Design

Gemstone’s rock solid idea: Turn an office into a clubhouse

This is the story of an office that has quickly become so much more than just a 9-to-5 workplace. For Gemstone Developments, their meticulously renovated headquarters in Centretown is also a congenial meeting spot, a space in which to wow clients and show off their latest new-home and restoration projects and, most importantly, a concrete commitment to their community. “We do so much work in the urban core, and now we can truly say we’re citizens of Centretown,” explains vice-president Josh Zaret.

Photo: Miv Fournier
Photo: Miv Fournier

Their decision two years ago to buy a sprawling red-brick house on Argyle Avenue was made in less than a day but has since had a profound effect on Gemstone’s office culture. Where the construction side of the business previously had little interaction with the administrative side, today there’s collegial familiarity as crews mingle with accountants, everyone gathering around the island in the super-modern show kitchen for Thursday staff meetings. “The espresso machine runs all the time,” says Tony Natoli, Gemstone’s vice-president of construction. “The office feels like our personal clubhouse.”

Photo: Miv Fournier
Photo: Miv Fournier

It helps that the new headquarters is centrally located, easy to get to from any of Gemstone’s jobs — all of which are within the greenbelt. Workers pop in and out to pick up tools from the basement, grab a coffee, or drop off an invoice with the accountant. “The office has made our business much more ‘human.’ There’s less emailing because it’s now so convenient to interact in person. That comes from the space,” says Zaret.

Photo: Miv Fournier
Photo: Miv Fournier

That space is sunny, open, and filled with distinct finishings designed to display the expertise of the trades professionals who work with Gemstone. For them, the office provides the opportunity to revisit and enjoy their handiwork. For the sales team, the house makes it easy to show potential clients what Gemstone can do. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that when the company purchased the building from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Ottawa, the predominant impression was one of darkness, with a warren of 16 rooms and tiny windows (the “before” pictures on the wall in the kitchen verify the transformation that has taken place).

Photo: Miv Fournier
Photo: Miv Fournier

Now the main floor is a grand open space where light floods into the design centre, a gallery of a room with an ever-changing display of plans and renderings for Gemstone’s latest projects. At the rear of the house, the Irpinia show kitchen highlights beautiful cabinetry and finishings — as well as that espresso machine and a wine fridge. Upstairs, roomy offices open out onto a generous balcony overlooking Argyle. The result is an investment in Gemstone’s future — and its future office culture.

The building sets the tone, positioning Gemstone as an expert in the industry, while the environment has boosted both efficiency and happiness well beyond what anyone could have imagined when the renovations began — just being in this building makes one feel positive and engaged. “This office is tangible,” explains Natoli. “Everybody had a say in how this renovation came together, and now we see it every day and get motivated to keep creating.”

Zaret adds his spin to the tangibility discussion. “People in the community see our signs at job sites, but now they also see the Gemstone sign in front of our office. That sign is never moving. This is our space.”