A renowned designer of sets and displays for events and live entertainment, ATOMIC was among many companies forced to pivot when the pandemic hit. The company – which laid the groundwork for some of music’s biggest artists, including Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, The Who and Scorpions, before branching out into TV shows like MTV Unplugged, Live by Request and the Oscars, as well as corporate events and experiential retail environments – soon saw its business shut down.
“We’ve had a very strong growth trajectory over the past 10 to 12 years” with events spread across the globe, said Rob Barber, ATOMIC’s Vice President, Modular Systems and R&D. “Then the pandemic hit and we found ourselves in a big hiatus. We literally went from having 4,000 shows to turning off the lights overnight.
Desperate to stabilize the business and retain as many employees as possible, Barber and the group of designers at ATOMIC decided that a new product was in order – one that could incorporate the concept of modularity used in many his business plans.
With the majority of the population housed on site and working from home, the company focused its attention on the residential market, particularly interior design. “We said: we want to create something that is aimed at the interior design and interior decoration segment, we want to use as few raw materials as possible, we want to use the skills and the employees that we already have, and we want to use the machines that we already had in place. We made this mandate that said that we would not hire new employees, we would not buy new equipment, we would not accept anything that we did not have already – because again, we had no jobs to speak of.”
Meeting virtually for the first few weeks, “we were making prototypes in our homes with tape and cardboard, whatever you could think of, and holding it up on our Zoom screens.” Once they were allowed back into the facilities, “we were able to start building real prototypes,” Barber said.
In less than 23 weeks, November 2020, Spacekit was launched.
Stellar & sustainable
Spacekit is a fully customizable wall art system for homeowners and designers, with graphic designs organized on textured panels that can be configured to create multiple works of art. Art panels are available in standard 25cm (9.8 inch) or 50cm (19.7 inch) frame sizes, with custom sizes available upon request. The snap-on design and self-contained framing system also allow for easy reconfiguration and removal when changing rooms or moving to a new home.
Spacekit is also environmentally friendly. “We focused on the fact that we’re really only using two materials,” Barber said. The frame system is HDPE, which uses recycled materials, and the face is Acre, a panel made from recycled rice hulls. Manufactured by Mississippi-based Modern Mill, Acre panels are also free of phenol, formaldehyde and adhesives.
“We’ve built a manufacturing process that keeps raw materials from going to landfill,” Barber added. “Any remaining material from our factory goes back to material producers to be reused in new materials.”
Even the packaging is eco-friendly. Spacekit is shipped flat, in a lightweight recyclable shipping system. “We believe in reducing our environmental impact with carefully selected materials and zero-waste manufacturing,” he said.
To machine the panels, the company uses a variety of standard woodworking equipment, including panel saws as well as two Multicam CNC routers. The designs are applied by a printer using LED curing technology and environmentally friendly inks that are GREENGUARD Gold certified, “which was important to us”.
The company’s custom fabrication shop spans approximately 68,000 square feet and also houses an HP 3D printer for prototyping and full fabrication, welders, and metalworking equipment. There is a 20,000 square foot soft goods facility for sewing curtains and related items for shows and events, also on site.
What awaits us
Sales are starting to skyrocket for Spacekit’s modular art panels, which are available direct to consumers at spacekit.co.
The decision to market directly to consumers was easy given the large number of people working from home during the pandemic and the rise in home renovations, Barber said. “We continue to serve this market, but we are also looking at the interior design side. [along with] the commercial and architectural side,” he added. “It was a nice balance.”
Additional opportunities can be found in the core business segments of live events and immersive brand/retail environments for clients such as Nike and Samsung.
“A lot of the learnings from Spacekit have come from our live event world of our modular systems, and we’re taking some of the learnings from Spacekit and applying them to live events,” Barber said. “It’s happened before, and really, there’s not a big dividing line between the two.”
“One of the things that has always been a focus of our attention on the live events side has been trying to solve as many problems as possible for our customers, whether it’s shipping, ease of installation or how the product looked when finished.
We almost became obsessed-compulsive with those attributes, and poured them into Spacekit, so when the product arrives, it has to be intuitive, it has to be simple to put together, it doesn’t have to be difficult, it has to don’t requires no tools (or very many tools) – it should just feel nice and it should feel good.
ATOMIC also brings these attributes to the architecture/retail world. “We have products on the business side of Spacekit that could serve as a backdrop behind the hotel check-in desk, where night staff without any tools and without any skilled labor, could change the appearance of their registry office by simply changing the panels,” he said.
Customer feedback on Spacekit has been positive, and the company is already considering other opportunities for the product line. “We will continue to evolve the system,” Barber said. “We’ll take the system as a base and move from the art they’re used to seeing on the website, to soundproofing/soundproofing, to shelving systems, to cubic wall systems – all on the consumer side . And on the commercial level, we will go even further.
The development of new products and the expansion of the market are part of Barber’s mandates. Since joining ATOMIC in 2010, he and his team have launched over 90 new products and several patented product lines, including Modular SuperLever, FASTwall and SuperZipper. They also expanded the business geographically. In addition to its global headquarters in Lititz, Pennsylvania, ATOMIC has locations and warehouses in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Singapore and Frankfurt.
A leading designer of live entertainment and entertainment, music videos, pop-up stores and immersive brand/corporate environments, ATOMIC was founded in 1994 by Tom McPhillips. For more information, visit ATOMICdesign.tv.