Martha Sutyak (Su-tak): Designer/Project Manager of the new 1623 Studios office at 11 Pleasant Street Gloucester, MA
Martha’s design firm: Smartly Staged, a real estate staging company
Contact Information: firstname.lastname@example.org; 978-239-3947
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
It was in August 2019 that Martha Sutyak got a look at the potential new studio space that 1623 Studios’ Executive Director Erich Archer was eyeing in downtown Gloucester. It was a raw space and vacant for some time. The space would need a significant build out to be the new home of 1623, and Martha saw the potential immediately.
Maureen Aylward: We’re talking about your role as the interior designer of the new 1623 Studios space in downtown Gloucester. What was it like when you first walked in? What did you see?
Martha Sutyak: The first walk through was really exciting because, out of the small group of us that walked through, I was probably the only person who could see the possibility for the space. Honestly, there’s an interesting statistic: only five percent of people can imagine what could be in a space that’s not yet designed, and I have that talent. So I was very excited to envision what could happen. I was doing design work for 1623 in its old space and getting familiar with the culture and what the needs were culturally, technically, and physically.
Maureen: What were some of your first impressions?
Martha: What stood out to me was that the studio needed work space for many people and that included the fact that 1623 producers needed a certain amount of privacy for phone calls and content production; community members needed to work on projects independently in a separate area; and the executive director wanted to be more integrated into the office space. The production studios, where all the shows were recorded, were very important. The new space offered the opportunity for three studios, with windowed space and natural light, sitting right in the center of downtown Gloucester with City Hall and Middle Street as backdrop. That was very exciting. I wanted to leave behind dark studios that are hidden behind closed doors. One of the ways that I got focused was that I came by at night and turned on some lights and dreamed about what it would look like with the studios lit up in the front and the space full of people with an event happening. Then I got to work on how to achieve my vision of space.
I also learned that 1623 Studios is a place where there is a lot going on all through the day and evening. I wanted to accommodate weekday and weekend schedules. It needed a kitchenette and a cafe-style area where people could have small collaborative meetings. It needed a space to host events.
Maureen: Tell me more about the studio design. We’ve seen this same window studio set up on television, such as The Today Show and WGBH’s Boston Public Library studio. A viewer really does get this sense of being in the midst of the action, in an urban space. Why is that important?
Martha: I think we’re in an age where open communication and transparency is really important and being out in the public where people can see what you’re doing supports the idea of transparency. The front studios are a visual manifestation of the culture and values of 1623 Studios. It strives to be an excellent communicator and highly transparent and available to all. It has a drive to offer the community cutting edge technology so that Cape Ann has access to it through its community media station. I wanted to highlight the important expressions for community mindedness, conscientious reporting, transparency, and the importance of technology. And I was focused on using the front studios to engage the public to show what’s going on and feature the technology and the capabilities of the people who work here.
Maureen: Take us into the interior space. It’s beautifully light and airy. It has an incredible sheen and vibe to it.
Martha: I went to several small television and podcast recording studios and I noticed this preponderance of carpet, dark charcoal walls, scant lighting, and so forth. I wanted to do the exact opposite to show off the personalities of the people who work here, the vibrancy of what happens here, and that to me suggested light and bright. I thought about Gloucester: the ocean, the harbor life with sailboats and ships, urban buildings – it is very linear and quite beautiful. I thought about sailing on a crisp summer day and how the blues and greens are so clear and how the aluminum rigging on a sailboat gleams in the sun. I wanted to translate that beauty to this space. So the offices have aluminum spines on them and very simple fabric panels. I used colors from the sea: blue greens and very pale colors. I layered colors to combine with the glass, giving the space a very watery feel, which is what I was after.
Maureen: I think the emphasis on glass is a magical element of the design. It does give it a watery feel and supports the notion of transparency.
