Homework Vs Teamwork

Homework Vs Teamwork

IBM are perhaps the most recent Blue Chip to abandon the home office. In a recent policy change, employees are now required to work from regional offices, or seek alternative employment. Ironic, seeing as IBM are champions of remote tech software, but clearly a case of ‘do as we say not as we do’. Or something.

Arguments for and against home office working are nothing new. Company policy is often driven by CEO opinion, with trust being the deciding factor. Tricky as it is, one size does not fit all. For most of us, the office will remain central to our working lives and I believe that’s a good thing. However for many employees, flexibility still outweighs the lure of cool office design. But who says you can’t have your cake and eat it?

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Leading businesses understand they need to go the extra mile to have the edge. This means offering a wide range of formal and informal workspaces, having a positive management style, providing employee flexibility and great office design in order to attract and retain industry talent. Many bosses fear that home office is an opportunity to skive, but in actual fact for many remote workers, longer uninterrupted periods combined with the absence of daily commute, means higher productivity.

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In today’s competitive economy, ambitious employers should liken their facilities and employee management policies to top athletes’ incessant drive for improvement. For the likes of Usain Bolt, it isn’t just ability and training that keeps him at the top, it is also diet, biomechanics, physiotherapy, psychology and more. Each small refinement improves overall results. Equally, improvements to the workplace environment can directly improve productivity, performance and company profit. Here are 10 ways to reduce stress, improve performance and improve overall team results:

  1. Tools for the job: Don’t cut costs with IT hardware and software. Invest in the best tools for your team.
  2. Positive Management Style: Be approachable and proactive with problem solving. Keep an eye out for over-exertion amongst your team in a bid to avoid burnouts.
  3. Acoustics: Noisy offices mean stressed workers, higher absenteeism and lower productivity. Get advice from an acoustician or interior expert on how to reduce sound levels in your space.
  4. Ergonomics: A height adjustable desk, monitor arm, task light and good office chair needn’t cost the earth. Employee absence due to chronic back pain however, might.
  5. Collaboration, focus & relax: Ensure your team have a range of places to chat, collaborate, meet and eat together as well as places for quiet focus work (many see home office as quiet concentration space).
  6. Flexibility: A hot topic and high on employee wish-lists. If the working week is structured to accommodate both office-based and flexible working you will have a happier workforce. 
  7. Biophilia: Plants, natural light and nature make us feel good and work better. Integrate these into the design of your office space to improve wellbeing.
  8. Good health: Some big companies have in-house nutritionists, gyms and restaurants. Smaller companies can compete by arranging healthy lunches, fruit, private healthcare and encouraging team sport activities. 
  9. Teamwork: Fostering a positive team spirit is hugely beneficial. Where possible, team responsibilities and rewards should be shared.
  10. Scent: A topic gaining momentum in interior circles. Scents such as lemon oil stimulate the brain and when used in the office can provide a more pleasant working experience. But trial it first – it may not be to everyone’s taste.

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There is no one size fits all for today’s employees. An engaged leader should look to find the balance between employee wants and company needs. Some team members need more management than others, but trust, structure, support and positivity are hugely motivational factors and should not be underestimated.

Ultimately employees are both a company’s biggest asset and expenditure. By investing in their wellbeing, environment and company culture, businesses are re-investing in themselves. 

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What’s your opinion on home office working – is it all it’s cracked up to be? Hive of productivity or pyjama party?

This Swiss furniture designer

This Swiss furniture designer

Whilst at a friend’s charity launch, the host excitedly insisted I should meet his neighbour.  “He’s a furniture designer!” he beamed. As the event itself was far beyond the realms of furniture and interiors, I expected to find myself feigning interest whilst some bloke called Heiri gave it the big one about refurbishing his Granny’s coffee table or weaving a hammock from horse hair. I reluctantly shuffled over anyway and to my complete surprise I was introduced to Matthias (‘This’ for short) Weber; an accomplished designer and genuine nice guy, who designs furniture based from his cool studio in downtown Zürich. Unfortunately, our meeting was cut short, that is, until we were coincidentally re-introduced some months later alongside Alfredo Häberli and Luke Pearson at the Alias Party in Milan. Who knew eh?

