Tapping into office space of the future
Three years ago, what is now the Headquarters co-working space in the East End was just an empty warehouse — a work in progress that was hard to see except for the artist renderings of the modern space to come.
Mark Licata, who with his son and daughter developed the 45,000-square-foot former janitorial supplies warehouse into modern industrial office space for small businesses, spoke there on a panel about the workplace of the future. Headquarters didn’t look like much then, still dark and lacking windows, but everyone was focused on the future.
He and the other business experts were there to talk about offices, design and the emerging workforce — and there for a reality check was a 16-year-old Houston girl.
“All of us experts got up there to talk, and then every time we said something, they’d turn to the 16-year-old and say, ‘Hey, is that how you work?’” Licata said. “She basically described exactly what we were creating here: someplace where she wasn’t confined to an office, that she could walk around and interact with other people who are in the same stage in their lives.”
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Headquarters, a sprawling space of five connected buildings, opened in February 2017 to an eager audience. Within a year, they were full, and they now have a waiting list.
There are similar spaces across the city with a combination of private offices and shared work space, including Wi+CoWork in Midtown, the Work Lodge in Cypress and The Woodlands, Local Office in West University Place and TechSpace in the Westchase area, all fairly new.
Like the others, Headquarters taps into the need for a different kind of place to work. Not old-school, multistory buildings with offices created with walls and doors along long hallway mazes.
These co-working spaces are an example of the office of the future and the design that goes with it. They tap into workplace research — for example, a 2016 Gallup poll on how millennials want to live and work — and modern design that shows how that ever-important young workforce is fast changing not only how we work but what our workplaces look like.
At Headquarters, it means common spaces where tenants can see each other at the intersection of gathering places including their community kitchen, outdoor courtyard, game room — yes, there’s pingpong — or even the lobby furnished with on-trend midcentury-style chairs.
What was once a dark warehouse now is full of big windows and doors cut through inches-thick walls of concrete — not to mention five, 100-square-foot skylights that bring natural light to its center. Movable glass-wall systems create a chic assembly of open offices for small businesses that need more space.
Licata, 67, a Houston native and former attorney, now lives in Boulder, Colo., and owns Goldking Realty. His children — Devin and Peter Licata, both of Houston — own TPC Real Estate, and together the three founded Headquarters. Mark first saw this kind of creative office space in Denver — where the three (with other partners) own the Cart Driver restaurant in Denver’s RiNo area — and called his kids.
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“Devin said, ‘Peter, you’ve got to come to Denver and check out these creative office spaces,’” said Peter Licata, 39. “In Houston, creative office space means an artist’s studio — a painter or photographer’s studio. I said, ‘We have those already. It’s not something I need to get into.’”
But when he finally checked it out, he knew it was something different that Houston needed.
What works, the Licatas believe, is that its floor plan, design and vibe all send a message that it’s a place where big ideas are percolating. Step in the front door, and you can see space looming ahead. There are may be 42 tenants, but a visitor’s quick take might be that you fill the whole space because it simply doesn’t look like a collection of offices, even though it is.
The lobby and common areas have modern furniture that you’d easily find at Knoll or Design Within Reach.
“One of the big reasons to go with modern furniture is the simplicity. It doesn’t take away from other things — it lets you see the space and not just the furniture,” Devin said.
Ceilings are high and open, and the floors are polished concrete, both hallmarks of modern design. Light pours in from every angle, and since the movable glass walls don’t reach the ceiling anywhere, there’s always a little buzz in the air.
There’s a bit of whimsy, too, in the name of the building itself as well as the names of conference rooms throughout.
“We chose Headquarters as a name to sort of stick it to the man,” Devin said with a sly smile. “Something lighthearted yet you wouldn’t be embarrassed to tell your clients.
Glassed-in conference rooms follow a similar path with business clichés: There’s the Bullpen, Cloud, Boiler Room, War Room, Wheelhouse and the Loop.
The Licatas are tapping into the “landscrapers” trend, a newly coined term for office space that sprawls horizontally rather than vertically. Big business might love the idea of leasing several floors in a gleaming new high-rise, but small companies gaining traction — especially those in the tech sector — are drawn to floor plans that eschew the us-and-them feel of a corporate hierarchy.
The idea is that when there’s room to roam, people can run into each other for a quiet conversation or eat lunch together in the common kitchen. There, they make friends and business allies.
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“When we opened, we had 20 different companies who didn’t know each other before they moved into the building, and now they’re working on projects together,” Peter said, noting that they now have 42 tenants. “We asked, ‘How do we activate the space? How do we get energy within the building without everybody sitting stuck in their office?’ Otherwise, we’re like any high-rise where everybody goes to their little shoebox and stays there all day.”
Modern design and workspace plans weren’t the only consideration. The Licatas were interested in an existing building that came with its own history and charm. As developers tear down old buildings all over the city, the Licatas wanted to save one.
In their search for a building they found two others, one of which they lost out on because the winning bidder wrote a heartfelt letter about turning the old, red-brick building into an event venue. Four months after closing, Peter drove by the site, and the building had been demolished and a row of townhouses was underway.
“Everything is being torn down, and townhouses are going up,” Mark said. “There’s no vibrancy in those neighborhoods. We met with the Greater East End Management District, and they were excited about having things that would bring people to the East End. It was important to us to be in an area where we could afford to do that and also preserve something.”
The first part of the Headquarters site was built in the late 1940s. As its original owner grew his business, he added on throughout the 1950s, with the last addition in 1971. During the renovation, they also wanted to preserve the imperfections that came with the building’s age.
When the general contractor wanted to fill in pits in the walls or add a drop ceiling to cover up HVAC ducts, the Licatas shook their heads.
“In Houston, we had a hard time finding (a general contractor) who got it,” Mark Licata said. “The architects wanted to put drop ceilings over the offices, and we said, ‘No, we want it to be open.’ The GC is used to doing finish work in downtown office buildings. Well, he wanted to cover it all up, too. They wanted to paint the steel beams white. That’s part of the industrial feel for the place.”