coming back into the physical. Re-entry is an invitation, not a mandate. Our team can choose their days and hours, come in when they need it and make space for the areas of their lives outside of work. There is a lot of trust between us, which is the glue that makes it all work.

Crisis has a way of bringing out the humanity in all of us. What human touches did you incorporate in the office?

D: Music is the most immediate of the arts. In our office, we use music to mesh. We have a wicked sound system and an eclectic library to pull from. We encourage our team to craft playlists or throw something on to get in the groove.

C: So many people have spent the last year outdoors. I think we’ve seen just about everybody’s patio on Zoom. And for a long time, going outside has been the only way to meet people safely. Our new office has a private outdoor courtyard, and inside, we’ve incorporated greenery and natural light to establish that same sense of openness.

We don’t have to lie about being human anymore.

What kind of art did you bring into the space?

C: Our signature piece is an octagonal painting we bought at auction at MassArt. Our lights are from Article in the South End, and we worked with Winston Flowers to curate our botanicals. We hung handmade Balinese pendant lights, shaped like giant bird nests. Our goal was to bring functional art into the space — pieces that are as inspiring as they are practical.

How did your expertise in placemaking inform your design choices?

C: Placemaking is meant to deliver the things people crave — and the things they don’t know they need yet — in a beautiful package. But placemaking also has the power to shape behavior and create a more thoughtful world. When you’re designing a space, the first thing to ask yourself is what needs to happen there. What work needs to get done? What conversations need to arise? How do you want people to feel in that zone? Designing with intention brings purpose to every action, no matter how subtle. It’s all in the details.

D: Who you create with is just as important as what you create. Our client work focuses on authentic advertising and diverse campaigns — we approached the project of designing our own office in the same way we would approach any other project. We partnered with local vendors in our immediate neighborhood, many of which were BIPOC-owned, immigrant-owned or small businesses. In so many ways, this new space is a reflection of our community.

How does it feel to be where you are now?

C: It feels like a celebration. It’s the starting line for a surge of exciting projects, and meaningful when we reflect on the growth it took to get here. Proverb’s first office was a room in Daren’s house, and every space we’ve had since has allowed us to step more fully into our vision for our business and the industry. Owning our ideal office is a milestone more than twenty years in the making. We can’t wait to unveil the work we’ve started in this space.

D: In the past year, we’ve connected with dream clients and created work that focuses on representation as much as it does branding. We’ve moved from giving buildings and institutions a sense of place to developing destination campaigns for cities looking to shift the narrative. We’re proud of our new space, but the purpose it brings to our work is the real win. It feels good to be Proverb.

The creatives are here to stay.

What would you say to other agencies that are thinking about welcoming their team back into a physical space?

C: It won’t be perfect at first! In fact, there’s no such thing as a perfect place. Take what you have and make the most of it. Living through some of the spaces — seeing how they are used by real people in real time — is the most moving part of the process.

D: The environment where we spend so much of our time should reflect our values. It should be inspiring and beautiful. It should be more than a container for work. The way to achieve this is through hospitality, which has become a competitive advantage — and honestly, the standard — for employers. Employees need access to healthy food options, transportation, fitness and wellness offerings, and mind-openers like galleries and museums. Changing our location allowed us to up our game, even though we’re working in the same universe.

And if you do nothing else, invest in really great chairs.

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