Office design trends are bringing the outside in

Filed under: Focus |

Let’s face it. Working in a drab, outdated office is no fun. Most folks spend at least eight hours per day at work and they don’t want to feel smothered, cramped or uncomfortable. They don’t want to forget what blue skies, sunshine and the outside world look like. Companies all over the United States are warming up to design trends such as soft lighting, natural woods, ergonomic furniture and employee wellness areas. There seems to be a greater emphasis on employee and client comfort.

“We’ve been seeing more of a return to natural material,” said Lee Stapp, chief operating officer of OfficeScapes in Colorado Springs. Wood furniture has become more popular than the shiny, hard metallic surfaces of the high-tech boom era in Colorado Springs. Offices also are changing the type of wood furniture they purchase. “We’ve seen a move away from oak and walnut and a move toward cherry,” said Kathy Alter of Kathy Alter Design Associates. “Some of it is driven by the fact that we’re running out of walnut.”

Alder wood also is being used more in office furniture because, Alter said, it looks like walnut and stains like walnut. “Walnut’s gotten more pricey just because it is not that high in supply,” she said. Bamboo and synthetic materials are catching on also, she added. “The truth of the matter is a lot of today’s finer furniture still has a particle board core covered in a very fine veneer,” she said. “The materials, to a large degree, have gotten better and less expensive.”

Cost effectiveness also extends to the use of electricity in offices. Glaring overhead fluorescent lights are now being tossed aside for desk lamps and more user-friendly light sources. Jean Sebben, past president of the Colorado Chapter of the American Society of Interior Design, said an increasing number of businesses in Colorado are turning to adjustable lighting.

“Lighting has been real big,” Sebben said. “That does not mean that people want more of it. What we’ve found is that people have eye strain.” The use of desk lamps, she said, is on the rise. Allowing natural light to pour into offices not only brightens a space, but it also has the potential to cut down on energy costs and lessen the impact on the environment.

When selecting lighting fixtures for an office, employers and planners would be wise to take note of the linear and random thinkers. Susan Miner, owner of Susan’s Place at Twin Pine, said linear thinkers and random thinkers go about completing their tasks very differently. Random thinkers, she said, tend to be more creative and maybe distracted more easily than their linear counterparts. Random thinkers perform better with bright lights focused on their work spaces, with soft light surrounding them. This helps them direct their attention on their work.

And aesthetically speaking, the right lighting can make a world of difference. “Light has a tremendous effect on the way we perceive color,” Stapp said. “Light really has a big impact on how people feel about being in a space, too.” Stapp has seen more offices opt to leave shades open to allow for natural light, and many offices are buying lighting fixtures that mimic natural light. “People are starting to invest more in quality lighting,” he said.

The new lighting in the Stockman, Kast, Ryan and Co. office lobby is a good example of the softer, more welcoming look offices are going for. The firm’s offices in the American National Bank building have just been redesigned by Kathy Alter Design Associates. Alter and her team designed everything “right down to the plants and the planters,” she said. “This space was completely gutted.” The offices remained open throughout the redesign. “They don’t want to look ostentatious,” Alter said of the firm. “They want their space to look nice; they want it to show well. But they don’t want to look like they spent way too much money on their space or look like they’re fly-by-night or flashy.”

The lobby features comfortable furniture upholstered in calming earth-tone fabric, and an impressive reception desk. There is an open view to a large conference room. Walk toward the conference room, look to the left and right, and the private offices and cubicles of Stockman, Kast, and Ryan are visible. The private offices line the hallways, with windows facing out onto downtown Colorado Springs. There is a small kitchen and a larger break room, complete with ample cabinet space, countertop space, a refrigerator, soda machine and tables and chairs.

Two work rooms are located off of the cubicle work stations and there is an impressive mailbox system built into the wall behind the receptionist’s desk. Alter and her team designed the shelves, which are open and accessible on the other side of the reception area wall, near the small kitchen. To deliver mail to staff boxes, the receptionist opens the two cherry finish double doors from her side of the wall. All desk chairs at Stockman, Kast, Ryan are ergonomically designed and on wheels.

The office also features a small library, which can be converted into an office as the staff grows, and a larger records room. For added convenience, the records shelves are movable and controlled by a handle on each shelf. When a handle is turned, the selected shelf moves on a track on the floor. This system was designed to help staff members access the shelves more easily and to manage the space more effectively.

To aid in effective space management and planning, Alter chose to install systems furniture – cubicle furniture that may be adjusted to make a workspace larger or smaller as necessity dictates. Cubicle walls may be added or removed to change the look of a space or meet the needs of an employee. The systems furniture at the offices of Stockman, Kast, Ryan and Co. is covered in a soft, neutral-colored fabric.

“A lot of the furniture we sell is systems furniture, cubicle furniture,” Stapp said.

Stapp, though, has noticed companies moving away from cloth-covered cubicles. He and his staff at OfficeScapes have worked with companies who prefer metal, glass and even rice paper to separate work stations. “We’ve sandwiched that between glass to create a translucent effect,” he said. No matter how workspaces are designed or divided, making the most of the space available will help boost productivity and improve the overall work environment.

“The biggest mistake people make is they start with the room and they cram in the functions,” Miner said. “It’s like you start with the shoe and hope it fits.” Miner has worked with people to help them design a kitchen that is perfect for doing the dishes and a laundry room that is the ideal space for actually doing the laundry. It’s always a good idea for a designer, and even an employer, to keep in mind the people who will be doing the work and exactly how they go about completing tasks.

“Some people work from left to right, some work right to left,” she said. “Some people can’t stand clutter and they need drawers.” Every businessperson knows at least one colleague who stacks papers and files all over their desks in a seemingly nonsensical attempt to “get organized.” “Pilers are people who are never going to change&so what you want to do is put a basket where they’re going to put the clutter.”

Employee needs and comfort are ever continuing to come to the forefront in office design. “The employee areas are being considered very heavily,” Sebben said.

Sebben and the American Society of Interior Design have completed work in the Conover building, the Colorado Springs offices of Compassion International and Colorado Square downtown. “We’ve revamped all the common areas at the Alamo Center this past year,” she said. “We do a huge amount of office work. We’ve put in a tremendous amount of fitness centers and day care centers. We’re planning more employee benefit ar
eas than we had ever planned.”