Feature: Spaces That Work

The city’s leading creatives and execs didn’t make it to the top without lots of hard work, ambition–and office hours. ALIVE takes you behind the scenes of how and where it happens.

 

AMY GILL

CEO, Restoration Saint Louis + PRESIDENT, Checkmate Design
The Coronado Ballroom, Midtown

A guided tour of the picture wall in her bright-blue office—one of two work spaces she bounces between within the confines of The Coronado—reveals much about Amy Gill’s personality. “That’s me with The Village People, and that’s me firing an AK47,” she laughs. A charismatic “badass” (her strong-willed reputation precedes her), Gill has been a power player in the revitalization of St. Louis for more than 20 years. Restoration Saint Louis, the company of which she is CEO and her husband, Amrit, is Chairman of the Board, is behind the renovations of such thriving area landmarks as The Moolah Temple, Lindell Towers East and West and The Coronado. The duo has claimed a wing of The Coronado as their headquarters—though that’s not to say either can be found there, predictably perched in front of their respective Thin Clients. The hard hats under their desks speak to the Gills’ hands-on approach to their work, which currently includes the Grove neighborhood. For Amy, getting a little dirty is more of a requirement; upon launching sister company Checkmate Design, she made it her duty to personally oversee all players and processes involved in Restoration projects’ construction and design. “I like being in a crowd,” she admits. “By myself, I get stir crazy.” Among the Gills’ most recently completed developments is the Iowa-based Hotel Blackhawk, which boasts such frills as a spa and bowling alley (“Out Magazine” has already hailed it one of the nation’s 10 best destinations for same-sex weddings and receptions). “I need to ‘go’ at work,” Amy answers, regarding how she manages it all—which, coincidentally, explains the curious brightly colored walls in office No. 1. “No soothing colors,” she says. “Plus, it reminds me of the beach—which reminds me of ‘that moment’ I’m working toward. At home, I don‘t need bright paint to keep me going; I have four kids.”

KEVIN DEMOFF

EXECUTIVE VP OF FOOTBALL OPERATIONS + COO, St. Louis Rams
Rams Park, Earth City

As the Executive Vice President of Football Operations and Chief Operating Officer of the St. Louis Rams, Kevin Demoff embodies the term “big man on campus”—and manning player contract negotiations is just the half of it. His spacious office in Rams Park—where he spends 12 to 13 hours a day strategizing for across the-board Rams success—overlooks the practice fi eld and houses the “kids table” where all contracts are signed. The silver “signing pen” is kept on his “obsessively clean” desk in a very official-looking brown case that’s within arm’s reach of the NFL Blue Book (which houses the contact info of everyone in the League) and a list of CBA-dictated minimum salaries. Among the youngest front office execs in the NFL, one might expect Demoff to have a certain air about him reminiscent of a hotshot character plucked from a scene in “Jerry Maguire.” Hardly. Though in the process of converting his “Rams-centric” offi ce to a more “Kevin centric” space (translation: out with the blue and gold, in with pictures of his kids eating cotton candy), you’re more likely to fi nd Demoff in the shadows than maneuvering for the spotlight. “I love working without the lights on…to the point where it’s hard to see,” he admits. Call it a happy coincidence that his focus tactic also serves to conceal; he is, of course, the go-to for all “show me the money”-resembling requests. He considers his style to be “classic with tinges of modern,” which seems about right—though “boy scout” may be more like it. Housing two to-do lists (a short-term list sits on the right side of his desk; long-term, on the left), two computers (one for all work; the other for viewing game and practice films), a 12-pack of Diet Mountain Dew (stashed under his desk) and a jacket for all occasions (a sport coat and Rams rain coat hang on his door), his office is a testament to his preparedness for just about anything.

