Before Bonita Spencer-Percival and husband David Spencer-Percival left London to fly to Texas this summer, they both agreed they simply must purchase large Union Jack and Stars-and-Stripes flags, one each. At the time, they didn't know the exact purpose for the banners, but they felt compelled to buy them anyway.
The couple excitedly arrived in Houston just months out from the opening of Spencer Ogden Energy’s first U.S. office, located high atop BG Group Place in downtown.
David, CEO and co-founder of the London-based oil, gas and minerals company, came ready to finalize plans for the more than 3,000-square-foot facility. Bonita, a former dancer with The Royal Ballet, stylist and image consultant and costume director, was prepared to take on her new role as decorator.
“I started with the London office, and because David works in this industry, we wanted the Houston space to be organic and earthy, too, not cold and sterile,” Bonita says of her inspiration. “We wanted the employees to feel energized by the office environment.
“We also knew that we wanted to incorporate a sense of place, of where we are,” she adds, “so you’ll see nods to Americana and to Texas throughout the office. We sourced almost everything locally.”
Beginning with the main work area, a large, open room with floor-to-ceiling windows making it “delightfully sunny,” Bonita chose AstroTurf for the floor covering, her now-trademark Spencer Ogden feature at its locations throughout the world.
“It brings the outdoors in,” she says.
“We're very theatrical," she adds with a laugh. "David loves that Peter Sellers movie, Dr. Strangelove. We created our very own ‘war room’ by placing a huge world map on one wall with TVs built in.
"As you can see, we're very fearless in our approach to things.”
Bonita ordered custom-made circular tables, each 15 feet in diameter, using reclaimed wood for the surfaces and hollow, round drums for the bases. The tables are constructed so that all electronic cables extend from the main columns through grommets, hiding any possible tangled mess of cords.
Ergonomic office chairs in white leather from High Fashion Home surround the large furniture pieces, where as many as 17 employees are able to work comfortably from each surface top.
“David is very connected to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table,” Bonita says. “The tables pay tribute to that, as Percival does go back to the Round Table."
Bonita didn't like the idea of installing a ceiling, so instead she had the exposed pipes wrapped in a safe, environmentally friendly and almost unnoticeable material. Warehouse light fixtures hang above, rather than florescent strip lighting so commonly used in offices.
The tables are topped with cacti planted in oversized hammered-metal pots for a taste of Texas.
"At the London office, we have bonsai plants," Bonita says. "For this office, I researched cacti and succulents and fell in love with them. Cactus King has everything you need."
To create a waiting area at one end of the communal work room, Bonita wanted a brick wall to define the space — and she got one. She placed a vintage Coca-Cola vending machine there as well as a three-chair airport bench.
"I found so many funky little shops just filled with treasures," Bonita says, naming Old Blue House Antiques as one favorite stop. "Like this dispenser. I love it just as it is."
In fact, rather than seeking out Houston's malls or mega-shopping districts, the couple scoured the city's smaller, even quirky, retailers, like those lining Westheimer in Montrose and more only-in-Houston stores for authentic, not reproduction objects.
The Underground and U.S. flag artwork are gifts from Edward Ogden, Houston office director and son of Spencer Ogden Energy co-founder Sir Peter Ogden, to add a decorative flair to the new wall.
"These pieces pay homage to England and to America," Bonita says. "They give the flavor of who we are here."
Decorator Bonita Spencer-Percival
Remember the U.S. and Great Britain flags the couple purchased before coming to Houston? Those banners became the upholstery for two matching arm chairs Bonita and David found during their Houston shopping spree.
To completely cover the pair, an upholsterer at James Vandrick Furniture finished the backs in a complementary royal-blue denim textile.
Vintage campaign chairs with chrome frames and canvas seats and back rests are from another Westheimer antique shop, as is the standing task light — actually a 1930s Helene Curtis hair dryer.
"When I saw that, I said to myself, 'Well, I can make that into a lamp,'" Bonita says. "It was such a splendid discovery . . . and it worked."
Bonita arranged the flag chairs facing one another across retro chrome-and-glass nesting tables. Framed images on the walls range from architectural prints to unknown sporting teams in aged black-and-white photos to a newspaper clipping featuring a picture of Winston Churchill.
The cushy black leather couch, another Houston find, is framed by an accent wall covered in a pin-stripe menswear suiting fabric from Ralph Lauren. The polo mallets belong to the Spencer-Percivals.
Coffee table books and reading materials are on hand for the employees perusal and pleasure. A sisal rug anchors the room and adds a contemporary element to the eclectic decor.
Next to the lounge is the conference room, where Bonita employed the same Ralph Lauren fabric for the wall treatment, setting the stage for a more formal look. The business-like environment is further achieved with the symmetrical grouping of stately coats-of-arms prints the couple brought from their London home.
The boardroom table and brass-tack upright chairs are from Lou B's Antiques, as is the marble-topped 1950s table hosting vintage barware. A scholarly portrait hangs above in a classic gold-leaf frame.
"One end of the room is a tribute to England, while the other is a tribute to America and Texas," Bonita says, noting the longhorn skull accompanied by a collection of black-and-white photos depicting early workers in the oil fields.
"Can you imagine how hard that work was?"
Back in the main work area, a virtual 1950s-style cafe or soda fountain bar tucked in a cozy nook invites workers to relax and enjoy their lunch or coffee breaks. The red vinyl-topped bar stools are originals that Bonita purchased at Lou B's; the tall diner or "cappuccino" tables, as Bonita refers to them, were ordered online. The black-and-white linoleum flooring finishes the theme.
"The lighting fixtures overhead were displayed at an antique store here in Houston on an old, rusty bar," Bonita says, adding with a laugh, "I wanted the entire thing, I told them, 'Rusty bar and all.' "
More cafe-style tables sit at intervals near the windows in the main room, so employees can feel they are lunching in the out-of-doors.
"I love the sportiness of the place," Bonita says. "We have the polo mallets from London in the lounge and representing America, we have a basketball hoop with balls and baseball bats in the main office area. The employees wear ear pieces so they can walk around as they tend to business."
In fact, Bonita says, Ogden holds a daily "Power Hour" during which staff members are not to sit down for 60 minutes. Rather, they shoot hoops, mingle or walk or even jog a few laps around the central area.
Chalk boards recording employees' goals hang on opposite walls, a design addition reminiscent of Bonita's mood boards drawn for her costume ideas.
"We've created an environment that encourages people to stay, that makes them want to come to the office," Bonita concludes. "And we've achieved that target, I believe, through the business incentives strategies and through our design."