At Work With: DESIGN ARMY
svetlana | Jeff Martin | May 21, 2014 | 9:00AM |

all photos: Jeff Martin, all words: Svetlana Legetic

Even if you are not familiar with DESIGN ARMY‘s name, chances are you’ve lived with their work surrounding you for years now. The award winning firm, founded in 2003 by the husband and wife team Pum and Jake Lefebure has worked their simple, effective, never predictable design magic on branding, typography treatments, lay-outs, art direction and beyond for clients such as Washingtonian Magazine, The Washington Ballet, Bloomingdale’s, Signature Theatre, Green Hat Gin, Louis XIV … and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So, when we were discussing what the next “AT WORK WITH” column should be, the notion of poking around their H Street NE studio seemed too good to pass up.

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And it certainly didn’t dissapoint our architectural wet dreams we had of it. The space is all the things you think it would be: airy, light, immaculately designed and quiet, but somehow still managing to feel comfortable and lived in for the dozen or so people who work there at any given time.  “We bought the building in 2005; we were in a bidding war with 28 people to get it. It took two years to renovate, and we moved in at the end of 2007.” – says Pum.  – “The last certificate of occupancy, from 1968, lists it as a pool hall. We renovated it as a burned-out shell.

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The architecture firm put in charge of transforming the burned out shell was S27.  “They did a great job planning and maximizing the space.” – Jake notes, though -“…Looking back, we should have squeezed in a few more work stations.

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And naturally, they were involved every step of the way. According to Pum: “We had a lot of input. We’re the worst client, for sure. For me, it’s really important for creatives to be in a space with a lot of light. I want everybody to have access to windows. It’s a rowhouse, so to make it work, we had a huge skylight put in. It’s the entire length of the building on one side. It was a big expense but it’s so worth it. We work with color every day, so it’s important to come to a workspace that’s like a blank canvas. The whole office is painted in the brightest shade of white you can get. Sunglasses are required while you work.

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Everything about the space shows off the design approach of Design Army’s work as well (watch their website intro video for a perfect primer on simplicity done in a big, bold way). When describing the guiding principals of the work they do Pum says: “Conceptual, first and foremost. We put emphasis on the thinking behind the design before we think about the execution. Beautiful is a given, but it also has to be witty. A lot of people can do beautiful stuff, but not everyone can be smart and clever about it. I believe design should please the eyes and activate the mind.”

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“For me, design is about subtraction — not having anything on the page that doesn’t need to be there. We try to simplify and subtract, which can be hard. It’s like modern, streamlined furniture — very hard to build, because it has to be perfect. Having that ‘wow’ factor is important, too. You don’t want to be the one who talks all the time; you want to be the one who says a few things, but the right things. We also have a very multicultural team, which means we have a really unique perspective.”

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above and below: the views of what Pum and Jake look at every day, their daughter Sophie playing an important role in both, with a side note from Jake: “Yeah, I don’t really tidy up”:

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The space is separated into three floors: reception area, conference room and the design library at the bottom. Main work station area in the middle. And the kitchen and roof terrace on top.

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Each space has its own energy so we had to know: any fun office rituals we should be aware of? Happy hour traditions? Brainstorming strategies etc?
We celebrate birthdays with cupcakes or Dangerously Delicious pies, and the same party hats every time. (And beer, if we feel like it.) When the weather is nice, we like to have meetings on the rooftop. It’s nice to have a deck with a view of the Capitol Building.”

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Speaking of views, as we arrive, we can’t help but notice that everyone working in the space is in almost perfect style sync as well. If the office clothing style could be described in a sentence, what would it be?
Pum: “Comme des Garcons.”
Everyone else: “Comfortable, because we have a lot of stairs.

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(side note: not everyone wears (amazing) glasses in the office but we did make everyone WHO DOES line up for this photo. “This is going to be kind of mug shotty, isn’t it?”- they all laughed before doing mugshots anywhere and everywhere proud). Below: some of those stairs:

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And everyone is not just running up and down those stairs – they are WORKING. Any particular clients and projects they’d like to single out right now?
We’re working with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a Ritz Carlton luxury resort, Bloomingdale’s, and a collaboration between Smithsonian and Lucas Film. Our pet project is Color Consumption, an awesome Instagram feed that you should follow here: instagram.com/colorconsumption.

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Aside from staying as busy as ever, we check in- is there anything else in particular you’d like us to mention?
Pum is jetting off to Cannes soon to judge Cannes Lions, which is like the Oscars for design and advertising. She’ll be Instagram’ing her adventures (which are always entertaining — just ask Alec Baldwin).  We’re also working on some exciting fashion and beauty collaborations … and a design blog.

So much to look forward to. AND NOW, as a goodbye: below: every work station at DESIGN ARMY, the bird’s eye view, a perfect opportunity/kick-in-the-proverbial-butt to get those creative juices of your own flowing today:
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