This story was originally published in the 2014 December/2015 January issue of Chattanooga Magazine.
When Ashlee Patten and her father Cartter decided to move their new investment advisory firm, The Patten Group, into the circa 1917 Volunteer Life Building they were focused on creating an environment that would appeal to a younger demographic than one generally thinks of when discussing investments. The new group split off from Patten and Patten, Inc. earlier in 2014.
The 12-story building at the corner of MLK and Georgia Avenue was constructed of concrete with interiors that are accented with marble. Managed by Luken Holdings, it houses the office of United States Senator Bob Corker and was tastefully renovated a little over a year ago.
When a client arrives at the large office suite that is home to The Patten Group there is an awe-inspiring transition from the sedate hallway to the bright character of the office reception area. Dark flooring lends solidity and contrast to high-key wall colors. Contemporary art and soft lighting create a pleasant ambience, and except for the presence of an authoritative portrait of founder Zebulon Cartter Patten I, a visitor could be standing in the loft office of a New York advertising agency.
Actually, it is much more than a reception area. This oversized room serves as client conference room, employee lounge and reception area—all combined open space—artistically designed and efficiently purposed. Efficiency is one aspect of the office that Patten is excited about. It has broad east-facing windows and the open design allows light to filter into the entire area.
“Our business is actually a very creative business and there are very few financial service companies that reflect this,” says Ashlee. She says clients often work with teams of advisors and the open setting helps them feel more relaxed and flexible enough to talk through what’s on their minds. Moveable “walls” allow the advisors to configure the space as needed. These monoliths on rollers form a boundary for the various work functions and are wrapped in wooden “tiles.” The walls are convenient when the size of an area needs to be changed. The client reception and work areas are separated from the workstation area by corrugated barn-door style, gliding doors.
Passing through the industrial barn doors, visitors enter a serious workroom. A contemporary conference area with Lucite walls allow you to see, but not hear, meetings in progress. It is also totally wired with flat screen technology. Sleek workstation clusters accommodate four analysts each and foster collaboration. “It’s a completely flexible workspace,” says Patten. She is also adding two rolling enclosed pods for privacy.
The space expresses Patten’s own feelings about design and she is pleased with the fact that a number of Chattanooga artists have been involved in the progression of the redesign. Jessica Martin, a local freelance graphic designer painted the logos inside the barn doors. Nate Turner with Smart Furniture styled the interior furnishings. Set in Stone built the kitchen countertop and sink, reception countertop, plus the client conference table that converts to a Ping-Pong table, when needed.
UTC sculpture instructor, Dan Bethune built the monolithic rolling walls and a rolling reception desk. He also created the image on the front of the barn doors and created the plexiglass Ping-Pong “net” for the conference table.
“This was a huge project for me. Ashlee has been open to fresh ideas and game for some interesting directions,” says Bethune, who hopes to see more of this sort of freestyle design in offices around town.”It’s a cool Google kind of space.” At his private studio in Georgetown, Tennessee the sculptor works primarily in resins, taking commissioned projects as time allows. He has been a lecturer at UTC since 2001.
Patten worked closely with architect Heidi Hefferlin to design and configure the space for maximum efficiency, in keeping with building code ordinances for the 4,000-square-foot office space.
“The open plan encourages collaboration,” says Hefferlin, co-founder and principal of H+K Architects in Chattanooga. “They can hold seminars, have lunches and sponsor meetings of various sizes because of the flexible space.”
The contemporary style of the office is softened by a display of lush green plants, with a hint of Asian styling. Ashlee’s sister Avery, who once had her own floral design shop in Chattanooga, works at the firm and moonlights as its floral stylist, too.
Ideas about the importance and definition of work and play have evolved in recent years and much is being written about the topic. Academia.edu reports from a number of authors about research on work and play. In a recent post, author Nick Butler with Ephemera, writes——With such blurring of work and play, the traditional boundary between economic and artistic production also disappears. In much of the business literature on play, the entrepreneur and the artist melt into one figure. This is evident in a recent book about the importance of play in business, entitled The Business Playground (Stewart and Simmons, 2010). The book, co-authored by the former Eurythmics band member, Dave Stewart, features a preface by Virgin boss Richard Branson, as well as an endorsement from Bob Dylan. This gives the impression that Branson’s enterprising investments and Dylan’s inventive musicianship belong to one and the same category; both are products of ‘the creative child inside of all of us’. Creativity is important because it generates business, and business can only happen because of creativity. Here we find that imaginative play and artistic expression not only become fully incorporated within work, but they are precisely what makes work productive and worthwhile in the first place.
The philosophy seems to be visible in this new Patten Group office environment. There is an upbeat sense of energy and cheerful camaraderie among the staff. Of course, plenty of work gets done before someone gets challenged to a game of Ping-Pong at the end of the day.
“About 4:00 p.m. on Friday the Ping-Pong nets go up and the paddles come out,” says Cartter Patten. “The days are not long enough, we don’t want to go home anymore.”
Photography by Harlan Hambright