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This Weber in his Zürich studio

Having gotten to know more about This’s work, I called in to his studio in the trendy Hardbrücke area of the city some weeks later. There I found him, surrounded by furniture prototypes, sketches, works in progress and models (of the furniture kind). Over a great coffee, This told me about his journey to date, initially training as a mechanic before working with some of Switzerland’s most renowned furniture designers and now making waves under his own banner. I asked him a few questions for your reading pleasure….

You initially trained as a mechanic – what prompted the switch to design?

I grew up in a family of creatives. My mum a textile designer, my father a typology specialist at the School of Art in Zürich. My uncle – a great, calm person – was teaching design and interior architecture, also at the School of Art. I just wanted to do what he did in his precious workshop…

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Symphonie

Ever consider becoming a car designer?

No – we don’t have a big history of car design here in Switzerland and I’m not the biggest car fan, so that was never my wish. Especially as a young designer, I wasn’t really aware of my skills, so was looking for small design studios with smaller projects – as opposed to working in large teams in the car industry.

What was your breakthrough moment in the furniture industry?

I see my whole career as an empiric process, with every project that I’m working on to become a product. To me, each one is a breakthrough.

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Bellevue Armchair (high back version)

You’ve worked with Alfredo Häberli, Christophe Marchand and Hannes Wettstein. How valuable was that experience and how does it compare to solo work?

It’s been a competitive everyday challenge for me, to work on various projects and to fulfil the visions of my author bosses. Like craftsmen who have done this for decades, these were my ‘wanderyears’ where I learned from – and practiced with – the experienced ones.

What single piece of advice do you give to furniture designers just starting out?

I encourage them to start their career working for established studios and also to try to develop their own things and get in touch with brands…

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NOMAD Lido chair

What designs do you currently have in development?

We’re working on a wardrobe collection to suit the needs of schools, universities and public spaces for Swiss company MAKK, a new range for VERYWOOD; an Italian furniture brand focused on hotels, gastronomy and cruise ships… plus some new upholstery for German manufacturer Rolf Benz.

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Bellevue collection

What challenges do you see in the furniture industry?

We need to communicate the quality of our products better. We’re all responsible for the fact that consumers have lost their ability to qualify quality.

Last question – who’s your (living) design hero?

Rodolfo Dordoni. Antonio Citterio.

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“My goal is to give objects a recognisable value, which is perceived intuitively by the user…”

Since 2010, This is also a visiting lecturer in the faculty of design and Art at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Art. Keep your eyes peeled for This Weber – a rising star in furniture design – you can check out some of his inspiration here. And next time you’re at a friend’s party and they offer to introduce you to a furniture designer, go and say hello. You never know who you might meet…

Catch you soon ar kid.

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Ben Capper is an award winning Interior Specialist based in Zürich Switzerland, working with Zingg Lamprecht AG on interior and furniture projects for commercial clients. Ben has 20 years experience as a trusted independent consultant to Architects and Interior Designers having completed projects such as Manchester United stadium expansion, private Airport lounges, University campuses for 1400 students and 1000 person office schemes. b.capper@zingg-lamprecht.ch

Milano goes Pop!

Milano goes Pop!

Milan. City of cobbled streets, driving without rules, Vitello Milanese, Ray-bans and more recently, Salone del Mobile. An actioned packed few days of design, prosciutto and prosecco has drawn to a close. So what’s new? Here’s a few quickfire highlights from me…

80’s pop

Its been sneaking back for a while now, but Salone proudly unveiled it’s 80’s intentions on a number of stands. Dig out your cords and stick some Eurythmics on. Whether it’s bold stripes, thick velvety rugs, retro furniture or speckled stone finishes… 80’s influences were far and wide.