PAUL HA

DIRECTOR, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis
Grand Center

Assuming that the office of CAMSTL Director Paul Ha is like a mini-museum—an immaculate, airy room with impressive pieces of art prominently displayed—is more than a bit naive. In fact, one could argue that it could use a dedicated curator. But despite any apparent disorder, nothing has stood in Ha’s way of producing 92 exhibitions and bringing 223 artists to the Contemporary since joining its ranks in 2003. “I can’t keep a clean space,” he says with a shrug. “My version of cleaning is moving things from big piles into smaller piles.” Situated on the second floor of the Contemporary between two windows—one that overlooks the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, the New Masonic Temple and the longstanding Richard Serra “Joe” sculpture (which “looks great when it’s wet and dark, or snowing”) and the other with a view of the open space populated by the Contemporary’s 13-person staff—Ha’s office is, for the most part, void of any artwork whatsoever…”to be fair,” he explains. Instead, piles of books, magazines and catalogs abound, including copies of “The New Yorker” and a coffeetable hardcover featuring the work of CAMSTL architect Brad Cloepfil. “It has a good spirit,” Ha says of the crowded quarters, which are often accented by indie music from Belle & Sebastian and Psychobuildings, among others. Easily detectable are small remnants of shows that had significant personal meaning, including a “Black Factory”-stamped rubber ducky saved from a show with William Pope.L (one of Ha’s favorite artists) and a postcard-sized invitation to a show he curated in 1996 (“Sugar Mountain”) featuring a Glen E. Friedman-snapped image of a skateboarder (“I was a skater kid”). An obvious Yoko fan, Ha has a Yoko Ono box set stationed on his desk, not far from another Yoko image—on a card that bears the words, “Imagine Peace.” For Ha, it seems, converting that thought to reality could start by simply stepping outside.

STACEY NEWMAN

STATE REPRESENTATIVE, 73RD DISTRICT, Missouri House of Representatives
Hi-Pointe Loft Condominiums, DeMun

Standing in her home office, a colorful cubicle nestled in the airy Hi-Pointe loft condo she shares with her litigation attorney husband, State Representative Stacey Newman could easily have appeared in vacation mode. She was fresh from the nearly five months that define the Missouri House of Representatives session in Jefferson City, and was another five months from her next election date. A force in the political realm for more than 10 years, Newman has built a reputation on defending women’s rights—going to bat on such issues as gender pay equality and domestic violence. Serving as a testament to where she’s been and where she hopes to go, the modest workshop she’s established within the parameters of her 73rd District (Clayton, Richmond Heights and Maplewood) is reportedly double the size of her designated work space in the Capital’s Mezzanine. Two bulletin boards crowded with buttons and bumper stickers—including “Smart Women Vote” and “Real Men Vote Hillary”—reveal an impressive résumé (including one-time appointments within the Jean Carnahan and John Kerry camps) and bookend a poster tagged, “Let’s Party Like It’s 1992.” “It’s inspiration,” Newman explains, of the framed image of Bill, Hillary and Chelsea emerging from the State House on election night. “To me, it says, ‘You don’t know what the next step’s going to bring, but it’s going to change your life.'” Below the focal point wall hangings sits a pink laptop on a desk flanked by opposing walls; one is lined with shelves that house manuals and election year scrapbooks; the other is a wall of fame of sorts—heavy in photos of recognizable faces, including Senator Ted Kennedy and Carol King. Displayed just to the right are two tickets to the Democratic National Convention; her own 2004 floor ticket and her father’s 1940 “admit one” to the balcony—which Newman discovered long after his death when her career was in full swing. “It was very different back then, of course. These days,” she says with a smile, “they let women in.”

CHEREE BERRY

OWNER + GRAPHIC ARTIST, Cheree Berry Paper
Central West End

Entering Cheree Berry Paper feels like walking into a Target commercial, where colors appear brighter ( just look at the accoutrements on her desk), music sounds peppier (typical background noise includes The Shins and Carla Bruni) and people seem happier than any encountered before. It’s a euphoric non-storefront located on the quieter side of the Central West End—a spot founder Cheree Berry chose for its likeness to New York City, where she worked for Kate Spade for four years before moving home (she was born in Bonne Terre, MO and attended Washington University) to launch her own graphic design company in early 2006. At the entrance of her spacious design firm, which specializes in weddings (related projects comprise 75 percent of her business), is the clients’ room—a meeting space where local brides-to-be can nosh on Bissinger’s salt caramels from a mini glass cake stand while ogling framed invites to “big days” past. Each features Berry’s signature “playful, whimsical” aesthetic, defined by interesting color palettes and “aha” details—the likes of which have pinpointed her career (including clever pop-ups that sprung from the pages of her 2006-penned book, “Hoorah for the Bra”). “I have a can of [exploding] fake peanuts in my office at all times,” Berry confesses, pointing out her personal symbol of those trademark “surprise elements” that have helped earn her an impressive list of corporate clients (Lilly Pulitzer and Jonathan Adler, to name a few) and fans—including editors at “Martha Stewart Weddings” (where her work is featured regularly) and Chelsea Clinton (Berry designed her wedding invitations last year). The peanut can currently sits on her desk, which is situated in the windowed corner of her “organized chaos” of an office—just a pocket door away from the pristine meeting room. Coincidentally, it’s decorated with every piece in Thomas O’Brien’s “too good to be true” diffusion collection for Target.

