Investing in comfort

With offices continually moving away from the dour, staid atmospheres of yesteryear, Leading Architecture & Design approaches the leading manufacturers from across the country to find out what they believe are the latest and greatest trends in office interiors.

Q In your experience, what is the latest trend that you have seen emerging in office design over the last year?
Frank Moffat, Belgotex Floorcoverings:
In terms of soft finishes, we’ve noticed a definite move towards modular carpet tiles, whereas previously broadloom carpets accounted for 60-70% of sales.

Architects and designers are more confident about moving away from trusty needlepunch ranges to more exciting tufted tiles. This trend can be attributed to improvements in both yarn technology and greater colour and design possibilities, such as the revolutionary new ‘graphics velour’ product ZigZag, available in broadloom, NexBac, and ResinBac modular tiles. In terms of colours, there’s also been a move away from traditional blues and greys to more natural shades, and linear graphics are definitely in.

From a social perspective, the mobile office or work-from-home trend is creating greater demand for multi-functional products that can work in either corporate or residential applications, while increased environmental awareness is making specifiers more selective about using green materials or suppliers with ISO14001 accreditation.

Marcel Weickl, CN Business Furniture: Over the past year or so, we’ve seen clients leaning towards more open working spaces – not to be confused with ‘open-plan’. The office culture that the modern business is looking for is one of collaboration and communication. This trend creates an office space where screens or dividers are lowered to below eye-level and workstations are kept simple by implementing bench style solutions.

Isla Galloway, Dauphin: Designers continue to create quality products with an excellent design pedigree that are produced in an eco-aware manner. It’s key to manufacture a piece that has longevity – both in design circles and in one’s office environment.

Allan Tyler, Mitrekraft Furniture: Mitrekraft Cape Town has noticed that office furniture design in South Africa is limited by a number of factors, including functionality, poor local availability of specialised components, and local customer acceptance. In today’s market, trips to various office furniture design shows in Germany and other design centres are seldom, if ever, followed up with significant office furniture design changes on return to South Africa. The internet also allows would-be furniture users to copy almost any design posted by manufacturers and designers.

Q Have you noted an increase in the number of extravagances being included in offices?
Belgotex Floorcoverings:
Companies definitely seem to be investing in more comfortable, quality surroundings. Luxurious cutpile carpets in the boardrooms and artificial lawn in pause areas or rooftop balconies to ‘bring the outside in’ are definite trends that are gaining popularity.

CN Business Furniture: Yes, definitely. The office of the new millennium is known as the “Other Place”; the location where you spend most of your time away from home. Due to the financial pressures of the global credit crunch, working hours seem to be on the increase.

As we have become more aware of the issues involving overworked staff and the pressures of business in a more global market, it makes sense that home and work spaces are starting to integrate. In striving for wellness in the workplace, CN Business Furniture has started to include ‘home comforts’ in our proposal and workspace designs, to allow staff to take a break and to re-group between their daily tasks. While smokers have always had their haven, all other staff members have had to wait diligently for tea breaks and lunch times to relieve their brain drain and square eyes from long sessions in front of their computers.

To create the right vibe in these ‘chill-out’ areas and break rooms, many designers have started to implement designer soft-seating such as bean bags, funky ottomans and sofas. Break rooms generally feature LCD televisions, which are tuned into MTV or Channel-O to lighten the mood with the latest music. There has also been a definite move towards the inclusion of an espresso machine in offices and break rooms, which offers a great coffee break and a familiar comfort linked to the ever-expanding coffee culture in South Africa.

Dauphin: Over the past decade we have noted an increase in furniture pieces that are regarded as fun and frivolous; pieces made from wire are an example of this, as are others that are often perceived as ‘comfortable’ – large, oversized chairs with opulent cushioning. Think Donald Trump sitting at the top of his tower in his oversized leather chair. For many, though, just because you can slide backwards and forwards on the seat, rock on it or bounce up and down doesn’t qualify it as ‘comfortable’. Sadly, what many often do regard as ‘comfortable’ doesn’t usually equate to a piece that is ergonomically designed.

Last year’s recession meant everyone had to work harder and smarter, and long hours at desks often translate into unremitting back pain and other woes which ergonomic design seeks to overcome. Now we’re seeing  a shift toward all things that are ergonomically designed to help employees sit in the best possible position for the maximum benefit of the spine, which ultimately aids concentration and helps fight fatigue.

Mitrekraft Furniture: The upgraded pause or rest areas have been a feature for some time, and the design flair lacking in desking and workstation design has certainly been expressed by design companies’ efforts in the pause area. We believe that designers feel more comfortable and at home in the design aspects of the building than they do in the actual desking design.

Q Do you believe that it is up to the clients or the interior designers to push the limits when it comes to office design?
Belgotex Floorcoverings:
At Belgotex we believe that flooring is a fundamental element in defining a style – it communicates the company philosophy and reflects the corporate identity. It should be a collaboration between client and designer to marry performance demands with design imperatives.

Dauphin: A combination. In addition to developments in the industry, designers need to be aware of what clients want and need. Where possible, clients need to give designers the freedom to create healthy environments that are aesthetically pleasing and functional.

CN Business Furniture: I do not think that it is a one-sided affair; both clients and designers need to be conscious of world trends and should adopt those elements that suit the particular environment. It’s important to take into account the local and business culture in each organisation and, with this as the guide, decide what will work and how the boundaries can be shifted.

Clients need to consider mind shift and realise that when they talk about office re-modelling and design, it encompasses more than just desks and chairs. They need to include the wellness aspects of the workplace and understand that when they look after the soft issues, they will reap large-scale rewards which include happier staff and better energy within their environment.

It is also up to the designer to help their clients budget correctly and to emphasise the need for shifting the perception of the office from a general workplace to an energised hub of activity – a place where people can relieve stress when required and come back again to feed off each other’s positive energy. The open-plan office should be a productive hub and this can be successfully achieved by creating a synergy between both the client and the designer when considering the multiple work zones and the furniture and space required for each specific function.

Mitrekraft Furniture: This is a complex issue, a catch-22, and has no simple answer.
The person or facility that benefits most or needs design the most to provide some exclusivity to his/her product, thereby increasing the opportunity for improved sales, will pick up this mantle.

Contacts
* Belgotex Floorcoverings: 033-897-7500 or www.belgotex.co.za
* CN Business Furniture: 0861-2666-5463 or www.cnonline.co.za
* Dauphin: 011-447-9888 or www.dauphin.co.za
* Mitrekraft Furniture: 021-712-0280 or www.mitrekraft.com

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OfficeDesign1.jpg: Pic courtesy CN Business Furniture
Other images if needed: Pic courtesy CN Business Furniture