Jaime Hayon takeover

From Fritz Hansen’s Fritz Hotel to the Wittman Hayon Workshop. From Viccarbe furniture to Nanamarqina rugs. There was no escaping man of the moment Jaime Hayon’s influences across Salone – and he led the 80’s charge. With Huey Lewis’s Hip to be Square on full blast, leather fingerless gloves and bleached drainpipe jeans, Hayon softened every angle, added playfulness and fun and a recognisable Spanish design language of his own. Man of the match? Sí señor!

Nendo’s calming influence

At Jil Sander’s showroom in the Brera district, Nendo’s Invisible outlines exhibition blended a backdrop of meditative music with 16 Nendo projects on display exploring new ways of seeing and sharing things. Meanwhile at Salone, the prolific design team infused Japanese calmness to the Alias stand, with a coffee table range integrating Asian greenery, new refined Twiggy chair and the Okome modular soft seating range setting the scene.

Marble gets, erm… marblier

Marble has been back for a couple of years. But typically white marble with grey veins or vice versa, whereas now the trend is much more exotic, opulent and rare natural colours, often mixed with brass, copper or dull bronze metal framework. Sits nicely with 80’s vibes too.

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And finally… ch–ch-changes

Over recent years we’ve seen many brands reinvent themselves at Milan to re-align with emerging trends, the Wittman Hayon workshop was nothing short of a complete overhaul and a very positive one at that. Hayon’s Mediterranean baroque meets Wittman’s Austrian quality. Very cool.

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Unconfirmed rumours at Salone circulated that internationally successful design team Lievore Altherr Molina have split, with Manel Molina going it alone and releasing solo work. Is their website to be read as confirmation of this?

Japanese design was more prevalent than ever – with fantastic collaborations and influences. Yuru Suzuki, Stellar Works, Tokushin Yoshioka and of course Nendo. More please!

RIP Bar Basso. The design faithful’s bar of choice finally reached bursting point. A taxi ride to the other side of town, followed by a 4 deep bar scrum and drinking warm beer whilst standing on a roundabout has finally started to wear thin.

We need a new Bar Basso….

Until next time, Ciao! X

 

Ben Capper is an award winning Interior Specialist based in Zürich Switzerland, working with Zingg Lamprecht AG on interior and furniture projects for commercial clients. Ben has 20 years experience as a trusted independent consultant to Architects and Interior Designers having completed projects such as Manchester United stadium expansion, private Airport lounges, University campuses and 1000 person office schemes. b.capper@zingg-lamprecht.ch 

Open Source Furniture

Open Source Furniture

The sharing revolution has changed the planet. The way we call a cab, the way we holiday, how we work and live. And as often happens, what begins as a bold new phenomenon becomes normalised and must evolve to head off new challenges, or be replaced by the next big idea. Trudging around shops to buy DVD’s is pre-historic, we now stream and share the cost of ownership with monthly prescriptions. And in a world of spiralling ownership costs, millennials are leading the sharing revolution.

So why can’t we share design?

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“Laser cutting and 3D printing….”

Open source refers to a code made available online to be refined, improved and infinitely shared. Originally applied to computer software, open source furniture is one of the most searched-for subtopics of the sharing genre. Laser cutting and 3D printing – once mythical ideas – are commonplace in workshops across the globe. Combine open source design with affordable hi-tech local production and we have a furniture revolution in the making, driven by the Maker Movement.

Open Source, Opendesk

Opendesk are a new breed of furniture manufacturer, disrupting the typical consumer supply route. They have become synonymous with open source furniture, linking designers and makers to the general public via an online platform. “Designed to be downloaded and made locally”, they’ve embraced the democratic nature of open source, inviting critique and feedback in order to improve design, processes and sustainability. See for yourself.

What were initially limited and clunky designs have developed, multiplied and improved albeit there is a clear design language within much of the collection due to the limitations of materials used and the inherent ‘simplicity’ of production and assembly.  Opendesk count Greenpeace, Impact Hub and Digital Ocean amongst their corporate clients and are currently featured in Vitra Design Museum’s Hello Robot exhibition – a sure sign of their success. But how far will the movement evolve?

To get the opinion of a true maker with sustainable ideals, I chatted to Rainer Kyburz – Director of Basel-based Kyburz Made and self-confessed furniture addict, who is enthused by the trend.