KASEY GIBBS

DIRECTOR OF DESIGN & PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT, Brown Shoe Company
Clayton

When you’re a creative, modern girl who gets to travel the world for three months out of the year and call a “cavernous” work space—where you’re constantly surrounded by inspiration and any resources your right-brained mind can muster—your studio, it makes sense that you’d want to hug the earth. For Kasey Gibbs, the creator and designer of the Naya footwear brand (the stylish, comfy shoe line with a softer footprint on the Earth), it’s a daily occurrence. Her personal office (where she “can think and hide”) is certainly proof of her preference for “the unusual and quirky,” featuring a colorful collage of found objects—including a “hideous” discarded lamp that she re-shaded and painted chrome, and a ’60s-era pop-art poster of the Statue of Liberty stamped “I love liberty,” which serves as her reminder to think freely and “outside of the box.” Seemingly a hippie chick at heart, Gibbs can be found sketching to a playlist of ’80s tunes amidst an ever-evolving collection of mood boards with “thought-provoking” quotes. “You have to know when to dance in the rain” is one inspirational quote that’s printed on a tiny slip of paper plucked from a fortune cookie. Next door is her work room, which is covered with shoe-filled shelves and big tables to lay everything out. Conveniently adjacent to the three-person Style & Trend department, it’s where Gibbs and her assistant designer can meet and share ideas. “It might look like chaos, but it’s creative,” Gibbs says. “We’re so fast-paced and deadline-driven that by the end of the week, there are shoes on the floor and things everywhere. It gets crazy.” The two stable fixtures, however? Her computer and, naturally, her bamboo plant.

STEVEN WOOLF

ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
The Carriage House, Webster Groves

If the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is the “town square,” as Artistic Director Steven Woolf likes to call it, then Woolf is the “town philosopher.” “I’m here to entice and challenge everyone,” he says. A veteran of The Rep since 1986, Woolf closed his 2010-2011 season with a series of shows that perhaps best displays his knack for picking productions that appeal to a range of audiences. While the widely popular “Beehive: The ’60s Musical” was performed on the Mainstage, the provocative “In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play” played out in the Emerson Studio Theatre. “We can’t be who we are and not pay attention to different styles of shows,” Woolf observes though doing so has not always proved popular. Tacked to a bulletin board hung behind his desk are letters—hate mail, really—reportedly ranging from a blunt “Go home!” message to a slightly more welcome “You’ve become too popular.” However, the rest of his hodge-podge office—located in The Carriage House, a mere stride from the Theatre on the Webster University campus—could serve as a naysayers-directed rebuttal. Wallpapering the white walls are blown-up pictures from various successful plays Woolf has directed, including scenes from “Angels in America” and “Six Degrees of Separation,” as well as a favorite shot of the curtain call following the proud performance of “The Caine Mutiny Court Marshall.” Impressive pieces of scenery that never made it on set reside in nooks and crannies, while awards—including the Theatre’s Kevin Kline Awards and his own 2010 A&E Arts Award for Excellence in Theater—are displayed on shelves. The various knickknacks that line his desk, which faces his “always open” door, are gifts from actors and directors—like the Rubik’s-looking cube that displays a fitting quote from “His Dark Materials”—”I spread my wings and brush ten million other worlds.” Across from his desk sits a couch, where Woolf can be found reading scripts on the weekends, and where he admits to having slept a few times—during the Labor Day through mid-April season when the “town square” hosts 15 shows, resulting in “complete mayhem.”

 

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Cheree Berry, Owner + Graphic Artist, Cheree Berry Paper

Cheree Berry, Owner + Graphic Artist, Cheree Berry Paper

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Kasey Gibbs, Director of Design & Product Development, Brown Shoe Company

Stacey Newman, State Representative, 73rd District, Missouri House of Representatives

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Paul Ha, Director, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

Paul Ha, Director, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

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Stacey Newman, State Representative, 73rd District, Missouri House of Representatives

Stacey Newman, State Representative, 73rd District, Missouri House of Representatives

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Kevin Demoff, Executive VP of Football Operations + COO, St. Louis Rams

Kevin Demoff, Executive VP of Football Operations + COO, St. Louis Rams

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Amy Gill, CEO, Restoration St. Louis + President, Checkmate Design

Amy Gill, CEO, Restoration St. Louis + President, Checkmate Design

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Steven Woolf, Artistic Director, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Steven Woolf, Artistic Director, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

 

Photo credit: Photos by Jennifer Silverberg

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