Toronto is the home base for the lively workspace of Bento Box, a boutique Web and business development studio that stopped us in our tracks when we saw how many of our SAYL Chairs filled its offices (very impressive). Take a look at their space — also home to coworking artists, designers, and developers — in this latest tour.
Bento box was established in 1999. What led to that point? Surrounded by talented classmates and friends in his final year in the Intermedia program at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, our founder and business director Henry Faber had a hunch that a group of highly specialized artists and content producers — spanning disciplines from animation to film and photography — could do even better work together. At the time, few Web studios were producing successful cross-media campaigns. By coming together as a team to focus on our clients’ root problems (rather than the work as the end goal), we were able to maintain a very lean team and produce truly interdisciplinary work.
Tell us about Bento: what you’re passionate about, what inspires you, and where you’re going. We’ve always been fascinated by scale: How can we better comprehend our clients’ problems, so we can craft meaningful solutions? Over the years we’ve found paring down helps us get to the heart of our partners’ passion. We continuously remove objects and influences that don’t contribute to deeper understanding, and replace them with things that help us focus and bring us closer to our own goals and the vision of those we work with.
By shaping our own space and practice, we are in a better position to help people identify what they really want and make a plan to go after it — and that’s the most rewarding part of our work. Nothing excites us like seeing someone working on turning what they care about most in the world into something sustainable.
In 2006, we moved the business from Vancouver to Toronto, and spent the next five years working from our home offices. We really missed the sense of place we had with our downtown Vancouver office, the opportunities for human connection and play that come with gathering to work in the same physical space. We were also becoming overwhelmed by the enormous scale of our sphere of social participation — our “community” was the whole Web, and all its pockets of tenuous interaction.
So we started a regular coworking meetup at a neighborhood coffee shop, and eight months later had a solid group of regulars gathering around a big marble table, suffering through hours of hunching in too-low plastic chairs for the benefit of human contact. In late 2011, we realized that it was time to give them the workspace they deserved.
Now we draw so much inspiration from the people who share our space. During the day, we work together — artists, designers, and developers pouring their hearts into projects they believe in. After hours, we gather for social events like games night, supper club, and movie night. We focus all of our efforts on our members — collectively, a slice of the huge indie game development community here in Toronto, Web freelancers, and tiny startup teams. The scale is comprehensible to us, so we can create a place that meets their needs, ergonomically and socially.
Tell us about your space. Any special considerations that influenced its set up? Because the coworking space is not our primary business, our main concern was keeping things simple and giving members exactly what they needed without cruft. The space itself is lovely, with huge original factory windows looking out over the city, and wood floors and beams. We didn’t want to detract from that charm, so we opted to keep the workspace completely open, with five big work tables, an open meeting/eating area, and two lounges. Coffeeshops and other public “third places” are not noted for their comfortable seating, so we wanted to blow our members away with support and customizability — that’s why we chose SAYL.
So you have SAYL Chairs, and we’ve heard rumor of Embody Chairs. Why did you choose them? Because different members may use a particular chair on any given day, easy adjustability was a primary concern. We don’t even need to keep the instructions around because the controls are so intuitive — coworkers pop in, plop down, tweak for a few seconds, and get to work.
Our 30 SAYLs are the lifeblood of our workspace, and a huge selling point for new members. They encourage movement, collaboration, and openness — and their futuristic good looks create a pleasing contrast with the warmth and simplicity of the original piano factory features of our space.
Our product director Jennie Faber suffered a sports injury a few years back, and her Embody was the only thing that allowed her to keep working. She found it was an improvement over a standing desk because it encourages movement, like leaning back and swinging her arms, gliding around to chat with coworkers, and relieves pressure on her thighs and tailbone. She swears by it and recommends it to desk workers with back injuries and anyone who finds themselves “frozen” in front of a monitor for hours on end.
We know what it’s like to end the day with back and neck pain and want to spare hard-working devs the aches and regret that come with a day on a coffeeshop bench!
Photos: Bento Box