Designing innovative workplace interiors with 3DEA
Ivan Borov got the 3D bug at fourteen when he collaborated with a friend on a project using SketchUp and Google Earth. He was fascinated by SketchUp’s accessibility and technology as a whole. Whilst studying interior design in Milan, a short film submission that combined his love for graphic design, video, and photo editing won him a scholarship.
During an internship at a large showroom in Milan, he realised colleagues were still drawing only in 2D. Keen to help transform the way they worked and improve efficiency, Borov introduced the team to the world of spatial 3D design in SketchUp.
He returned to Bulgaria in 2012 and worked at a furniture firm for four years before establishing 3DEA, a dynamic commercial interior design firm that delivers branding, and turnkey workplace interiors.
Tell us a little bit about 3DEA and the work you do.
I started 3DEA after several years of post-study work experience in Milan and Bulgaria. I had built up a network of professional contacts whilst working at a furniture company so I had a smooth transition into serving them as an interior designer. We typically work on large and small scale companies, helping to express their ethos, brand and visual identity within their interiors. We also create expo and stand design and signage. SketchUp is our Swiss Army knife that equips us to do all these tasks at different scales consistently well.
“SketchUp is our Swiss Army knife that equips us to do all these tasks at different scales consistently well.”
A key theme that runs through our projects is the combination of good design and buildability.
We run a lean team, collaborating closely with other design professionals, particularly architectural studios, as required per project. We find that this multidisciplinary team offers greater expertise and gravitas for securing larger bids.
3DEA was a team of five for a long time until I became a father early this year. This major life event forced me to review my approach to work and to find a better balance. This meant switching from 12 – 15hr days at the office to being more selective about the projects we take on, and working healthier hours in a more flexible way. I believe that you produce better work when you have a balanced approach to life, work, and design.
What sets 3DEA apart from the competition?
Our key differentiator is that we try new things. We’re comfortable learning through trial and error because it means that we might forge new paths. Making mistakes beats repeating known solutions simply because ‘that’s the way it’s been done’ over many years. This was an issue at the showroom I worked at in Milan, some of the veteran architects were still using the same workflow they’d used since they left university. It can, of course, be hard to try something new and fail, but it’s worth it in the end because that’s how innovation is born and good work is done.
Where did you train?
I studied Interior Design at the Instituto Europeo di Design (IED) in Milan. The first year focused on laying a foundation in traditional drafting, in-person surveys of existing spaces, and hand drawing. The curriculum then progressed from 2D to 3D where we were taught a range of 3D programs. I found that SketchUp combines all the key functionality of the separate programs which helped me to save a lot of time and struggle. To be honest, I found it hard to learn some of the more complex software and was more keen to design and deliver than be hindered by technology. I could very simply model my design in SketchUp and then using LayOut, create my 2D technical drawings. I struggled at times when my files got too heavy and suffered a few crashes just before deadlines, but I learnt how to model in a more nimble way, and I graduated successfully!
How important is it to ensure a workplace function as well as it looks?
Balancing function and design is a fundamental requirement of any design task. The current trend of ‘Instagramable’ spaces tilts the focus of many designers of my generation to trends and fashionable design. Time has proven though that the appropriateness, usability, and resilience of a design is what ensures that it stands the test of time.
“..The appropriateness, usability, and resilience of a design is what ensures that it stands the test of time.”
This applies to every kind of design; automotive design, furniture design, and architecture. I believe it is incredibly important to know what kind of material to use, and what kind of functions to integrate. Beauty is important, but in the end, it requires these other principles to be long-lasting.
How do you communicate the design decisions in your projects?
I’m inspired by Bjark Ingels’ approach to communication. Every project he creates has a clear story and a narrative that can be explained and understood by anyone. To achieve this same sort of clarity, we work to make our proposed solution visible to the client and end-users regardless of the project’s scale. We tend to incorporate a lot of pictures, sketches, real-life models, and 3D drawings, all of which we collate in LayOut. Each project poses different problems so we’ll leverage a different mix of media.
You delivered an amazing workplace for AECO Space in Sofia, tell us about this project?
Our brief for AECO Space was to design and deliver a functional and creative space for their staff and presentation and training areas that could stretch to fit a different number of software trainees. We had an airy space to work with; large windows, tall ceilings and lots of light. These lovely qualities posed a challenge. Whilst great for staff, these features proved problematic for their daily work, particularly training sessions and presentations hosted in-house.
