Crafting a Legacy

Etsy’s new Brooklyn headquarters celebrates community, authenticity, and sustainability

03/01/2017 By Robert Nieminen

If there’s one thing the Maker Movement has solidified in recent years, it’s the notion that embracing authenticity and craft adds tremendous value to local communities. This truth is embodied perfectly in the design of Etsy’s new 200,000-square-foot headquarters in Brooklyn. In partnership with Gensler, Etsy not only created a space that “reflects the vibrancy of our community, celebrates small and local artisans, and supports employees’ innovative working styles and overall well-being,” according to Josh Wise, the company’s global director of workplace ecology and design, but it is also on track to become one of the largest Living Building Challenge Petal-Certified projects in the world.

In other words, by supporting the art of making and being faithful to the company’s values, the new headquarters represents a space in which the Etsy community can truly live out its mission. i+s recently spoke with Justine Chibuk, capital projects manager, and Arianna Anthony, senior PR specialist at Etsy, about the process of creating their new home in Brooklyn.

interiors+sources: What were the overall design objectives for the project?

Justine Chibuk: Early on, we spent a lot of time basically focusing on defining what our goals and our aspirations were for an office space. This is the first time Etsy had really invested so significantly in an office buildout—and with ample time to think ahead and plan purposefully and meaningfully for the long term. It was really quite interesting and unique in terms of the design process of bringing together all of these local stakeholders from across the board, whether that was sustainability or cultural engagements.

There were three pillars that I think are key, [one of which was] the sustainability aspect—so in this case, targeting the LBC, the Living Building Challenge certification. And one of the requirements was the vetting of Red List-free materials. That was for all our construction materials, our furniture, and that also informed all of the art pieces that went in. Anything that came on site that was going to be installed and re-used was adhering to the sustainability guidelines.

The second thing was scaling to work with local makers and artists, and being able to scale them in a thoughtful, mindful way with the project. It’s a very different platform for trying to work with an individual maker from, say, finishing one conference table to, what does it look like to make 20 conference tables? We guided them through that process, as well as them guiding us.

The other key thing was continuing to make sure that our mission and our values were used to inform every decision that we made.

i+s: Why was it important to work with so many artists and craftspeople? What did the process look like?

Arianna Anthony: The reason why we chose to do it this way is because Etsy is a marketplace made up of many small makers. That’s the soul of who we are. I don’t think we could have made this building in any other way that didn’t include working with many local, small makers—really integrating our community into the process. It just wouldn’t feel right.

JC: Yes, so it started with that premise, and that’s a standard that we place globally across the board for all of our offices. Basically, it’s finding and sourcing these local people and makers that we can partner with and we can grow with. Each of our global offices is outfitted with furnishings and pictures by local community members.

i+s: How many unique pieces were commissioned for the headquarters project?

aa: We had 750 pieces approximately—roughly half of the furnishings and the art in the space. And vetting all those for sustainability as well was another big challenge—not only working with many small makers but making sure that they were compliant with the very high sustainability
standards out there.

JC: And it was a great learning opportunity for them. There were workshops set up, and it was an amazing cross-platform experience of the larger, more commercial guys working with the small one-, two-man furniture maker shops and learning from each other and their different methodologies, their different processes, and what their recommendations might be. I think it was quite the interesting cross pollination.

i+s: What did you learn from the process of working with so many independent artists and makers?

JC: One of the key takeaways, toward the wrapping up of this project at least, is when we have conversations between the commercial furniture manufacturers and local makers and ourselves at Etsy, we talk about this idea of trust between all the parties—really enabling other people to do their jobs and fill their positions in the best way they see fit. For us it’s less about having extreme control over a situation or end product but rather providing parameters, guidelines, best practices to the individuals and using that as a platform for success. Approaching it with that kind of attitude, I think, has really benefited all of us in the long run. It has allowed everybody to feel really invested in the project as well.

Photography by Emily Andrews, courtesy of Etsy