A workplace that works: Design co-op settles into the Treehouse

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Ten Flavors' co-op office in the Treehouse Building downtown features high ceilings, an open layout and a communal conference room to accommodate 11 businesses that share the space. Photo: Stephen Barling Ten Flavors’ co-op office in the Treehouse Building downtown features high ceilings, an open layout and a communal conference room to accommodate 11 businesses that share the space. Photo: Stephen Barling

Ten Flavors, a co-op that includes 11 mostly design-related businesses, has been around for about 35 years. Members have come and gone, and the co-op has moved offices several times, always on the Downtown Mall. But Jim Gibson, a longtime co-op member, says the Ten Flavors folks really, really liked their last home, a high-ceilinged space above Christian’s Pizza. “We would still be there if it were available,” he says.

Several years ago, however, then-landlord Oliver Kuttner decided to sell the space. After an exhaustive search, the Ten Flavors members were coming up short on finding a viable replacement. “We couldn’t find anything remotely similar,” he says. “We had been completely spoiled.”

Well, maybe not completely. Kuttner was about to propose something even more ideal than they’d imagined: a spot in his newest project, the Treehouse Building, on the corner of Garrett and Second SE streets.

Photo: Matteus Frankovich/Skycladap
Photo: Matteus Frankovich/Skycladap

That was 2013, and Ten Flavors has now been in the new digs, with its Carter Mountain views, for three months. It’s a space that combines some of Gibson’s favorite attributes of the old office—soaring ceilings, oversized windows, an open layout—with some new conveniences. The co-op’s common space in particular has been beefed up: two bathrooms, a full kitchen and a communal conference room.

“Oliver basically gave us a raw space that let us make everybody happy,” says Gibson, referring to the fact that different members have their own preferences about privacy levels and windows. Charmed Designworks, for example, a member since 2004, has an office on the mezzanine level with a door that closes, while Gibson’s desk is out in the open.

The whole building displays Kuttner’s penchant for unusual design—inside and out, it’s the opposite of a bland office block. Gibson says the design process happened at least partially on the fly—the mezzanines, for example, weren’t in the initial plans. “Oliver is free-form. The advantage of that is he does pretty outrageous things that can turn out to be very nice,” says Gibson.

One example: Access to the Ten Flavors office is via an interior stairway that opens onto a small exterior balcony, which then leads to the Ten Flavors door (an “airlock” that doubles as a private place to make phone calls). It’s a sequence that would be alien to the average office building.

Despite such quirks, the space inside feels serene, not chaotic, with cool blue walls, corrugated metal ceilings and bamboo flooring. IKEA kitchen cabinets are down-to-earth and functional, while orange-red walls enliven the common spaces. The bathrooms sport penny-round tile floors and, in one case, a salvaged sink cabinet.

Exposed beams help to emphasize the height of the ceilings, as do the appealingly old-fashioned multi-pane windows. (They’re operable, in answer to the preferences of some co-op members.) Each member business has space to arrange furniture and décor as desired.

In a cubicle farm, this might feel cluttered, yet the strong character of this building unifies all the elements. It feels elevated, just like a treehouse should.

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