Agency Interiors

By The Drum, Administrator

August 28, 2003 | 8 min read

Newhaven: Creative hotbed, ready for development

Everyone in the Scottish marketing industry knows everyone else’s business. They know their competitors’ clients, they know their competitors’ staff – sometimes intimately – and they often hear about the rumblings of a disgruntled client before the incumbent agency does. But there is one thing that has always been the sole preserve of each and every agency. Its office. Not often does an enemy get the chance to cross the defences to view the wonders of a bloodthirsty opponent’s homeland. So, The Drum has crossed the threshold of three very different agencies – and three very different buildings – to show what prying agency eyes don’t usually see. From the creative community at the ready-to-renovate Newhaven’s offices – with magazines stacked in a refrigerator, old tuk-tuk bikes in the basement and the almost constructed greenhouse meeting rooms – to the grand advertising hall of worship that is Union House, with its colour-changing lights, shiny reception desk and plush client room. Add to that the colourful and enticing designer townhouse and elegant front garden that is 1576 and the cross-section of Scottish advertising life is almost complete. But what does each building say about the agency that lurks within its walls? Read on to find out.



As most people are aware, the name 1576 comes from the date of our first office, which was in Edinburgh’s Old Town. The date was carved into stone on the wall and it seemed unusual and interesting to use as an agency moniker.

We moved to our present office in 1996; a Georgian townhouse in a quiet London-style square right in the heart of Edinburgh’s city centre.

It was only after we had moved in that I discovered that my grandfather used to work in the same building before joining the RAF in 1945. His office was our boardroom.

As Rutland Square is listed, there is only so much tinkering you can do with the building’s internal structure so we have made minimal changes.

We’ve gone for modern elements, such as lighting and furniture, which contrast with the formal feel of the actual building and I think this juxtaposition works quite well.

The interior design was by Dene Happell of Happell in Glasgow. We had a pitch and lots of companies put forward ideas, but none could match Dene’s creativity and pragmatism.

As we are a people business, we wanted to reflect that in our reception. All of our staff have their portraits hanging on the wall. Made out of Lego.

Each of our clients has their own individual coat hooks as well – that only they can use.

And the doormat is there just as a bit of fun.

I think it’s important that an ad agency’s office has a bit of presence and, hopefully, we have achieved that without going over the top.



The Union left its launch site in Edinburgh’s Rodney Street in the summer of last year. The directors purchased Union House – a former church – to become the agency’s new, more spacious home. A very detailed brief was drawn up for the architects as the directors had a clear idea of the sort of agency atmosphere they wanted. And we’ve been delighted by what the architects delivered

The space is light, bright and open, with minimum clutter, tidy desks and lots of storage.

We wanted to keep the original features of the building. Hence (other than perhaps the addition of the boardroom), there have been no drastic changes. We retained the feel of the church with the use of white paint and by leaving the GOD IS LOVE message above the grand organ, yet we’ve managed to stamp the agency’s mark on the space.

Lighting is integral to the design of the building. As well as large amounts of natural light, many rooms have mood settings depending on context of the meeting.

We wanted to be open for our clients so they can see how we work: hence, you can see the agency from the boardroom. Lots of use of glass has helped add this feeling of transparency. We always show clients round the whole agency and they can see what they get.

Furthermore, a cutting-edge client area has been created with internet, phone, fax and a separate bathroom for clients to freshen up in – especially those from overseas or down south.

A number of meeting rooms have been created – formal ones, small ones and relaxed ones – all of which get used on a regular basis. And, since the office operates an open plan structure – with the managing director and planning director sitting in the main office – any confidential phone calls can take advantage of these spaces.

A reference library – a place to keep and build up our knowledge bank, shower room for staff, bike racks, open space area for lunch and area for relaxing have also been created.

The creatives’ space downstairs had already been converted into offices by the Church of Scotland. However, the area has been refreshed and the lighting theme continued. Meanwhile, ONLY U and NU MEDIA have been brought into the building to create a more integrated feel.

Overall, we wanted to create a fantastic space for people to work in; so they get a buzz just by coming in to work.


Ken Dixon, Planning Partner

77 Montgomery Street at the top of Leith Walk is an old grain store comprising 9,000 sq. ft. of workspace set over three floors.

We are already a thriving creative community: our building is home to a digital artist, an exhibition designer, a travel writer, a music journalist, a DJ, a best-selling novelist, Product Arts and Media magazine, an edit suite and Newhaven’s artist-in-residence Naomi Garriock.

Work has already begun on transforming the main hub of the Newhaven building into a unique and imaginative workspace, a stimulating creative environment, complete with café and bespoke areas for our clients.

The top two floors will be remodelled, while the basement will remain untouched. This shell space or venue will enable us to embrace temporary creative projects (BBC Cineworks short film “Little Big Head” was recently filmed there and several more initiatives are in the pipeline).

Since we moved in earlier this year, we’ve been working out of the existing printer’s offices as we explored and agreed on how to take the building forward. Our solution will be a unique, funky and inspiring place. Why? Because we believe that ideas come from anywhere – and you cannot get inspiration from a sterile, rented or serviced office space.

Originally, we did look to rent. However, very quickly we decided to buy, as the sort of space that we all wanted is virtually impossible to create in a rented space.

Experience had taught us that if you set up in “hand-me-down” floor plans you’ll kill the agency culture. Creative cultures require flexible spaces – places that say yes to creativity and pushing the boundaries. The evolution of our space will be driven by cultural growth and people needs, not CAD modelling.

All of our floor plans have built-in flexibility: if we build something and outgrow it, or simply decide that we don’t like it, we’ll just rip it down and create something better.

If we want to have two greenhouses as meeting rooms, we can. If we decide that we don’t like them, that they’re in the wrong place or that they just don’t work, we’ll take them down and create a smarter solution. We won’t be precious.

Our building must inspire clients as well as ourselves. That’s why they too will have their own space. A retailer may want an area that can be turned into a shopping aisle, a changing room or an inspired space for staff training.

Essentially, our building is a creative workshop; it won’t be all frosted-glass and unfunctional parts. Flexibility and imagination is in our DNA – it says a lot about who we are.


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