SketchUp Stories: Rainbow

Established in 1990, Rainbow have been helping companies of all sizes create engaging and inspiring office environments for their staff to thrive in. Comprised of a furniture, consultancy and services business model, Tony Antoniou, Managing Director, took some time out to talk us through their workflow and use of SketchUp.

Tell us a little bit about Rainbow and the work that you do.

Rainbow are completely independent suppliers of furniture for corporate, hospitality and educational spaces. 

These include offices predominantly, which has always been our main source of business, from large 1500+ person projects to smaller 20 person offices, helping clients through the rapidly changing workplace but also many stadiums including premiership clubs, Wembley and Twickenham, many libraries, schools, a high end membership club, cinema and a state of the art premiership club training ground.

SketchUp office design

We work directly with large corporates and SME’s, as well as helping architects/designers and fit out companies to improve work-spaces for their clients and bring everything to life.

Our company philosophy is to win clients – not projects. We want to work with companies for many years, not just a one-off project. In order to achieve this we:

  1. Always have the clients best interests in mind at all times, in every decision, suggestion and recommendation we make.
  2. Provide the highest level of service, before, during and, more importantly, after a project has been completed; on-going support and service is vital to maintaining a long term relationship.
  3. Provide competitive prices at all times, so clients have no need to look elsewhere when a requirement comes up.
  4. Provide quality products that will last.
Visualising space for modern, open-plan offices

We have many clients that we have worked with for 16+years, a couple for 20+years and one global organisation for 29 years, so we know that our philosophy works and SketchUp has been key in helping us not just maintain, but foster these relationships.

Project pitch showing multi-use office space
The same pitch from the user’s perspective. SketchUp walk-throughs are key for clients to help them visualise and realise the space before final decisions are made.
Positioning different desk arrangements rather than standard rectangular banks.

What are the benefits of using SketchUp in your design process?

SketchUp allows us to bring our ideas to life, so we can easily tweak and change them before presenting them. Clients can see these ideas and understand what their space will look like when it is complete. They can then make any changes and amendments they feel necessary in order to get it just right before they place orders.

End users really appreciate this because often we are dealing with the facilities manager who understands and can visualise what we are proposing from a standard GA plan. However, they are going to need to explain to other people in the organisation (who are not used to reading plans) what the space will eventually look like. SketchUp drawings, renders and walk-throughs are so valuable in bringing a space to life, showing the design and how it will work. Everyone is able to share in the vision.

SketchUp helps the suggestions come to life; Rainbow’s in-house team digitally recreates the office and places the products proposed into the plan, letting the client visualise how the space will look when the product goes in, giving the client confidence in their choices.

Any must have SketchUp extensions?

Make Face is vital to us because it saves a huge amount of time turning DWG files into a 3D SketchUp. This literally saves us money in man hours and is the reason we are able to turn drawings around so quickly.

Twilight Render and SU podium are also very useful because they allow us to turn the SketchUp designs into high quality and polished renders once all the changes have been made and the client is ready to sign off.

A simple render for a client office
Reception areas in offices can often be the most costly so being able to visualise it before it’s built limits expensive mistakes.

What kind of trends are you noticing in office design at the moment?

I have been in the office furniture market for 32 years now and up until 15 years ago, offices had not changed much at all. However, the changes in the office workplace over the past 15 years have been incredible.

We have helped so many of our clients understand and implement the changes, such as collaborative working areas, informal meeting spaces, presentation areas, agile working, the shrinking desk sizes, the move away from pedestals to lockers and the change towards less corporate environments – even in very corporate industries.

Lighting design in a commercial interior project

I feel that the major changes had already taken place when all of the above were introduced. However, we are still working with companies to bring a more ‘homely’ feel to the workplace. A focus kitchen area within an office is still very popular.

Bringing a space to life; dining areas are always important!

The changes which are coming in now are more about the people within the workplace rather than the physical workplace. It’s how organisations engage with their people and how they look after their well-being with proper programs. Rainbow always like to stay ahead of the trends and have linked up with an organisation called Yowse to carry out workplace utilisation studies. This study shows exactly how a space is used, who works with who, which departments interact, what are the busy areas, what are the quiet areas, what the actual desk occupancy is (the average is around 60%!) and then not only how many meeting rooms are in use all day, but how many people are in the meetings.

As well as the utilisation study, Yowse carry out one to one interviews with 5-10% of the people in an organisation to find out their opinions on the office, what works, what doesn’t work, what could be improved, and what the culture of the organisation is like.