Martha: From a design standpoint, interior designers love glass because it’s an opportunity to create transparent planes and to create reflection. Other television and media stations are shooting shows with glass and the street behind them, and we are doing the same.
In addition, one of the biggest problems I see in studios is that people may not know what is going on in any given area. You don’t know when a show is on air. You can’t see if a person is working behind a closed door. If someone needs help, then they are forced to knock and then someone has to greet them. Transparency helps to eliminate those barriers. And glass can make people more sensitive to what is going on. That can engender a certain respect for one another’s space and time. This was the primary motivation for using all the glass and to open opportunities for clear communication.
Maureen: I’m wondering what impact you’re after on people walking into the studio. What was your hopeful idea of what people would experience when they came in?
Martha: I really want them to feel a sense of wonder. I want them to question what’s going on. I want them to see people they know from the community hard at work. Producers are very public people and recognizable in the community. I wanted people to walk by and say “Did you see so-and-so working there?” I want them to look at 1623 Studios’ Facebook or turn on Channel 12 to see what is happening because they got excited walking by the space. I want the people to feel welcome to come in and visit, and for those visitors to be greeted and directed to the proper place, especially if the person is there as a show guest. The studio will have an interior graphic communication element that is also known as wayfinding. All the areas of the space will be labeled up high so that when you walk in, you can see where you need to go without asking anyone. Visitors will be able to find their way around without being guided by a person.
Maureen: So you weren’t just the designer of the space, you were the project manager of the space, too. How was it to do both of those major jobs at once?
Martha: What was really exciting about it was that I could make design decisions throughout the entire process. And because I was the project manager, working with all of the subcontractors, if they had a question, I could answer it immediately. On other jobs where I am the designer, I would walk off the job after the design phase and someone else would make final decisions. I was the point person all the way through this project and that made a huge difference in the final, beautiful outcome.
Maureen: What were some of the challenges?
Martha: The biggest challenge was timing. There were the classic timing challenges with the subcontractors and getting everyone in and out without having them crawl over one another. There are always gaps that need to be filled and delivery issues. For example, some of the glass did not arrive on time. And the cubicle workspaces were delivered, but the doors were stuck in customs in New York. You have to be able to find things to do and shift the schedule in the meantime to stay productive and on time.
Maureen: And your favorite elements of the job?
Martha: From a design standpoint it was working with people who desperately needed a change and really wanted to participate in the process. I had many conversations with the staff at 1623 about the layout of the new space. Together, we saw the opportunity to create an environment that was going to be much easier for everyone to work in even though it was going to be a big change. In the project management area, it was the flexibility I had to make changes. Someone said, “We need a dishwasher!” I was able to change the drawings for the counter immediately to make space for the dishwasher and accommodate what people wanted. So that freedom to make accommodations at the last minute was really exciting.
Maureen: Let’s talk about the furniture and other design elements and influence in the office space. Were you going for a Scandinavian look and feel?
Martha: It’s more of a midcentury feel. The midcentury looks are everywhere right now, and have been for quite some time, and I didn’t want to fully participate in that trend because it will go away like every trend does. But what I really like about midcentury is the clarity of form and color. To me, it is a perfect way to integrate the space. One of the trends in interior office design right now is giving offices a more residential feel in certain areas. One thing I used to make the office feel more homey is to use Scandinavian-influenced furniture because it’s fresh. Sometimes the Scandinavian look does not work with a space. You have to know the story of the place in order for the design to have continuity.
Maureen: What’s the design story for 1623 Studios now that your work is complete?
Martha: I think that anyone with an idea can come into 1623 Studios and express it. People in the communities that 1623 Studios covers, who are looking for insightful and thoughtful information, can find it here. This new space tells the stories of all the communities and it now has its own story too. The original content that is being created has changed dramatically over just the last few years. I think the current shows are really compelling. My part in this story was to design around the people who work here and bring forth a space that is reflective of the programming that is being produced. I just keep thinking about how colorful and bright and exciting the studio is now.