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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Factory Office

Factory Office

As this year’s Orgatec comes to a close and local airports shepherd battle-hardened armies of salespeople and creatives back to their respective hubs, I reflect on some themes from this year’s show.

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Vitra have been presenting an industrial feel for a couple of years with Jean Prouve and the Bouroullecs leading the way. This show very much continued where they left off. Unfinished metal frames, warehouse style plastic doorflaps to divide spaces, metal mesh side panels and screens hanging from pulleys that would usually be found on a factory floor. The ‘start-up feel’ is still flavour of the month as everyone wants to work at a coworking desk wearing jeans and trainers with no socks, whilst sipping lattés and eating carrot cake…

The industrial feel echoed through the fair this year with many brands acknowledging a factory floor setting, either with a new modular mesh shelving product or simply with the backdrop of their set design. If the Hacienda was still around I’d tell Tony to stick some big ply desks on one side and a coffee barista next to the DJ booth and Fac51 would become a coworking mecca.

img_2054Modularity… 

An important feature in architecture and interiors; the ability to create a grid format of interchangeable blocks allowing users the flexibility to increase or decrease in line with changing requirements. The latest modular trends at Orgatec include space dividing screens suspended by a ceiling mounted rail system, allowing screens to be slid around continuously to carve up spaces (see my Office 2030 blog). Black metal styled storage systems such as Wiesner Hager’s Cage product (below) and boxy storage modules with integrated desking, acoustic panels, soft seating and other features industrialised an office planning theme made familiar by Herman Miller’s Living Office, where soft seating peels off desks, which in turn peel off a modular storage system.

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The use of modular systems on exhibition stands (whether product or prop) firmly illustrates a desire to split up a large open plan commercial space with towering high storage as both a feature and a facility.

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In general, workplace furniture fashion is beginning to look like commercial exposed ceilings: stripped back to bare boned essentials, bolts and fixings proudly on display rather than hidden from view. Solid, rigid, mesh and modular. Carefully considered, then intentionally styled to look a bit rough round the edges. A bit like Jason Statham.

And Tom Dixon’s getting in on the act, with his first foray into the workplace. Aside from a promising chunky wooden trestle-legged team desk, his Boom task light makes no secret of its industrial DNA.

tom-dixon-office-furniture-tables-chairs-lights-accessories-british-design-london-uk_dezeen_2364_col_13Soften the blow

With all this harsh, technology driven metal framed office furniture, we need some softness to compensate. And following in the footsteps of Verpan, Walter Knoll – and more recently Gubi, there was a lot of dark opulent velvet upholstery and mid century vibes. Buzzispace seemingly had a personality transplant and you’d be forgiven for thinking their stand was actually of Danish heritage, with wooden framed easy chairs and muted velvet fabrics, long curtains and screens. Large numbers of plants and foliage are also needed to offset all that tough metal, so expect even more biophilic integration in the new wave industrial workplace.

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In spite of a return to metal frames, there’s still a strong appetite for wooden furniture. Soft linoleum (or linoleum effect) meeting table tops with wooden underframes are as popular as ever, with huge numbers of wooden frame breakout chairs, tables and bar stools launched. Hussl quietly slipped in a nice family of wooden framed chairs and barstools with a rather unique linoleum backrest. Nicely done.

The Scandinavians are still doing what they do best: beautiful wood and hand stitched leather combinations, with Fredericia looking the part. Meanwhile Poltrona Frau impressed with exquisite quality leather meeting and waiting furniture for high quality interiors.

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Swoon chair in velvet

Walter Knoll displayed a range of succulent leather and velvet furniture, with a great new linking meeting table system. In addition they tapped in to another theme which was large executive V shaped electric sit stand meeting tables, perfect for group discussions and ideal for video conference.

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Aside from these themes there’s still plenty of marble, black chrome, copper and brass – plus a wave of 3D style fabrics, tiles and textiles sweeping through. As ever, halls were awash with hundreds of clever stacking, folding, flipping and collapsing solutions- and the race is well underway to embed ever smarter data gathering hardware within furniture. ‘Millennials’ and ‘Digital Nomads’ are mainstream topics now and brands like Samsung, Google and Swisscom are developing IT products to optimise the way current and future generations use buildings and furniture.