Together the utilisation study and the interviews produce a complete understanding of how the workplace flows. This is powerful information and allows the creation of a dynamic and successful workplace where employees can flourish.

We’re all becoming more aware of the relationship between the design of our daily work spaces and mental health. How do you ensure balance between client budget and ensuring the work space functions aesthetically and practically?

Companies who look after their people will be the successful organisations going forward, so mental health and well-being in general is paramount.

When we plan spaces, we will always include quiet areas and spaces for private phone calls because not having these in a work place may cause stress and anxiety in people who need somewhere confidential to speak or quiet to concentrate. By providing these spaces companies are then creating areas for all types of work.

Informal meeting areas and presentation spaces away from open plan desks are also very useful because they take noisy meetings away from the main area which can be distracting.

We try to implement open kitchen areas in a workplace because it’s a space where people can mingle, chat, drink and eat. It’s generally a happy space that is well received and liked by almost everyone. Of course we try to keep it away from people working if possible, especially where concentration is required.

Office render interior
Exterior street views help bring the design to life

SketchUp allows us to use lots of detail and one of our favourite additions are plants and accessories. Bringing nature into the workplace with plants, water features and natural materials has an incredibly positive effect on people’s mental health.

Finally, as an independent supplier of furniture we can then apply product choices to the plan at different price points that will hopefully meet most budgets.

Render visualisation of a SketchUp design

Do you have a typical workflow in SketchUp?

When we initially meet with a client we will have a large print-out of the empty floor plan with us and we’ll discuss what it is they are trying to achieve, and we will suggest areas and spaces that they may not have considered. We will then establish the work patterns – how many people per department, who needs to sit near who, how much storage space each department needs, what other furniture or spaces each department requires, and finally the look and feel they are trying to create.

We will make notes throughout the discussion and suggest locations for the departments until we have enough information to draw up an initial plan. When we’re back in our office we take the DWF file, turn it into a SketchUp file and then pull up the perimeter walls of the building using photos we have taken of the area in order to create their space exactly. We then start drawing up the meeting rooms and separating the space based on our initial discussion, position furniture into the area and see how everything works. We will play with the furniture, move it around, provide a few suggestions for collaboration spaces, reception, kitchen area etc, and then present the initial ideas to the client.

This is very rarely perfect but it gives a great foundation from which we can tweak and play with in order to get the space to a point where the client is totally happy. We can then look at colours and finishes and once these have been chosen, we will complete a detailed render of the space.

Bespoke coffee table and bespoke sofa for a reception area

Do you collaborate with your suppliers using SketchUp?

Early on in our SketchUp days, the manufacturers we worked with did not have their products listed in the SketchUp 3D Warehouse so we made lots of them up for our own use but put them into the 3D Warehouse for others to benefit from too. Most of them have been used hundreds, if not thousands of times now.

Now though, manufacturers can see the value in putting their products into a SketchUp file and we very rarely have to make them up. It makes our job a lot easier. It does make sense for manufacturers to do this as it encourages people to use their items.

Rainbow worked with Gensler design, Overbury, & Savills to deliver a fantastic new HQ for the Press Association.

Can you share the details of some of the projects that you are most proud of?

For a small organisation I am extremely proud of all the projects we have worked on. Of course, the large corporate projects have been excellent and really help us in becoming recognised outside of our industry but the SME projects are also really gratifying too. With these ventures, we are often working with business owners, so we can take our experience to them and deliver a project that makes a huge difference to them personally and their business, providing them a work environment they are proud of.

From our large corporates, I was very proud of the Barnardos Head Office project as there were so many factors to take into consideration. They did not have a huge budget because they are a charity, yet at the same time they needed a new workplace to attract new members of staff. They also had a large number of more mature employees and needed a space that catered for these as well as attracting younger team members. On this project we worked with their in-house designer, Naomi Allen, transforming her designs into 3D renders so that everyone at Barnardos could see and share the vision.

The Financial Times – Bracken House was a personal favourite of mine as I have looked after them personally for 29 years, so to be able to supply the furniture for their return to Bracken House was amazing.

The Press Association is a client Rainbow have looked after for over 20 years, so to be selected as the provider for their new office was wonderful. Gensler were the architect on this and did a fantastic job.

At Rainbow we are proud of all our projects, regardless of the client or project size.

To learn more about Rainbow visit their website, or follow them on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook,YouTube and LinkedIn