Jeff Martin | svetlana | 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.

At Work With Design Army - JM-4143At Work With Design Army - JM-4157

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.

At Work With Design Army - JM-4161At Work With Design Army - JM-4230

>>>>>>>>>>>> Here is a Featured Event >>>>>>>>>>>>
Friday 04/21
Paul Rodriguez LIVE from Original Latin Kings of Comedy @ Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse
$25 / $25
Longtime comedian Paul Rodriguez has been making audiences laugh all over the world (in Spanish and English) for nearly three decades with his unique brand of humor that is a perfect blend of his Latin heritage, the American dream and his undeniable universal appeal. As an actor and comedian, Paul Rodriguez’s multi-faceted career includes starring roles and featured appearances in over 45 films and countless television series and comedy specials. Voted one of the most influential Hispanics in America and awarded the Ruben Salazar Award by The National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, Rodriguez has remained a constant force in his community and the world of comedy throughout his career. Rodriguez's film credits include "Without Men" with Eva Longoria and Christian Slater; "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore;" "The Deported," "I’m Not Like That No More"with comedian Felipe Esparza (2010 "Last Comic Standing" winner), Disney’s blockbuster hit "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," "The World’s Fastest Indian," "A Cinderella Story," "How to Get the Man's Foot Outta Your Ass," "Ali," "Tortilla Soup," "Crocodile Dundee in LA," "Rat Race," "Bloodwork," "Chasing Papi"and "D.C. Cab," among others. The multifaceted entertainer recently wrote and performed his first-ever one-man show "Just for the Record," which is now available on DVD. In this tell-all theatrical piece, Rodriguez takes audiences on a journey through his remarkable life, including his childhood in Mexico, to his family's move to Compton, California (where he grew up), his illustrious career and the significant relationships and moments that helped shape his life along the way. Rodriguez has hosted several hit series, including the entertainment talk show "El Show de Paul Rodriguez," an entertainment talk show for Univision which reached over 50 markets throughout the United States and an international audience in over 17 countries in Central and South America. His additional hosting credits include the The NCLR ALMA Awards, The Tejano Music Awards, Showtime’s Latino Laugh Festival and his own television specials "Back to School" and "Behind Bars." He recently hosted "Mis Videos Locos with Paul Rodriguez” on Tr3s: MTV, Música y Más. As an accomplished writer, director and producer for television, motion pictures and feature shows, Rodriguez has several hit projects to his credit including the comedy concert film "The Original Latin Kings of Comedy," which he executive produced and starred in along with Cheech Marin, George Lopez and Carlos Mencia; the feature film "A Million to Juan,"which he also wrote, directed and starred in; six comedy specials for HBO including "Loco Slam, " "Live in San Quentin" and "Idiots and Armadillos." As executive producer, he recently struck comedy again with his Comedy Central stand-up concert DVD, “Comedy Rehab.” In addition to his many hit comedy specials in English, Rodriguez has the distinguished credit of performing the first-ever one-hour standup comedy special in Spanish, "Dime Con Quien Andas,"for Telemundo. Among his many credits, Rodriguez has also made guest appearances on several Late Night shows including "The Wanda Sykes Show,""The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," "Last Call with Carson Daly,"and "Politically Incorrect." Additionally, he has guest starred in several television series including "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List," "Shaken Not Stirred," DIRECTV’s"S upreme Court of Comedy,"Showtime's original series "Resurrection Boulevard"and"American Family." He has also lent his voice to popular animated series including "King of the Hill,""Dora the Explorer" and "The Proud Family." Rodriguez’s first big break came while doing comedy warm-ups for Norman Lear's show "Gloria."Lear ultimately wrote and developed a weekly series for Rodriguez entitled "a.k.a. Pablo," which is enshrined at the Smithsonian and holds the distinct honor for being the first television show about a Mexican American family on mainstream American television.
>>>>>>>>>>>> Ok, back to the article! >>>>>>>>>>>>

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.

At Work With Design Army - JM-4215

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.

At Work With Design Army - JM-4140no-trash

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.”

At Work With Design Army - JM-4355


At Work With Design Army - JM-4226

“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.”

At Work With Design Army - JM-4220

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”:

At Work With Design Army - JM-4297

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.

At Work With Design Army - JM-4452At Work With Design Army - JM-4458At Work With Design Army - JM-4459

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.”

At Work With Design Army - JM-4360

At Work With Design Army - JM-4333

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.

At Work With Design Army - JM-4421

(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:

At Work With Design Army - JM-4346At Work With Design Army - JM-4349

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:

At Work With Design Army - JM-4367

At Work With Design Army - JM-4386At Work With Design Army - JM-4400

At Work With Design Army - JM-4177

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:
At Work With Design Army - JM-4240At Work With Design Army - JM-4249At Work With Design Army - JM-4244At Work With Design Army - JM-4253At Work With Design Army - JM-4292At Work With Design Army - JM-4256At Work With Design Army - JM-4269At Work With Design Army - JM-4277At Work With Design Army - JM-4281At Work With Design Army - JM-4308At Work With Design Army - JM-4327At Work With Design Army - JM-4330

At Work With Design Army - JM-4314At Work With Design Army - JM-4317

Recent Comments:
  • Jerome Baker III says:


  • Kathleen Bruen says:

    I am humbled by the gifted, but expanded by the gift!