A Happy Place

Making the office an artful place: New boutique suites in Rice Village aim to eliminate the grind

Imagine arriving at your office building and parking your vehicle or bike practically at the front door. You walk in to the common area where natural light streams inside from an abundance of large windows.

Upbeat, hand-selected contemporary music softly fills the air as subtle background motivation. Artistic, cool-toned wall treatments serve as canvases for an array of paintings and other artwork.

Once there, you sit down in your own space with similar surroundings. And the creative juices begin to flow.

Welcome to The Village Executive Suites, a new boutique office facility in the Rice Village area with a focus on marrying the work environment with an art gallery for a symbiotic partnership. Creating such a catalytic setting for inspiration is the brainchild of owner Jeremy Wells, also founder and co-partner with wife Jamie of Imago Dei, a company specializing in custom murals, decorative finishes and fine art and the anchor tenant at the site.

Wells takes us on a tour of the two-story, 6,500-square-foot facility, located at 2525 Robinhood.

The lobby, with a long table and contemporary bar stools by German designer Konstantin Grcic in the community work space, eye-catching artwork by Wells and, at right, the receptionist's desk.

An "Ether" chandelier by Italian design studio Murano Due in cascading glass bubbles peeks through a round opening to dangle into the multi-purpose room. A fully equipped kitchen is to the left of the communal island, as is a windowed-door to the patio, where you'll find plenty of comfortable seating around bright-hued, cafe-style tables.

Wells spotted the commercial property two years ago, walked in and saw it had "very good bones," as he put it. His 10-year-old Imago Dei operation had been located elsewhere in Houston in a warehouse with the typical executive-suite format of private offices, stale and stagnant — definitely not conducive to creative thinking.

"It seems like in the past, we've thought workers do their best when isolated from one another, so that everyone can focus on their tasks," Wells says. "And having a large office equated to success.

"Now, we know that community and collaboration is so important in the work environment," he continues. "None of us do our jobs alone, so we're promoting efficiency and high productivity in a smaller space. We're providing a business model that helps everyone involved be a success."

The Village Executive Suites, completely remodeled using corrugated metal siding, xeriscaping and water-permeable pavers every other parking space. The suites, complete with a security system with 24-hour key fob access and video surveillance of the grounds and community spaces, accommodate offices for 15 onsite customers.

Jeremy Wells, founder of Imago Dei and owner of The Village Executive Suites

Wells talks about the some of the smart-design aspects of, and immediate plans for, The Village Executive Suites: "All walls in the common areas are American Clay, which is as green as you can get. The clay absorbs carbon dioxide, repels dust and emits negative ions, which restore energy."

And being completely natural and free of any VOCs, the clay surfacing, applied by Imago Dei artists, gives off a scent of fresh rain, he adds.

Countertops throughout the suites are of recycled glass and the concrete flooring reached its slick, modern appearance after removing a foot layer, sanding and then coating and polishing.

On the agenda are quarterly gallery openings Imago Dei hosts and curates. The Village Executive Suites also affords Imago Dei a showroom to display its wall treatments and works on canvas.

The lobby looking toward the front of the building, with a break area in the foreground with red stacking chairs by German designer Konstantin Grcic and a conference room in the background, the latter a high-tech space available to onsite and virtual-suite customers.

"Goccia" pendant lights by Italian maker Slamp hang above the common table. 

The main conference room, kitchen, patio and entire lobby are available to all onsite customers and to persons who need a "virtual suite."

For example of a virtual suite, Wells offers, an attorney who recently ventured out on her own didn't want to take calls from her home-based office, worrying about the possibility of interruptive and distracting noises (barking dogs or crying babies, for example).

So she secured the customer-based services offered at The Village Executive Suites.

"All marketing materials come here, all business-related mail comes here and all phone calls are redirected here," he says. "We have capacity built in to our technology to support hundreds of these clients."

A look into the conference room, with a dry-erase board constructed of repurposed glass and large, substantial table (built by Wells) wired for six work stations.

Inside the conference room, which is equipped for video conferencing with a wide-angle, 1080-HD webcam, is a large computer monitor mounted on one wall. Above, light is radiated and not projected from a ceiling inset lined with silver leaf. Light bulbs throughout the suites are hidden in architectural elements.

Past the reception's desk is a light-filled hallway with walls finished by Imago Dei artists in a polished veneer plaster to add reflective qualities, making spaces seem more expansive and brighter. And just around the corner . . . well, Wells doesn't have to point out the centerpiece stairwell, now called "The Tower" as defined by the Venetian wall finishing in bright lime green. The entire work is a group project by artists of Imago Dei.

The sculptural chandelier, designed by Wells, is fabricated from glass, plastics, acrylics and metal with layered horizontal glass panes, one covered in colorful striped glass bead. Large silver nodes are suspended from the grids.

Wells opens doors to the first-floor suites, which are fronted with privacy glass and inside, offer window views of the garden. Modern modular furniture is provided for each unit to create an minimalist atmosphere — and to inspire ingenuity.

"We want to keep the look consistent, so we furnish the offices with high-end furniture," Wells says. "All lights are on occupancy sensors to be wise in our use of electricity. Our wall treatments continue throughout the suites and original artwork is in every office."

Fifteen individual offices, averaging about 100 square feet with the option to combine multiple spaces, are available for lease starting at $1,000.

One of the first-floor suites, with environmentally friendly Flor carpet squares to come for comfort and sound absorption.

Wells continues about the executive suites: "Each office is individually pre-wired and networked through a special Watchgaurd firewall that provides tenants to have their own individual secure network while still being able to access the Internet and print to the Lexmark printer right from their office."

Many of The Village Executive Suites' services are available to the public, too.

"One nice feature of our public amenities is that pricing is being published through Square Inc.'s new Register app," Wells says. "Any Square Card Case user in the area can view on their phone what we offer, and when they arrive at the door, we already know their name."

Confirmed clients can then pay by credit card or simply have their purchase applied to their tab. "Tab transactions are automatically completed by their phone when they leave," Wells says.

Another suite at The Village Executive Suites available for professional creatives

In designing Imago Dei's new two-story digs at The Village Executve Suites, Wells tested his theory of a work ambiance in open, communal settings surrounded by rotating art. And he says it's working wonderfully for his staff.

A central custom work station at Imago Dei  is actually a 14-foot glass panel Wells reclaimed from a former skyscraper, which he then silver leafed and finished in an enamel gloss.

Clean lines and environmentally conscious features are incorporated into the exterior planning, too. The awning is a polycarbonate piece used for greenhouses, allowing light to filter through.

Wells chose landscaping plants that thrive in Houston's climate, and even added eucalyptus he missed from his home state of California to bring its captivating aroma along the walkway to the entrance.

Front planting beds are home to agave cacti surrounded by large, smooth, black river rocks, a combination creating a Zen-like garden.

While Wells has Imago Dei artists based in California, Austin and Dallas, The Village Executive Suites in Houston is his start-up business for modern-edge working spaces with a hip, casual edge that facilitates a community environment for clients.

"We do have plans in place where, yes, we'll expand this concept to other cities," he says. "There's never been a time like now when you can operate even a multi-million dollar business in a 100-square-foot office space.

"So right now," he adds with a smile, "it's first-come, first-served."