While much focus is placed on workspace design in terms of office environments, casegoods and task chairs, common spaces are frequently an afterthought. Even in the most beautifully designed, light-filled workplace, the only common area is often a dark, stuffy break room, crammed in at the end of a hallway. Successful employee spaces should be meditative, reflective retreats from the stress of busy workflow areas – community places where people can meet, relax and rejuvenate.

A1 Label’s elegantly retrofitted Toronto building, which includes both plant and offices, was partially renovated nine years ago. Its award-winning gardens, pristine skylighted floor plan and state-of-the-art label-printing equipment reinterpret a 1950s workplace for the modern era. All it lacked was an employee space to act as a counterpoint to the busy, vibrant factory life.

When Brock Seymour, president of A1 Label, invited designer Andrew Fee, principal at SOMA Studio, to transform an old loading dock into a contemporary employee cafeteria, he asked for a space that was “a restful, restorative sanctuary from the workplace.”

Passing from the factory, through the double doors into the cafeteria, the mood changes dramatically, literally lightening regardless of the time of day. Andrew’s lighting design accommodates a 24/7 shift schedule: a mixture of hanging incandescent pendants, wall-washing track lights and in-floor LED uplights that blend with daylight, which floods through the 20-by-30-foot angled curtain wall.

The room’s long, generously proportioned interior has been divided by function into kitchen, lounge and dining area. Fitted discreetly behind a freestanding 9-by-16-foot white oak partition, a fully equipped commercial kitchen accommodates the various needs of the diverse staff – from brown-bag lunches to catered company events.

The oak partition also forms a warm backdrop for the lounge, where employees can relax in Eames rockers, around low-slung custom tables of durable powdercoated steel. From here the view extends through the transparent boundary of a glass railing, across a staircase of Indiana limestone, towards Ilan Averbuch’s ip and glass sculpture in the courtyard garden.

The dining area features long benches and tables of Spanish cedar, with powdercoated steel bases that evoke the style of 1930s French designer Jean Prouv. “Because of the industrial nature of Prouv’s work,” Andrew says. “The application of his design elements seemed a natural fit for this project.”

Reverberating along the length of the entire room is a honey-coloured, sculptural patterned custom wall mural, inspired by the shape of label-tailings from the manufacturing process. The complex, two-layered design was cut on a CNC machine, then fitted and installed by hand.

This is truly a place for staff to rejuvenate on a daily basis. The cafeteria’s innovative design reflects, respects and renews the past while encouraging the growth of new traditions for everyone at A1 Label.