Opinion: What does it take to stand out from the crowd?

Distinctive design demands a particular vision and attention to detail

We always said from the beginning that every TOG building should be different. Not only do the buildings have their own unique stories, but each of our businesses have different needs too. That was always our intention. The execution is hard work and far from straightforward and we’ve always believed you have to have a commitment to originality and really care about what you’re doing.

The actual building is our starting point every time – we always strive to be true to its heritage and original character in order to be as authentic as possible. For example, 24 Greville Street in Farringdon was originally a Victorian warehouse, so we’ve exposed the iron columns and brickwork, but United House in Notting Hill has a completely different feel that’s right for the area and the building. We pulled on it being in a residential area so it's designed as a 'home away from home', with eclectic interior design and cozy workspaces that are in keeping with its residential surroundings. We tried to respect the local context and reflect it in a commercial setting.

We collaborate with different architects and select them based on the specific building and the design position we think it needs approaching from, so we don’t just churn out similar-looking projects. We never want to have a completely in-house style developed exclusively by an in-house team as that would prevent us from being able to adapt each time. When it comes to choosing architects to partner with, we look for ambition to create something fresh and original. I love it when architects challenge our thinking. It’s a collaborative process and we have to combine the creative elements with the commercial. We have a good sense of where to save but also where we need to go further and spend more than we should. In Vauxhall, we spent five times our normal budget on a reception desk. It required some deep breathing to get our heads round it, but it’s pink terrazzo, beautiful and is so impactful the moment you walk in the building. It was entirely the right move to invest in it.

There’s much more competition in today's market, so we need to work even harder to stand out and create designs that are distinctive. It’s an interesting balance – we brand each building and workspace individually, from The Stanley Building to The White Collar Factory, but we still want people to recognise them as TOG buildings. We want each to be true to its original architecture and context, but also sit comfortably as part of the TOG portfolio.

I think the common thread that links each building together is the fact that we care deeply about how people experience them. We never lose sight of the fact that we design the offices for the people who use them. We always consider it to be their building – not ours; there’s a carefully considered neutrality about what we deliver that gives them the space and the freedom to feel that way, to make it their own and reflect their brand, identity and culture. 

We also pay particularly close attention to detail in every space we create, often on moments that one wouldn’t necessarily register, like how the weight of the door handle feels as you turn it, or whether the kitchen has been designed so you feel as comfortable as you would at home.

If you don’t take that level of commitment and care, it can come back to bite you. In 2011, we took four floors in a building in Euston. It was really successful, so we took another floor and given how busy we were, wanted to try a design-and-build contractor to deliver a turnkey refurbishment. Same design, same scope of works, but we literally left them to it and didn’t input at all. The result was a space that felt completely unrelated to the other floors. It lacked soul, personality and quality, all because we took our eye off the ball. Tough, but a valuable lesson and we haven’t repeated the mistake.

From our first-ever building – a converted pub in Islington – my co-founder Olly Olsen and I have always considered what other people want, so there’s a level of emotional intelligence and absence of ego that says, ‘I’m going to try to feel what somebody else is going to feel with this building’. It’s really hard to make something markedly different and fresh and yet still be of a similar quality. But we care deeply about doing this, and it’s the most amazing feeling when you get it right. 

Charlie Green is TOG's co-founder