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Kyburz Made: old materials lovingly restored and unique – the opposite of open source?

“This movement is a perfect example of globalisation.” says Rainer, “We should make the best out of it and use it in a sensible way. Transportation of resources is optimised, local Materials can be used, or sent in Bulk as a single product to the customer, often flatpacked. Information as to how to produce something is shared and accessible. New international interdisciplinary cooperations are developed and ironically, creativity is pushed by the very limitation that a product has to be designed to allow it to be produced on the other side of the globe.”

That’s an interesting point. The very limitations imposed by remote access, production and logistics can in fact be a design catalyst. So where’s the down side?  “At present, the limitations of production techniques” explains Rainer, “but this will evolve over time. Quality control could also prove difficult as the complete product does not come from an individual provider.” Indeed. Using a vast network or supply chain means results may vary.

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Manufacturing techniques are constantly evolving

We’re currently seeing a boom in plywood, coworking and tech-style interior schemes and this theme fits perfectly – not just in terms of design, but also target audience. But playing Devil’s advocate, in the words of the Dragons Den cash wad stroking suits, Is it truly scalable? Will production limitations prohibit development beyond the techniques and materials currently used, or will it evolve to integrate other materials, upholstery and ‘internet of things’ style tech? Keep your eyes on Opendesk who have a few interesting new developments in the pipeline.

“Could designers end up as disgruntled cabbies, who’s time served knowledge is kicked to the kerb…?”

Cutting out middle men and delivering design direct to the people, open source furniture promises to be the uber of the industry, but in the highly competitive field of furniture design, could designers end up as disgruntled cabbies, who’s time served knowledge is kicked to the kerb. With real people power undertones, the complex topic of design ownership is widely discussed on the open making site.

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Herman Miller use 3D printing to speed up R+D process

And what of the big furniture players in contract and retail – Will IKEA offer open source production any time soon? Herman Miller (amongst others) are already using 3D printing to significantly speed up their R+D process. Maybe they feel open source is best left to the DIY-ers, or the margin just isn’t there. Smartphone apps to convert 2D images into 3D CAD files for printing and 3D printers are universally available, meaning anyone can be a maker in the market. Where that will leave intellectual property rights is yet to be seen.

Part Man, part Machine

Is the online maker movement the arch nemesis to the traditional craft movement?  Do the two meet somewhere in a ply bar at CDW to exchange notes over a craft beer, or would they end up in a Anchorman style barfight using downloaded ply chairs versus handmade oiled oak barstools? Personally, I think we will definitely see more ‘fusing’ of different production techniques across the industry as even old school manufacturers wise up to the benefits. Tech meets tradition. Furniture that is part man, part machine. Solid wood chair frames with 3D printed seat and backs and open source design with locally produced upholstery. One thing’s for sure, sharing isn’t going anywhere – it’s only just begun.

Until next time, you stay classy.

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Craft versus Tech at CDW

 

Ben Capper is an award winning Interior Specialist based in Zürich Switzerland, working with Zingg Lamprecht AG on interior and furniture projects for commercial clients. Ben has 20 years experience as a trusted independent consultant to Architects and Interior Designers having completed projects such as Manchester United stadium expansion, private Airport lounges, University campuses and 1000 person office schemes.        b.capper@zingg-lamprecht.ch

 

Green is the new Black

Green is the new Black

You’d be hard pressed to go a day in design circles without coming across numerous references to biophilic design. As globalisation fuelled dramatic urban growth over recent decades, changing how we live and work, we were for a time kidded into thinking we must make a choice between our modern built environment and nature. We’ve since had a green awakening.

In our cities and workplaces the removal of trees and greenery ‘in the name of progress’ produces a negative effect on how we feel, reducing our sense of wellbeing and ultimately our performance. Inhabiting cities without trees and workplaces devoid of plants or natural light is not a pleasant thought. Perhaps we needed to be reminded of a simple fact we had forgotten: Nature makes us feel good.

