By Meghan Dwyer
When it comes to designing an interior, whether for a restaurant, boutique, or hotel, there’s more to the process than simply choosing textiles, paint colors, and furniture. According to New York creative agency Brand Bureau, or BB as its employees like to call it, there will always be some degree of imagination or storytelling involved in any space, and “consistent branding” means ensuring all design aspects contribute.
Brand Bureau was formed in 2012 as a part of global hospitality design firm AvroKO’s multidisciplinary offerings. In recent years, BB has evolved and come into its own as an independent studio working across brand and experience strategy, visual design, and interior design. While BB shares the same creative DNA and passion as AvroKO—making its clients’ spaces, be them in real estate, entertainment, or finance, more hospitable—its work is solidly grounded in strategic thinking and brand building.
“Whether you’re a no-frills dive bar or an immersive, experiential temple to fine dining, you’re still looking to create an experience for your guests that is even a little bit outside of their day-to-day,” says company COO Lynn Juang. “For us, consistent branding is about making sure every aspect of the space ladders up to the overall story it is trying to tell. Does this light fixture or art feature help tell the story, or does it detract from it? How does each component of the design make the guest feel? These are the questions we ask ourselves.”
When designing a physical space as an extension or expression of a pre-existing brand, BB takes a deep dive into understanding the brand itself—its roots, evolution, mission, and ethos, which helps the team discover what it stands for and who its audience is. “It’s not enough for us to look at a brand’s style guide or brand standards and say, ‘Yup, we get it; we’re off to the races,’” says Juang. “We do this because we want to dig deeper and get to the real heart of a brand so that we can design something from the inside out. Not to create something new or different for the sake of it, but to create something that feels true to this brand.”
Re-Imagining the Core
Levain Bakery in New York, which has developed a cult-following for its massive cookies, came to BB to evolve its store design for future expansion. With six locations that had developed over time, the stores were missing the cohesion and clear point of view that would help take it forward. Levain recently redefined its brand strategy, so part of BB’s role was to decipher the intent behind its value proposition and translate it into a space.
The objective was to highlight three core principles: the baking theater, which showcases and celebrates the process through transparency; materiality, which centers on using materials and finishes that feel handcrafted and not industrial, speaking to the brand’s motto of “perfectly imperfect”; and supporting Levain’s focus on bringing joy to the communities it’s in, which to BB meant creating a warm, welcoming space someone would be excited to visit.
“Levain wanted their new store design not only to capture the three design objectives, but to also feel modern and contemporary, not a huge departure from what their customers already know and love,” says Juang. For the new Williamsburg, Brooklyn location, “we created something both fresh and familiar, where the design recedes in order to truly celebrate the cookie.” The team made use of bright white, warm wood tones, and, of course, Levain’s signature blue, a rich shade used strategically in key areas where guests interface and interact with the brand. Another key element is the custom wood and glass screen that frames the kitchen.
The process of creating a physical space to embody an entirely new brand is similar to designing for a pre-existing one, according to Brand Bureau. “When we’re working on an existing brand, our strategists and designers work to unravel the brand together, and then create a new design expression for it. If we’re creating a new brand, then we work together to build it from the ground up,” explains Juang. “Our brand strategy team articulates the brand ethos and experience, while our design team visualizes it. You don’t have two creative processes functioning in unrelated silos, where a design team is handed a brand strategy that wasn’t thought through from a design point of view, or conversely, being asked to retrofit a brand strategy from a design concept that isn’t rooted in anything deeper than superficial aesthetics.”
BB recently designed the brand concept for Charlotte, North Carolina’s Protagonist Clubhouse, the vision of three childhood friends who wanted to create a new kind of craft-beer concept. “The brand position we created for Protagonist was about it being an impact engine and catalyst for the community,” says Juang. “With that as our springboard, we created a design concept for their first Clubhouse, drawing from diverse influences such as NASA ‘tiger teams,’ Southern front porches, and Frank Lloyd Wright in order to create a space that is at once inviting and exciting.”
One of the main priorities for the owners was constant experimentation, creating new brews themselves and with partners. Tanks are proudly on display, while the Flux Capacitor tap system allows brewers to perfectly control the gas blend to ensure optimal beer integrity. Also key to the design was the clients’ desire for the Clubhouse to avoid the typical craft-beer tropes that skew darker, more masculine, and industrial—so the palette is light, bright, and full of clean lines, instantly making the space feel contemporary while serving as a subtle nod to the research labs that were part of the inspiration.
“Concurrently, the visual design team had a lot of fun on the branding and graphic design side, going as far as developing an entire alphabet out of a secret code made of custom-designed glitch logotypes and icons that is peppered throughout the space,” says Juang.
Hospitality Is Everywhere
Outside of the F&B sphere, Prometheus Real Estate Group tapped BB to create the Hadley, a forthcoming residential development in Mountain View, California, with 17 amenity spaces totaling about 70,000 square feet. Prometheus refers to each of its properties as “neighborhoods,” centered around distinct concepts that speak to unique target audiences.
“For the Hadley, we found instant inspiration in the Mt. Eden Floral Company, a family-run business upon which the future Hadley site is built. With this as our starting point, we created a brand narrative centered around [a concept of] ‘the Treehouse Collective,’ with a goal of creating an enchanting and indoor-outdoor escape,” says Juang. The Den, for example, is the building’s outdoor theater, outfitted with a concession stand and an oversized forest mural to set the scene. The Treehouse, one of the primary lounge areas, offers guests a place to sit or work and features an indoor garden and intimate reading nooks. This collection of spaces, adds Juang, “balances the comfort and familiarity of home with moments of magic and wonder drawn from nature.”
Photos: Kelsey Kline, Carlos Ledesma, Kendall Mills, and Kate Previte