A Place for Inside-the-Box Thinking

A Place for Inside-the-Box Thinking

“People can come in here to think,” Mr. Jennings said, sliding into one for an interview. “You can do head-down focus work in here, or call your doctor or your dentist or your girlfriend or your boyfriend.” Even if everybody assumes you are looking for another job.

So Mr. Jennings is in the oasis business. In open-plan offices, the desks are closer together than when cubicles were in fashion. Some offices use the freed-up space for lounges with somewhat more casual furniture — couches or bar-height tables and chairs.

Out where the desks are, the noise level tends to be higher, because there are more people in less space.


Jeremy Jennings, a Jabbrrbox founder, in one of his creations. “People can come in here to think,” he said. Credit Will Glaser/The New York Times

Like a phone booth, Mr. Jennings’s box — a Jabbrrbox, by name — has a door that closes. Unlike a phone booth, Jabbrrbox is strictly B.Y.O.P. There is no built-in phone. The only way a phone gets into a Jabbrrbox is if someone carries one in.

This means you will not hear the thunk of a coin dropping — a nickel or a dime or a quarter, depending on how long ago.

And if you are old enough to remember sitcoms from the 1960s, don’t expect a trap door in the floor to open. That happened, week after week, in the opening credits of “Get Smart.” Agent 86 stepped into a phone booth. Where he plunged to was never explained; presumably, he was on the way to Control, the spy agency he and Agent 99 worked for.

Old-fashioned telephone booths were an urban casualty, doomed by their popularity among bookies, drug runners and vandals. In the mid-1990s, there were 2.6 million public pay phones nationwide, but AT&T dropped out of the pay phone business in 2007. Verizon stuck it out until 2011.

Today only a handful of old-fashioned telephone booths are left in Manhattan. Four that still have pay phones are on West End Avenue. Until September, there are three in Father Duffy Square, at the northern end of Times Square, as part of an art installation. Another, on West 13th Street in the meatpacking district, dials the switchboard at the United States Capitol, in Washington. The idea is for passers-by who want to feel politically engaged to speak their minds to whomever answers the phone in Senate or House offices.

Originally, Mr. Jennings and Jabbrrbox’s other founder, Brian Hackathorn, wanted to set up private spaces in Central Park for people who needed quiet when they had to take a call. The main target market would seem to be people playing hooky. Which no one in Manhattan ever does.

Mr. Hackathorn, a designer whose résumé includes a Best of Year Award from Interior Design magazine in 2014, has designed his share of open offices. (Mr. Hackathorn was traveling, or no doubt he would have been in the Jabbrrbox with Mr. Jennings for the interview. In his absence, Mr. Jennings said that Mr. Hackathorn “likes to say he’s solving a problem he helped create.”)

Mr. Jennings said Mr. Hackathorn drew plans for as many as 20 booths in the park, wrapped with artwork. “Like ‘The Gates,’” he said, referring to the $21 million orange installation that brightened the winter of 2005 with 7,500 pleated portals.

“It’s landmarked,” Mr. Jennings said, adding that the approvals needed to put new permanent structures like booths in the park seemed overwhelming. (The city has designated the park a scenic landmark; it was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in the 1960s.)

They considered putting boxes in airports or hotel lobbies and charging users who ventured inside for that all-important private call. “Like Zipcar for space,” Mr. Jennings said.

Then they realized that office space was shrinking and that they could sell boxes to open-office tenants. Mr. Hackathorn was so excited that he said, “Let’s build it.”

Mr. Jennings remembers that moment. “I thought he was off-his-rocker crazy.”

They now have models for one person ($13,500) and two ($24,000). Jabbrrbox’s website says nine exterior colors are available, including “signal white,” “traffic orange” and “umbra gray.” Inside, the color choices include “retreat” (whitish), “balance” (aqua), “happy” (light green) and “pamper” (purple).

Workers who do not rate an office could do in-the-box thinking in a Jabbrrbox — and in an open office, even those fairly high in the chain of command do not always rate an office. Mr. Jennings talked about taking a potential buyer to see one that had been installed in a Midtown Manhattan office.

They had to wait because a woman was inside, and she was deep into an animated conversation on a cellphone. When she came out, the potential client started questioning her.

“He said, ‘What’s your role here?’” Mr. Jennings recalled. “She said, ‘I’m the head of legal.’”

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