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Fueling Creativity: Jaren Wells on the ballooning popularity of Piedmont Natural Gas’ space

In 2008, Piedmont Natural Gas gave C Design a project: Take the basement at its corporate headquarters office at Piedmont Town Center in Charlotte and convert it into a room where employees could be inspired to think creatively.

C Design decided to take an unconventional approach to the assignment, said Jaren Wells, director of interiors for C Design.

“Instead of sitting around and working on a design together, we let everyone have their own take on it,” Wells said.

The space now looks like a room you might expect to find at Google’s offices or one of the staged rooms at Ikea: The facelift has given the basement a slightly futuristic feel, with vibrant colors and modern furniture everywhere.

Wells said it took about six months to a year after the space was finished for PNG to really start using it.

The space has become so popular that this year the public has started renting it for events, Wells said. There’s so much demand for the space, she said, people are waiting months to use it.

 

Tell me more about the assignment. This was created as an idea for PNG for an out-of-the box, thinking conference room. We were asked to transform a basement space at their headquarters that used to be their bill-processing center. It was broken up into four rooms with these giant, old bill-processing machines.

 

Does the space have a name? They call it the LID, the Learning, Innovation and Development Center.

 

LID? But isn’t it in the basement? People have noticed that sometimes. It’s just a way for it to be more creative. This LID is on the bottom.

 

What sets the space apart from regular conference rooms? The space is about 2,500 square feet and has a full kitchenette. And they have a library space, which is on the backside of the curve in the room so that allows for some privacy. You can get away from your typical workstation and have people go there to think. Sometimes people go there and play guitar over their lunch hour. And there are plenty of books for reference there.

 

But PNG can still have regular conference room activities there, right? There is a projector in the ceiling. But instead of a square area in the center there is actually a circular design to all of the room. It isn’t just a bunch of chairs in rows staring at the screen while someone talks. It has art supplies, and the furniture is more easily rearranged. You can write on the walls, like a dry-erase area, so you can take notes or jot down ideas.

 

How is PNG using LID? The process of teaching them how to use it was interesting. It is very different than the rest of their traditional corporate building. People come and sit to brainstorm and collaborate. They have a large closet and storage room of toys and arts and crafts supplies, which people use to do icebreakers and do art projects. We even have a utility sink in the storage room for cleanup if you use a lot of paint or something.

 

Has the project generated some buzz for C Design? We have gotten more exposure. People have been talking about it for years now, and it is very popular now. We were with a group of clients earlier this month showing them the LID, and they decided they want something similar when we do the design for their building.

 

Are you happy with the way it turned out? I like the fact that when you do walk in the door it is a different environment than your typical corporate space. It is very informal. The colors, even though they may seem primary, are very energetic. It is a blend of art and business and the learning and outcomes of both. You use the left and right sides of your brain, but you get to use more. It was almost like designing a nightclub or retail type space, so it was a lot of fun.”

 

 

Jaren Wells

Age: 45

Lives in: Tega Cay, S.C.

Family: husband, Rick; children, Rylan, 17, Rogan, 14

Education: bachelor’s degree in interior design, University of Tennessee


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