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So long, cubicles: Detroit's dPop becomes Pophouse, rethinks workplace design

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Step inside the main offices of dPop, a commercial interior design firm headquartered in the basement of Detroit's Dime Building, and you'll see Edison bulbs dangling from the ceiling, large concrete columns, yoga mats hanging from hooks on a wall and upholstered cushions with big pillows in an area called "the pit."

Within seconds it's clear this isn't your typical workplace. But dPop isn't your typical design firm.

The original Dime Savings Bank vault door is now a conference room at Pophouse, formerly dPop. ...more
The original Dime Savings Bank vault door is now a conference room at Pophouse, formerly dPop. Located in the basement of Chrysler House, Detroit's former Dime Savings Bank, Pophouse is a commercial interior design firm that does all the design for Bedrock properties.
Todd McInturf, The Detroit News

The company, which does most of the interior design work for Dan Gilbert's Bedrock Properties and has Gilbert's wife, Jennifer, a designer, as its creative director, is known for bright colors and its modern aesthetic. Two bank vaults that were once part of the Dime Savings Bank in which it's located are now conference rooms in dPop's offices. 

But six years after its start, dPop is broadening even more how it approaches workplace design to create what it calls "culture-driven" work spaces. On Tuesday, the firm announced a new name — Pophouse — to reflect its evolving mission.

Pophouse president Jennifer Janus says the days of creating a workplace with simply a desk and chair for each employee are long gone. It's about using research and analytic tools to study how employees work and then creating "transformational" and purposeful designs, she says.

"What’s happened over the last couple years is we’ve really started to also focus on a lot of other things such as wellness in the space, productivity, how people are feeling," said Janus. "So if they’re in a workspace, are they energized? How do they change the way they work at different times of day? Our work now really takes that time to really understand what’s needed directly from maybe the central client, who typically is the CEO, but also from everybody on that team."

This former Detroit Dime Savings Bank vault has been renovated into a second conference room.
This former Detroit Dime Savings Bank vault has been renovated into a second conference room.
Todd McInturf, The Detroit News

Creating "inclusive" work spaces for a company's employees has an impact, said Sarah Davis Pophouse's business intelligence account director. They're more productive and there's better teamwork, she says.

"No longer are we in a mindset where people sit in the same desk for eight to nine hours, go to a conference room and at the end of the day, leave," said Davis, part of panel discussion Tuesday at Pophouse's offices exploring transformational design.

The name change comes as the studio also is expanding its team with a new local architectural designer Mark Ehgotz. Ehgotz will become the firm's studio director, bringing with him experience in both hospitality and retail.

The firm also is also segueing into product design for the first time, teaming with an Australian firm to offer its own line of acoustic panels for businesses. They're inspired by historical architecture in Detroit.

This 'Roundabout' is a conceptual furniture piece created through the Design Fellowship presented ...more
This 'Roundabout' is a conceptual furniture piece created through the Design Fellowship presented by Pophouse and Joe Parr.
Todd McInturf, The Detroit News

Pophouse's own line of furniture could be coming down the road as well. Janus says the firm has an industrial designer on its team who is already collaborating with a few Grand Rapids furniture manufacturers to design more products.

"That's on the horizon for sure," said Janus. 

Founded in 2013, dPop, or now Pophouse, has completed 2,311 projects for the Rock Family of companies, which includes Quicken Loans and Bedrock. They also redesigned the lobby of the former Detroit News building on Lafayette. Janus says their main focus is in southeast Michigan and Cleveland, though they've also taken clients in Florida and New York.

"We feel really passionately that you need to be close to your clients to make sure the project goes well," said Janus.

But the company has evolved since its founding.

"If dPop was us in our 20s, Pophouse is us in our 30s," said Janus. "We’re just growing up."

And for them, growing up means being more strategic. Janus said what sets them apart from other design firms is really using the technology that exists to gauge how employees using a space and incorporating that into their design work. They use a tool called Density to measure, for example, how often conference rooms are used. They also use Microsoft Workplace Analytics to determine which employees work together the most and design accordingly.

"It is a relatively unique and new (approach) to looking at how workplaces are designed," said Janus. "... A lot of this technology is very separate (now). What we’re doing is bringing it all together — not just using the tools, but understand from a strategic perspective what a business is trying to accomplish." 

Janus said what they've found in their own projects is that the workplaces that function best have a multitude of different options.

The original Dime Savings Bank vault is now a conference room at Pophouse.
The original Dime Savings Bank vault is now a conference room at Pophouse.
Todd McInturf, The Detroit News

"People work differently first thing it the morning than they do the afternoon," said Janus. "So having the ability to have spaces where you have heads-down quiet focused time plus spaces where you can collaborate together as a team, it really does make a difference through the day."

Janus says they look at how teams work and then create designs that offer as many as five to six to different ways for employees to work throughout a work day. It could be standing at a table to sitting at a booth. 

"Even in workplace design, it's very hospitality focused," said Janus. "In the past, it used to be 'If it's workplace, it's desk and chairs and it's very workplace-focused.' But many of these different environments have a lot of overlap now."

mfeighan@detroitnews.com 

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