Life in KC

Office space: Whiskey Design serves bold ideas on the rocks on the West Side

Work/life balance is important to Matt Wegerer, who often brings his two pups to work. Siberian husky Nova makes regular appearances at the office.
Work/life balance is important to Matt Wegerer, who often brings his two pups to work. Siberian husky Nova makes regular appearances at the office.

Matt Wegerer’s go-to drink, whiskey on the rocks, reflects his design style, which is clean and straightforward, with an edge.

He hasn’t always liked whiskey, but as the owner/director of Whiskey Design, a branding and design studio at 821 W. 17th St. on Kansas City’s West Side, the drink comes with the territory.

“When I started out, I knew I couldn’t use my last name; no one can pronounce it,” Wegerer says. “The name Whiskey reflects the style of work I want to do.”

Which is to say, not what people expect.

Wegerer’s approach is to do the opposite of what all other brands do. He sure as hell isn’t going to put a photo of a dog on a bag of dog food. Why not an illustration of a dog in a fancy top hat? Clients must realize that to hire Wegerer, whose company motto is “Raise a Ruckus,” they’re going to have to step outside of their comfort zones.

“We’re not trying to be niche or have a style,” Wegerer says. “We want every project to have its own look and feel. Sometimes it’s more kooky, but it stands out in a good way.”

Wegerer and three full-time creatives produce everything from packaging to TV spots to websites, with clients from Canada to Trinidad and Tobago. Whiskey has branded Boulevardia since the festival started in 2014, and the studio’s local campaign for a $10 large pizza for Pizza Hut sparked a national frenzy among competing brands.

Wegerer has been working for six years in a building he and wife Cindy split. She runs Kazoo Media in one half, and they share conference and lounge space. Teamed up, their businesses can act as a full-fledged ad agency.

Any visitor to the building intuitively knows where to go by the color coding: teal for Whiskey Design and red for Kazoo Media.

The couple purchased the building, once the home of Red Star Yeast, during the Great Recession, after developing enough business to move their workspace out of the home and into a legit office. They hired Draw Architecture for renovations to the building, which is creeping up on its 100th birthday. Construction involved removing walls and reorganizing the space so it flowed better.

Wegerer stood by one important rule during renovation: “We didn’t want to cover up history,” he says. “If it’s old, it stays old. If it’s brick, it’s brick. If it’s Sheetrock, it’s Sheetrock. We’re not trying to fake anything.”

Nonworking radiators and fire-safe door hardware remain in place. Wegerer loves the wood grain texture left on the concrete walls.

Reclaimed wood from a dismantled Maker’s Mark barn covers a dividing wall and was also used to make benches.

“I like the fact that there was actually whiskey on the wood,” Wegerer says.

Before Whiskey Design and Kazoo Media grew to their current size, the Wegerers lived in the building, but after their number of employees grew, they moved to a house two doors down. The commute couldn’t be better: Their dogs often pop in on workdays, and Cindy can be home in a jiff if the nanny to their 2-month-old son calls in sick.

Whiskey Design produces attention-grabbing, in-your-face work, but the office culture is built on order and respect. Wegerer says he wants his relationship with his employees to feel more like a band than a family.

“I want us to be able to give each other shit,” he says, “but still support each other.”