When you walk into Etsy’s Brooklyn headquarters, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is a website that sells hand-made goods. A receptionist sits behind a long rough-hewn wooden desk. Behind him are a floor lamp make from a tree branch and wallpaper that looks like stamped tin. Look up towards the fluorescent lights and Exit sign hanging from the 12-foot ceiling and there’s a length of air conditioning duct that has been yarn-bombed in gold and white by Austin, Texas-based Magda Sayeg, the mother of yarn bombing. Her knit graffiti collective, Knitta Please, is credited with stitching together the whole yarn bombing thang.
“When people come to visit we wanted them to feel like they were coming to Etsy, so to the extent that it’s possible, everything here comes from the site or was hand-made,” explains Adam Brown, Etsy’s press guy. Mission accomplished.
En route to the city-room size workspace, there’s another indication that you’re not in a typical corporate office: an indoor bike rack. The day in late January I dropped by there were only a dozen bikes parked at the rack but it was pouring outside. A white wall behind the bike rack was turned into a mural with black line drawings made during a party for Etsy’s fifth anniversary. The website asked for customers to tweet about their favorite purchase and among the fondest purchases were a Mason jar pin cushion, subway token cuff links, and emoticon mittens.
As someone who admires the work of talented woodworkers, right away, I keyed in on the hand-made desks in the big room. Although most were done so that the natural grain showed, one had been painted orange with purple stripes and another had blue waves painted along one edge with a hand sticking out and a cartoon bubble with the word “help.” I presume this was an Etsy employee who was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the workflow. A couple of the desks had improvised extensions so they could be used as standing desks. The desk is the work of Brooklyn woodworkers Craig Montoro and Bryan Mesenbourg who have a business called Parts and Labor Workshop. The mod to raise it so it can be used while the worker is standing was done by Reade Bryan of Etsy’s office management team. It was done in such a way that if the employee decides they don’t want a standing desk after all, it can be used as a sit-down desk. (Pretty cool but not as cool as the standing desks in the San Francisco office of Instructables.com, where treadmills have been placed in front of some.)
I noticed that some of the Parts and Labor Workshop desks at Etsy had a small shelf created in a space that looked like it had been made for a drawer. Other desks have a few drawers made of different types of salvaged wood stained a variety of hues. Etsy’s Director of Community, Vanessa Bertozzi, has one such desk. Bertozzi manages a team that does outreach and education to Etsy sellers, helping them develop their businesses. She is one of the 20 and 30-somethings at Etsy who actually remembers the Whole Earth Catalog, which has been been described as “Google before the Internet.” Bertozzi keeps a copy of the Whole Earth Catalog on her handmade desk as a reminder of Etsy’s — and the Net’s — roots.
I asked Adam Brown who had done the tapestries hanging on the wall around some conference rooms and he promptly explained that they were, in fact, painted murals, not fabric. They were done in 2010 by the Brooklyn-based painter Maya Hayuk, who was the subject of one of Etsy’s excellent video podcasts. My wife Pamela, who is also a painter, noticed that some of the murals included shadows painted around the images of the fabric, which made them look like there were indeed tapestries hanging on the wall.
A lot of the stuff sold on Etsy is in some way playful and the Brooklyn headquarters clearly reflects that spirit. Rather than name the conference rooms by number, Etsy decided to name them after a band and a type of food, so there are conference rooms named Pjork, Oreo Speedwagon, and Soy Division. A lounge has been named Wu Tang Clams and it has a large mural created by Etsy video producer Eric Beug with the help of some co-workers and friends. Because the cavernous main work room can get a bit noisy (many of the Etsy employees were wearing headphones), there are some small rooms for private phone conversations. One has an old-fashioned radio and art deco TV screen, another comes equipped with larger than life plush versions of a cuckoo clock and a manual typewriter.
Not only can Etsy employees bring their bikes to work, they can also bring their dogs. Adam Brown estimated that there were sometimes as many as 15 Canine-Americans on the premises.
“It’s nice for people like me who don’t own a dog but like to have dogs around,” he told me. “Then I can just pet them and play with them and never have to clean up the poop or pay for a vet.”
The octopus tentacle breaking through faux brick wall was made by Redding, CT-based sculptor/painter David Cramer whose ArtAkimbo shop on Etsy features “Functional art, Eyeglass stands, Tentacles, Merriment.” Some of the eyeglass stands consist of a nose and mustache. The reindeer head with yarnbombed antlers is the work of Lana “Plushinator” Crooks of Chicago who has been referred to as the “hardest workin’ lady in sew business.” Her shop is plushinator.etsy.com.
Read all of Jon Kalish’s features here on Makezine