Office Tours: An insider’s look at Vans’ new headquarters

Is there a more triumphant expression of pride, success, and value than architecture? From owning a home to constructing the wonders of the world, human triumph and dignity are rarely expressed as eloquently as through the act of building. Feelings that cannot be expressed through words are carved into rock and bent into steel to rise before our very eyes in a wordless expression of all that we hold dear, and what we aspire to accomplish.

The outside of the new Vans headquarters. Photo: Helms

Choosing the right home or office is key to expressing the nonverbal values and aspirations of a company. In the action sports world, there are few brands that have managed to stand the test of time, and flourish, in quite the way that Vans has.

That’s why, on the heels of their 51st anniversary, the brand moved into a new office space. Totaling 180,000 square feet and housing 500 employees, it truly is a testament to the success Vans has enjoyed thus far, and the forward-facing vision that rests atop every endeavor.

With so much going on, it’s hard for the Vans team to stop and smell the roses. This bell is rung each time the company has a success, a small way to remind employees how far they have come. Photo: Helms

Vans has grown exponentially since the early 2000s – globally, the brand is a $2.3 billion company, and shows no signs of slowing down as it moves into the next 50 years.

Leading up to the official open house later this week, we recently had the privilege to look inside the brand’s modern digs, and check out the space Vans has been calling home since early June 2017.

The building feels gigantic, yet personal — a juxtaposition that seems impossible, but works here. There is a cohesive emphasis on minimalism and openness that permeates throughout the thousands of square feet, bringing a uniformity that would be hard to authenticate.

The commons is a gathering place for employees to grab a bite, have a meeting, or work someplace besides their desk. Photo: Helms

The space features “the commons,” a group area housing grab-and-go snacks and refreshments, a coffee bar, a game room complete with a drum kit and a couple guitars for a quick jam session, and plenty of community work space. Garage doors let natural light in, and oftentimes, are rolled back to let the breeze filter through.

The entire building is LEED-certified, and is powered from an immense field of solar panels in the back parking lot.

For some employees whose commutes may have changed with the office move, the gym is a great way to avoid rush hour traffic. Photo: Helms

There is a gym, yoga studio, library, bike and surfboard storage, and rooftop patio for hosting get-togethers and barbecues. Vans hosts a yoga class two times a week, as well as boot camp and weight training courses. Cycling classes will soon be added to that impressive list.

This is all on top of the massive amount of office space, community work areas, seven different showrooms for individual collections, and a top-secret development lab, which is perched at the top of the building and requires a special keycard to enter.

Laura Doherty, Vans global public relations, who gave us a tour of the space, said, “One thing we wanted to make sure was that as we continue to innovate and talk about innovation, we put special focus on the Waffleworks Center where all this is happening. We wanted to make it the most secure, so we put it on the third floor. We can only walk through through the outer layer [of Waffleworks], and there's another buzz for the inside layer. It keeps everything super locked down. In this day and age, it’s almost impossible to keep anything private.”

Although the square footage alone could potentially seem overwhelming, Vans has managed to imprint its personal stamp across the space.

Vans’ new lobby space – you can see the red staircase peeking out in the righthand corner. Photo: Helms

A giant red staircase attached to the inner perimeter of the courtyard was an addition that not only brands the building with Vans’ signature red colorway, but also turned into more than just an eye-catching thoroughfare – it’s the most-used staircase in the building.

Seven showrooms on the lower level are each dedicated to one of the footwear brand’s collections: Classics, Men’s, Women’s The Vault, Pro Skate and more. Each showroom, along with each conference room peppered throughout the building, are named after an influential figure from Vans’ iconic history.

Custom artwork covers the walls, paying homage to the brand’s accomplishments, as well as emphasis on creativity and community.

Just an example of the multitude of pieces we found covering the walls. Photo: Helms

“This workspace was thought out to be really collaborative, but at the same time for the ability to stay focused,” says Doherty. “So it's finding out how to have the best of both worlds.”

According to Doherty, when Vans’ Global Brand President Doug Palladini, President Kevin Bailey, and VP of HR Cheryl Van Doren, initially toured the building after purchase, the collective focal point was on the design. Hoping to draw from the technology-driven offices of Silicon Valley, the team implemented an open-concept floor plan, with some caveats.

Community work space is made easier with pink noise-emitting boxes, above left, that help minimize office noise. Photo: Helms

All of the interior hallways have been designed to lead employees away from working spaces. As you're sitting at your desk, you'll see less foot traffic. Small, inconspicous white boxes hang from the ceilings, emitting a pink noise that minimizes and dims distracting sounds.

Vice presidents and higher-level executives are the only employees that have private offices, but even these feel open.

Son to Vans’ co-founder and VP of Events and Promotions Steve Van Doren has a standout office space, covered in personal mementos, and brand hallmarks. Photo: Helms

When the brand found out they were moving to Costa Mesa, Van Doren had some of his mementos put into a shoe-inspired coffee table so that they were preserved. You'll see things from Vans’ 40th anniversary, his hamburger brand, and elements from a storied 51-year history.

Laura Doherty points out some key mementos in the Vans coffee table. Photo: Helms

Preserving the past is key to Vans, but focusing on the future is just as paramount. Strategically placed on each floor of the new office space are “mother's rooms,” which provide a calm, private space for working mothers. The company has also instated special parking spaces for expectant mothers.

Steve Van Doren’s custom barbecue pit, featuring real pool tile for authenticity. Photo: Helms

Vans plans on entertaining as much as possible in their new home – with the addition of Steve Van Doren’s custom barbecue to the rooftop patio, which is fully kitted and ready for cooking. The brand plans on integrating a projector screen for movies and events, as well.

Ready for guests. Photo: Helms

We wrapped up our tour of the office on the rooftop, a customized hangout space with an expansive view of Costa Mesa, as well as the building itself.

Doherty explains that when the Van Dorens first moved to California, Steve’s father Paul worked for a company called Randolph's Shoe Company, and bought a house in Costa Mesa. When he quit Randolph's to start Vans, he had a house to pay for, five kids, and a stay-at-home wife. Despite the odds, his drive is what created what Vans has evolved into today.

From the rooftop, Doherty pointed out a little speck just south of the building. “The school that the Van Doren kids went to, you can see it from here. It's cool. Very full circle.”

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