The founders of Blitz share an optimism that captured one another’s hearts—and impressed execs at some of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious offices.
A view of One Workplace headquarters in Santa Clara
The scene could be set in a modern-day rom-com. It’s 2009 and architects Seth Hanley, 34, and then-girlfriend (now wife) Melissa, 26, are handed pink slips during a massive layofffrom a Santa Rosa firm. She was designing schools for K-12. He was designing hospitals. They drive back to San Francisco, where they had recently moved in together following a secret office romance, and proceed (like anyone who’s just lost a job) to get blitzed. The next day, when their heads clear, they decide it’s sink or swim. They form their own company in San Francisco, and, with an eye toward aggressively moving forward (if not with a wink to their bender), they name it Blitz.
Four months in, they landed their first big break: designing Skype’s 90,000-square-foot North American headquarters in Palo Alto, which they drafted out of their dining room. (Seth had worked for Gensler London, where he connected with the head of global real estate for Skype). “We’re all entitled to a mulligan,” says Melissa, who eventually wed Seth and took his last name, Hanley. “We were in a small town (Santa Rosa) with a small-town firm, small-town ideas, and just knew that we wanted to get to San Francisco and do something bigger on a bigger stage, working with really forward-looking people.”
During the past decade, Blitz has designed for some of the most innovative companies in the Bay Area and beyond: Google, Microsoft, Square, Dropbox, Levi’s and Method—more than 300 projects and nearly 5.5 million square feet across the U.S., Europe, Australia and Asia. “Knock on wood, we didn’t end up in a tent in my parents’ front yard, which was the fallback,” jokes Melissa.
The Hanleys met at a party before they ever started working together (and were married to other people at the time). They discovered a shared interest in design and in possibilities too—looking through the lens of what could be, versus what might not be. That’s something their clients appreciate. “They created a space that feels perfectly curated and branded to our culture,” says Jason Saham, director of executive operations at Malwarebytes in Santa Clara. “There are so many details that make this space feel uniquely ours.” Blitz created collaborative spaces they call distinct “neighborhoods” for each team at the tech firm—complete with gaming rooms and a hidden bar under the central bleacherlike staircase, which serves as a gathering space for town halls and events.
Blitz Architecture founders Seth and Melissa Hanley
“It’s no longer about cubicles and private offices,” says Melissa. “It’s really about this kind of blending of commercial and residential environments.” At Google, Blitz’s interiors look like midcentury living rooms separated by open wooden trellises for more daylight. “Most of the inspiration images I share with my clients are from Dwell and other wonderful residential resources,” she says. Still, designing for Silicon Valley clients has its own set of demands that Blitz doesn’t experience in other markets. Elsewhere, the emphasis might be on how a space looks, while, here, clients want to know why it looks and performs a certain way. “It’s a really wonderful level to be designing at,” Melissa notes. “I’d rather be challenged with that all day long.”
Taking the plunge has paid off for Blitz, now with a staff of 28, an office in Los Angeles and another that recently opened in Denver. As the scene fades to black, it’s apparent this story has a happy ending. “There’s never been a conflict between us that is about core value of direction,” says Melissa. “You know, occasionally, I want something blue and Seth wants something red, and, you know, youfigure that stuff out like grown-ups."
A kitchen in the office of Publicis Groupe in San Francisco evokes a modern, residential feel.
Photography by: One Workplace (Bruce Damonte); Hanleys portrait (courtesy of Ramin Rahimian); Publicis Groupe (Eric Laignel)