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Highline, New York

Now that the penny has dropped, the race is on to correct our mistakes with the mass introduction of biophilic design and green architecture. And there have been notable successes. New York’s Highline is a case in point with visitor numbers off the charts. Notably, this project is 98% funded by community group ‘Friends of the Highline’ and has had a huge positive impact on surrounding areas.

Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay (below) sprawls over 250 acres and confirms the city’s place at the head of the Biophilic table. Featuring metal clad solar powered ‘trees’ covered with tropical flowers and with raised interconnecting walkways, the park comes alive at night with a light and sound show.

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Thomas Heatherwick Studio received both acclaim and criticism for their New York and London schemes. Both are now set to go ahead, with London’s Garden Bridge (main image above) heckled along the way. With the proven successes of New York and Singapore, I fail to see how such a positive green addition can be anything other than a huge benefit to a large modern city.

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Heather wick’s Pier 55, NYC – 

Many of us lucky enough to attend Saloni Milano will have noticed Stefano Boeri’s Vertical Forest, combining high density living with as many trees as a hectare of forest. These modern buildings challenge the perception that urban green spaces should be either horizontal or disruptive to the financial yield. The integration of greenery into the very fabric of our buildings has become a sought after addition to our living and working spaces.

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Vertical Forest, Milan

 

Vertical greenery also translates to interior environments. A leading trend at last year’s Orgatec saw industrial open modular shelving units providing a home to lush greenery in the workplace, acting as a calming visual barrier whilst improving air quality. Combine this with natural materials and natural light and its no surprise that the ’employee experience’ is much more positive and productive.

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Etsy, Brooklyn NY. Image credit: Garret Rowland

Recent years have also seen a rapid growth in the use of living walls in the workplace. Based on the same principles, this approach can add much needed greenery to an expensive floorplate with maximum efficiency. If you look carefully you might even find David Bellamy and a couple of squirrel monkeys in there somewhere.

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In a recent interview Danish starchitect Bjarke Ingels commented “All humans inhabit the same amount of real estate: Earth. We have the power to adapt our physical surroundings to life – imagine what we can do… Once you’ve accepted that there’s no way we (humans) can be here without having a very significant influence on our planet, we should take it as a positive. Instead of having unanticipated negative social and environmental side effects, we should design our world so we have positive social and environmental side effects.”

If we apply this theory not just in terms of the wider built environment, but also in terms of our immediate interiors and the micro-architecture with which we come into contact on a daily basis, it is also very valid indeed.

The idea of ‘shared space’ (or real estate) as a communal facility is more relevant today than ever with sprawling tech work ‘campuses’ being built and the rise of transitional spaces currently used for coworking. These interior environments and our performance within them is a science. If we make a list of what humans need to survive it begins with oxygen, water, food, shelter and sleep. As we work down the list beyond healthcare and clothing etc, the points become less ‘obligatory’ and more ‘optional’ – but important to our performance nonetheless. Where would you put wifi, good coffee and friendly colleagues on the list for example?

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Mankind adapts to its modern environment

In a micro but measurable way, the conditions in our immediate surroundings influence our productivity, well-being and performance. Just because we have MacBooks and Ugg boots doesn’t mean we can ignore our basic needs. Each tick in the box results in an improvement. And some score more points than others. Adjustable lighting: tick. Ergonomics: tick. Acoustic screen between you and shouty loud bloke: tick.

As interiors people we aim to positively influence and improve these environments. We should all be encouraging our clients to integrate plants, natural materials as well as spaces to walk, sit and relax among them into interior schemes. Let’s make micro-parks within our offices, gardens in our public libraries and small forests in our lobbies. Let’s put nature back into our cities, workplaces and lives.

What could possibly go wrong…?

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Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2017! 


Thanks for following my blog!  2016 has been a year of new challenges and many accomplishments… and 2017 promises to be another exciting year. I hope my blogs continue to keep you interested and would be extremely grateful if you could share them with other likeminded people from time to time. Ok, shameless plug over….

Whatever your plans over the festive period, have a great time! Sending my best wishes to you from Zürich – and see you next year! 