To create a more productive environment, we opted for blinds large enough to cover the expansive windows thereby addressing glare. This meant that we had to figure out how to securely hang the heavy blinds from the ceiling. The only catch was, we had suspended ceilings to counter the large floor-to-ceiling height! Using drawings and 3D models, we tested two visible and two hidden options. After consulting with the customer, we selected a hidden option that was then created and installed by a single contractor, saving us time and making the process much more efficient.
The original space was designed to house a bank so we inherited a formal granite floor that the client didn’t want. Fifteen to twenty percent of the budget had to be set aside to deliver the preferred flooring. Having a clear budget and roadmap for the entire project was essential to bringing in the project on time and within budget.
The as-built space is almost identical to your plans, how do you reach this level of accuracy during the design stage?
Delivering what we promised was easy because we employed a constructible workflow. By modeling the project with buildability in mind, we knew that we could deliver what we proposed, down to the electrical plan and the position of appliances.
It also meant that we could communicate the concept to the client with clarity, and deliver clear technical details to our contractors. Rendered, annotated and dimensioned drawings ensured that our tradesmen were able to install each element of the project easily. We did this with the bespoke floor tiles which had different colours and sizes, meaning that we could deliver clear drawings and ensure a smooth installation. We could also accurately calculate costs using takeoffs from our drawings and provide great guidance to our team.
Do you source real-world products to use in your proposals?
Yes, we source and specify real-world and bespoke items from a wide range of suppliers and contractors. On our project with AECO Space, we had about nineteen different contractors and subcontractors supplying fixtures, fittings, and electrics for a not-so-complex project! To get the best quality and price, and still meet deadlines, we’ve found that we need to work with the best.
Thankfully, we have a selection of companies that we work with and trust to deliver good quality work, on time and within budget. We curate and specify products from this pool.
In addition to this, we create bespoke pieces and import unique materials like Scandanavian moss from Finland which we used to create the six-meter-long lamp used in a project with AECO Space.
What is your current workflow in SketchUp?
We also take lots of photographs. Back at the studio, we transcribe key details from the hand drawings and photos into 2D drawings in SketchUp. Once all amendments are done in 2D, we create our conceptual 3D models.
We generate images that the client can review, comment on and approve, and then we transition to technical 3D drawings and details, focusing on accuracy to ensure buildability. Our models are data-enriched because that helps us with estimation and specification.
When the client sets a tight budget, what tools do you use to estimate material and labour costs?
We pull area and linear measurements from SketchUp’s Entity Info tab into Excel and use formulas to provide quick estimates for projects. Our models are data-enriched so that when the budget, specification or price changes, updated results can be generated very quickly.
What are your most used SketchUp extensions?
Make Faces saves me a lot of time. CleanUp³ helps us remove unnecessary elements and materials to make models lighter and easier to work with. We find Fredo Tools really useful and Round Corners is great for details because it eases the pain of manually rounding corners. I must also mention DropGC, Add Center Point (which is native to SketchUp), Fredo Corner, Material Tools and Vray for rendering.
Can you share the details of some of the projects that you are most proud of?
We designed a 3 x 1.4m all-in-one workstation with a metal structure for a 24/7 maritime surveillance tower which is in the Black Sea off the coast of Bulgaria. All the computers, equipment and wiring needed to be fully integrated within the metal structure. Solving the design problem was only a starting point. We needed to think through the delivery and installation logistics. Starting from a brief and one reference image shared by the client, we had six months to design, develop, and deliver the project.
SketchUp proved extremely important for figuring out if all the separate parts being made in Sofia would fit into the haulage truck before being assembled and then transported to Varna and Burgas. The desk’s home is similar to the leaning tower of Pisa and some of the pieces didn’t fit the elevator. This meant we had to simulate exactly how the desk would be positioned throughout the stairwell to eventually arrive in its final location at the top of the tower. This project was really tasking but satisfying to deliver and SketchUp was a great help from the beginning to the end of the project.
Another project highlight for me was designing and delivering our bespoke aluminum and oak veneer lamps across three floors of a new shopping mall in Bulgaria. We collaborated with a lighting manufacturer called Prisma to create three hundred of them with dimensions ranging from 50cm x 50cm, to 6 x 4m.