WeWork Creative Chief Adam Kimmel on Future Cities and Getting Comfy in the Office
Fashion designer turned creative chief at WeWork, Adam Kimmel is a man intent on making your office more homely.
30 July, 2019
Design mavericks are hard to come by. Former fashion designer, Adam Kimmel is one such savant.
On the eve of his SS13 fashion show, in 2012, Kimmel placed his eponymous brand on hiatus. Making a career pivot, he joined WeWork as creative chief in 2017 and traded in chinos for chairs.
With 485 physical locations (and counting) to oversee - each with their own localised details; there's a preference for tea over coffee in the UK, and Horigotatsu seating in the Tokyo outpost - Kimmel is tasked with creating environments that encourage collaborative thinking and community-building. WeWork has clocked up some 466,000 members since its launch in 2010. Now Kimmel has all eyes on him.
Where does your creativity spark from?
My mother. Growing up she was very aware of space and design. I remember going antique shopping with her - I always wound up alongside her in her pursuit of design and that's how I connected with her.
How would you define your role as creative chief at WeWork?
I work with the interior design team mostly, as well as arts and graphics. It's a lot of back and forth between the designers and it's exciting. We're constantly improving, elevating and evolving the product and I think the localisation component of our designs is also really ramping up.
How is WeWork continuing to reimagine the workspace?
I think, in general, there is this shift in office design. WeWork are at the forefront of that shift. Comfort has become the new accepted code - even in fashion, everyone is wearing trainers. Comfort is something that people value in everything and I think the office space is the latest area to catch on. For us, every design decision is based on what feels comfortable and homey versus what is cold, corporate and institutional. All of our design decisions are focused in on that residential vibe.
How do WeWork spaces adapt to different cultures? Can you give me some examples of how your global product localises itself?
We are spread out. We have headquarters in San Francisco, New York, London, Shanghai, Berlin, Bangalore and Southeast Asia. So this is a global endeavour. The thing that's exciting about the WeWork brand is that it's something that we want to be very personalised, it's not designed from a headquarters, with the same thing everywhere. We have 150 in-house interior designers spread over these regions. We want our customers, which we call members, to come and feel like, "wow, this is really thoughtful, this was designed for me".
We want all WeWork spaces to have a common uplifting, comfortable vibe, but with unique elements in each of the locales - you can add different details such local brickwork, hand-painted tiles, locally dyed fabrics and furniture.
When you design clothing, the physicality of your creation is important. Can the same be true when designing spaces?
I think they're both very similar, you have shape, form and material. The thing that I find so interesting about interior design is that you can live in it - a garment is very "one note" compared to a spatial environment. So, I love the art and architecture side of it; putting that all together makes for a very rich puzzle.
There is a growing trend across the fashion industry to branch into lifestyle - whether that's hotels, furniture etc. Do you consider WeWork a lifestyle brand in any way?
You know I've never thought of it that way. I don't know, I think I've always been obsessed with designs of all forms.
What creative references do you refer to again and again?
Billy Baldwin is a master. I love Jacques Grange, I think he's unbelievable. In terms of furniture designers, Jean Prouvé is a good base.
How do you see cities changing over the years?
All kinds of different forces are at work, in general I think cities will grow tremendously. For me, I love living in the city but if I had to choose my pleasure, my non-work fun, it is definitely in the country, by the ocean, a mountain, being in nature is where I'm happiest, but it's the people in the cities who make them amazing.
What are some of your favourite places to escape to?
I recently went to the Dominican Republic. That was really beautiful - and relatively close to New York.
What are you reading at the moment?
I haven't had the time to read any lately, but I do read through a lot of magazines - and movies on a plane are great.
What would you do to improve airports?
Wear and tear comes into the picture - so fabrics and materials are chosen that will last forever. Still, there's a lot of room to stylistically make things that feel more comfortable and less cold. If you design a place nicely, people treat a place better. You could put a little of the "living room" application into airports and it would be great.
Where is your next adventure to?
I'm going to Paris tonight, my wife has an art show tomorrow night… and then back to New York.