Gabrielle Rubin Deveaux believes in learning by doing—an approach that’s taken her a long way in the field of commercial real estate. As senior director for global real estate and facilities at BuzzFeed, the online entertainment and news giant, Deveaux has a valuable background in media arts. She’s made up for her lack of formal training in real estate, design, and construction management with fast-paced learning on the job. An eight-year stint doing event production at MTV and VH1 set the stage for her current role.
“Producing events involves a very similar skill set in the sense of building something from nothing, of managing a bunch of people and a budget, and of being on a time crunch,” Deveaux says. “It felt very familiar to me.”
Later, while working at media magnate Robert Sillerman’s group of companies, which includes the team behind the TV show American Idol, she had her first shot at bringing brick-and-mortar spaces to life.
“They were looking for someone to oversee and manage a project, so I kind of raised my hand for it,” she says. “I’m a big advocate for raising your hand and taking on something that you’re not familiar with. I think that’s the best way to learn and grow.”
BuzzFeed headhunters liked that go-getter attitude, and put Deveaux in her current position in February 2015, in the midst of a massive growth spurt at the company. BuzzFeed had grown from about 750 employees to 1,300 in the preceding year, but the company did not have a real estate director on staff. Deveaux says she signed 17 leases in her first year. As such, the company now counts 21 properties in its portfolio, totaling 450,000 square feet spread across 11 countries on five continents.
“New offices were popping up left and right,” she says. “It was pretty crazy, but in a good way, and I was intrigued by the challenge.”
The biggest challenge came across Deveaux’s desk on day one, when she was informed that the company had just signed a lease on nearly 200,000 square feet in Manhattan that would be its new headquarters. She was given a year to carry out a massive renovation of the building and transform it into a new space that fit the company’s practical needs to the letter, while embodying BuzzFeed’s self-styled culture. In other words, “It had to feel like home.”
Located at Park Avenue and 18th Street, the layout follows a “building within a building format”—BuzzFeed’s spread covers six floors with its own entrance, lobby, and elevator bank, which are completely segregated from the other tenants in the building. An atrium was cut into the ceiling of the canteen so that people can gather on the floor above to participate in company events. Outside, a glassed-in stairwell connects the primary campus with additional real estate in a neighboring building, where a suite of unique spaces is currently under construction. These include a state-of-the-art newsroom and “glass box” pavilion on the roof that has an additional skyline terrace.
Still, there was more to do than just building out the New York office, Deveaux says of her first year on the job.
“There was a lot of organizing to do with our satellite offices, some of which were busting at the seams,” she says. In putting the portfolio together, she initially relied on stopgap measures, “like, ‘We’re paying way too much money to be in a coworking space for this many people. Let me find them a sublease to jump into.’”
Attending to the needs of BuzzFeed’s London office, the company’s European headquarters and third-largest location overall, was a major priority. To ease the space crunch, Deveaux says she “did a little design remix,” and managed to add 27 more desks to the space. Meanwhile, she’s on the hunt for a suitable facility to accommodate expansion. BuzzFeed’s Brazilian (São Paulo) and Australian (Sydney) teams are in a similar boat, both heavily reliant on coworking arrangements while Deveaux works to build out new facilities.
Each location also has unique needs. Video production is a major focus for BuzzFeed’s Los Angeles team, which is currently spread throughout five facilities (BuzzFeed expects to build a single West Coast headquarters soon). Yet many of the satellite offices also need new video production space as BuzzFeed’s cooking series, Tasty, launches in other countries, such as Japan and Brazil. Overseas build-outs are a learning curve of their own, Deveaux says, as there is no such thing as subleasing in Brazil or Tokyo.
“That’s the interesting thing about international real estate,” she says. “You kind of learn the local customs. In Brazil, everything that’s built up has to be undone at the end of the lease, whereas here, we just have to repaint and take down signage.”
Given the amount of work around the world, it’s fair to assume Deveaux spends all her time on the road, but she says that’s why she sticks close to home as much as possible.
“I’m like the control center here in New York,” she says. “With the amount of real estate we have and how much it is constantly changing, I’ve found that I’m often better served by staying here at the nucleus of it.”
Nevertheless, she’s always sure to pay a visit to see how the plans she helped design look in person.
“That way I’m able to say, ‘Actually, the light comes in better this way, we should flip this,’ or something like that,” Deveaux says.
In other words, when the schedule is tight, getting the job done right is often a matter of showing up when it’s truly needed—and making the slightest adjustments for the greatest effect.
The Buzzfeed Style (Guide)
The way BuzzFeed’s company culture translates into the workspace is carefully curated by senior director for global real estate and facilities, Gabrielle Rubin Deveaux.
A common thread throughout many of the company’s offices is the use of living room furniture in the office, a tactic that supports BuzzFeed’s relaxed, collaborative work style.
“People aren’t tethered to their desks here,” she says. “Everybody is on a laptop, so we really celebrate the ancillary spaces, the collaborative spaces. People are inspired by different things, so it’s important to add a good diversity of [furniture] pieces.”
With BuzzFeed’s tremendous growth as a company comes the need to codify its eclectic workplace design motifs. Beyond directions for furniture choice, each satellite office now has a style guide that clarifies details such as the exact shade of red used in the BuzzFeed logo, which often shows up in interior trim and other painted surfaces. BuzzFeed’s widely recognized web badges—‘WTF’ and ‘OMG,’ for example—also make their way into the décor. The style guide makes it clear that they are to be hung at an angle—30 degrees to be exact—just as they appear online.
The most important component of any BuzzFeed space is the canteen.
“It’s the epicenter of all of our offices, just like how the kitchen is the heart of any home,” Deveaux says.
Each BuzzFeed canteen might be color-coordinated with matching furniture, but there is another “mandatory” component: fun events. A steady stream of parties, lectures, and musical events unfolds each month.
“Even in our smaller offices of 3,000 square feet, we still do music breaks,” Deveaux says. “We want to make sure we always have something going on so people get out of their silos and get to know what each other is working on.”