Ben Capper 

Furniture Strategist

Tech Interiors of Future Past

Tech Interiors of Future Past

I enjoy reading about the future. Future cities, future cars, future office. Who doesn’t? The implications of technological advances are debated online with readers in awe and fear at what may lie ahead. I published Office 2030 and Smart @rse articles earlier this year on this very subject.

Mark Eltringham wrote a great article last month for Workplace Insight suggesting our limited human grey matter cannot fathom where this is going. He’s right (well my limited bonce can’t). IT, AI and VR amongst other technological advances are accelerating at such pace we’re lagging farther and farther behind, our puny imagination unable to digest the far reaching consequences as speed of progress is infinitely redoubled. And redoubled.

Computer says yes. Brain says ‘erm wait… gimme a second…”

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Great Scott…….

Eltringham quotes Stewart Brand’s ‘How Buildings Learn’, “describing each building as consisting of six layers, each of which functions on a different timescale. These range from the site itself which has a life cycle measured in centuries, through to the building (decades), interior fit out (years), technology (months), to stuff (days). The effectiveness of a workplace design will depend on how well it resolves the tensions that exist between these layers of the building.” Very well put. And with our future workplace needs so uncertain it is clear that flexibility is vital.

Yet as advances continue apace, the very style of our commercial interiors is stripped back to basics. Check out my last post on Factory Office to see what I mean. Swathes of furniture and interior design has become utilitarian in appearance. Exposed beams, ceilings and plywood are rife. Coincidence? Perhaps not.

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Google King’s Cross Office

AHMM Architects recently unveiled Google’s King’s Cross Office, complete with ‘Jack’; a meeting room which is reconfigurable and portable within the building. Plug and play. Effectively the rooms which come with built in video conference equipment can be hacked to suit requirements – something that no doubt appeals to the IT crowd.

Dr Kerstin Sailer, a lecturer at University College London commented “The inflexibility of space has become particularly problematic in the 21st century business environment. It could be argued that Google is now making a move towards a more profound workplace innovation.”

Again the scheme’s overall interior style is very ‘coworking’ flavour, stripped back, typically tech. The IT industry that has led the coworking interiors style revolution are perhaps more aware than most of why commercial interiors should be simple, flexible and updatable. Perhaps these IT folk that live in dark cupboards snacking on pot noodles and energy drinks think of the building floorplate as a mother board onto which updates should be regularly downloaded in order to maintain its effectiveness.

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Google Jack meeting room

Away from tech-focused desks and meeting furniture, we’ve seen the rise of young edgy breakout furniture firms with playful, retro and ironic styles ripe for Palo Alto. The likes of Facebook and Twitter have had cuddly soft breakout spaces with rocking chairs and old school sofas for years. The antisocial nature of technology itself perhaps promotes the need for good old fashioned chat in a space that feels safe and warm. But stripped back ceilings and plywood doesn’t necessarily feel warm you say. Ah yes, but it feels basic.

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Deadgood at the Office Group, London

 

There’s the ‘everyone wants to be a start up’ factor. A leaning towards personal, approachable ‘low tech’ human service. “Hi I’m a friendly human. Let’s sit on a sofa, drink coffee and chat business.” steering clear of the high tech server stack that is beeping, whirring and being cooled by air-con in the back room.

And we’re now seeing not just the return of bent metal utilitarian furniture, but a number of other materials formerly linked with granny’s front room are popping up. We’ve had mid century design and Scandi lounge settings re-appearing. Marbles and velvet too. But who would have thought that handwoven wicker, the antithesis of technology, would be making a comeback anytime soon? But here we are. And here it is.

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Perhaps it’s part of human nature to dig our heels in. As IT races on at light speed, keeping our interiors ‘real’ gives us echoes of days gone by. A visit to old Aunty Beth’s for a cuppa and some custard creams. If people feel good, they are happy and productive, remember? Whatever the key driver to this trend is, it’s ironic that as IT progresses to new found heights, our interior style is going backwards. And nowhere more so than in the tech industry hubs themselves.

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