From the February 1999 issue of Startups

Office props: Propaganda Inc. founders David Tyreman and Keith Walton, both 35, have taken the "bored" out of boardroom. Say goodbye to swivel chairs and formal meeting tables. For these entrepreneurs, whose company supplies props for department stores, restaurants and retailers such as Banana Republic and Nautica, it's all about beanbag chairs, fabric walls, a cinematic pull-down screen and the ultimate office essential: a faceted disco ball. "The idea is, you walk in the door and feel relaxed," says Tyreman of the company's San Francisco headquarters. "We want people to feel sort of giddy, excited."

With core values like "Certainty, Fun and Respect," it's no surprise Tyreman and Walton don't confine their 17 employees to cubicles. To illustrate the company's playful attitude, the entrepreneurs encouraged their staff to create a mural. Using an under-the-sea theme, the staff painted fish on the walls and superimposed their faces. "We're not an uptight company," explains Tyreman. "You get a lot more from people when they feel relaxed and safe."

"When we moved in, there were no walls--it was just one big shell," says Tyreman of Propaganda's 27,000-square-foot live/work space. The next addition for what Tyreman and Walton describe as a "work in progress"? A scrapbook wall for the entryway that includes photographs, newsletters and client orders dating back to the company's June 1988 launch.

Vintage leather suitcases imported from England are one of the most popular items Propaganda supplies to retailers. Used for displays in men's sections at many department stores, as well as the company's biggest client, Polo by Ralph Lauren, the suitcases provide customers with a visual "story" that helps market their products.

Something old, something new: You might say Seattle's Lead Pencil Studio is a working model for its founders' ideology of design. The beauty of the former newspaper production facility, now headquarters for an architecture practice, lies in its blending of the antique and abandoned with the new and restored. "When we saw this little storage room, it was covered in old plywood shelving and newspapers," says company co-founder Daniel Mihalyo, 28. "Anybody else would've thought `No thanks.' We saw an opportunity to make it our own."

In 1996, after four months of renovations, which included sandblasting the ceiling and refinishing the floor from its sooty black state, Mihalyo and partner Annie Han, 31, moved into the century-old building in Pioneer's Square. "The windows, wood floors, beams and columns speak for [the building] and its age," says Han. "[Clients] comment on how comfortable and warm [the space] is. The response has been very positive."

"It's sort of a religious or spiritual experience," says Han of the morning light that filters through the room's fused glass window. "Everything is so natural and tactile. It inspires me to contemplate."

As sole employees of their architecture practice, Han and Mihalyo have creative control of their office decor. "We made it more relaxed and less corporate than the places we've worked in the past," explains Mihalyo. "A lot of architecture offices are very sterile and made to impress the client, not to be comfortable. Ours has a used, worn look."

Contact Sources

Lead Pencil Studio, dna@leadpencilstudio.com

Propaganda Inc., 450 Ninth St., San Francisco, CA 94103, http://www.4propaganda.com