When John [McGarry] and I first opened shop in a small SoHo apartment back in 2002, I can assure you space was the least of our concerns.
But, two years later and with two major clients on our roster, finding the right home was perhaps one of the most important decisions we would make. Still a small – but growing – family, a few of us wanted to carve a spot among the industry’s most storied shops with a Madison Avenue address, while others sought the more unconventional. All you had to do was look at when and how we got started to know conventional was nowhere in our DNA.
When we started looking, we knew we needed space large enough to allow for growth, but also flexible and raw enough to allow us to make it our own. The Starrett-Lehigh building was described to us as fit for our needs but, at that time, it was considered a big gamble. Located about as far west in Manhattan as you can get without swimming in the Hudson, the sprawling building was thought of
by many as an abandoned industrial relic in the heart of a very gritty and desolate west Chelsea warehouse district. Yes, a few notable companies had made it their home, but they were far outnumbered by empty storage docks and questionable squatters.
On my first tour of the building, I remember taking one of the giant elevators originally built to carry trains and cars up and stepping out on to the 11th floor among old textile machinery. It was one of those crisp New York fall days and I was immediately struck by what I consider to be the most stunning feature of the building: its incredible giant pane glass windows that wrap every floor like a crystal clear ribbon and the stunning, expansive skyline views these panes project in vivid detail. I stood there in awe, taking in the view that continues to inspire me daily and knew then and there that we had found our home.
The space was nearly bare and measured just a little more than 20,000 square feet. With concrete floors, exposed pipes and brick walls punctuated with black, glossy radiators, it had just the right amount of character from its industrial past and a whole empty canvas of space for us to build Mcgarrybowen’s future.
To grow upon the open and collaborative culture we had carefully built, we installed an open floor plan with unobstructed views and clear floor-to-ceiling glass offices and meeting rooms. The few walls that existed were covered in cork material and transformed into impromptu displays of work in progress and quick creative review areas. Our terraces were decked out with grills for summer barbecues and communal tables for fresh-air regroups and evening skyline-viewing breaks. The floors we left bare, with a coated shiny seal that’s especially forgiving to the occasional accident from our family of four-legged office mates.
We’ve grown quite a bit since 2004 and, with each new space we’ve added to our home here, we’ve managed to maintain that same warm, collaborative and inviting experience that we started from. Yes, I think the large open floor plan plays a big role, but far more important are our incredible people. They are the force behind what we’ve achieved and the success we see ahead as we continue to grow both globally and here within these brick walls at 601 West 26th Street.
Gordon Bowen is the chairman and chief creative officer at Mcgarrybowen New York