But that wraps up my general thoughts on Orgatec this year. Ultimately wellbeing, communication and technology remain centre stage in the modern office and the stripping back of office design only emphasises that. With the fourth industrial revolution looming, it’s ironic that office design chooses a factory style design backdrop to personify itself. The creation of the Factory Office, the rise of smart tech, metric data harvesting and coworking means the future of the workplace is cool, edgy and exciting. And definitely not dead.

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Blurred lines

Jack of all trades, master of none: An old saying that’s still bang on the money. It’s impossible to excel at everything. We all have strengths and weaknesses. For most it takes time to grasp what they are, but we learn to focus on what we’re good at.

In Benjamin Hubert’s recent interview with Dezeen, the designer claims the furniture and lighting market is ‘saturated’ with designers creating the same things. Can I get an Amen? I’m right with you Benjamin. I lay the blame firmly at the footstool of ambitious short-term CEO’s targeting aggressive growth at any cost.

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“This is FOMO: Fear of missing out..”

When a forward-thinking design company present something groundbreaking, competitors are quick to replicate, often with little consideration of the relevance to their own brand and collection. This is FOMO: Fear of missing out. In this case missing out on making a quick buck on a passing trend. Visit any leading exhibition and you’ll see companies once known for niche solutions now experiencing an identity crisis that would put Lady Gaga to shame. Following ad-hoc add-on after add-on, many product portfolios have morphed into each other. A bit like John Travolta and Nicholas Cage in Face Off. Remove the branding from certain exhibition stands and I challenge you to a quiz on who is who.

I’ve always appreciated going to specialist manufacturers for specialised solutions. People who do what they’re great at. With this in mind I’d like to focus your attention on a few niche brands who continually provide innovative solutions in their field. They focus on their own design philosophy and aren’t swayed by the crowd.

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PROOFF Ear chair

PROOFF is an abbreviation of progressive office, which sums up this edgy Dutch company. With a unique collection of acoustic seating, barrier-challenging meeting furniture and unique workplace solutions; each addition to their collection is carefully considered and was created to solve a problem. The Ear chair is simply the most acoustically ‘sound’ piece of furniture I have ever witnessed, ar kid.

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PROOFF: Sit table

Their collaborative Sit Table and Work Sofa products were pretty unique when launched a few years back – and remain as ahead of their time as Marty Mcfly was in Good ol’ 1955.

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PROOFF Work sofa

In 2015 PROOFF launched 4 new designs, taking their collection to 10 pieces in total. These designs come from tireless R&D into the changing workplace and – crucially – complement their groundbreaking range and brand ID.

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PROOFF Off Size

Flamboyant Belgian manufacturer Extremis specialise in modern outdoor furniture settings. With a focus on fun, social spaces to enjoy and relax in, their simple clever designs are as well-suited for posh private parties as they are for private bank terraces. Mine’s a G&T please Hugo.

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Extremis: Hopper Table

 

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Extremis: Bundle Swing

In keeping with their brand style, they launched Anker Anchor (is there an echo in here?) and Pontsun for 2016. Different ideas, but same great feel. Measured progress. Brand intact.

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Fredericia are the epitome of Scandinavian furniture craftmanship. With heritage stretching back to 1911, they specialise in quality hand-made design furniture. As modern interior trends recently turned their attention back to wood, Fredericia must have felt like Barcelona heading into a home fixture with a 5 goal lead.

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Fredericia Soborg chair (1950)
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Fredericia Swoon chair (2016)

Swoon chair, designed by Space Copenhagen is difficult to pin down. 1950’s? Nope, it was released in 2016. Underneath the beautiful upholstery is an injection moulded shell, whilst it’s wooden feet display the family DNA.

Fredericia’s well documented collaboration with Jasper Morrison demonstrates a measured, long term approach to growth. Morrison’s Kile sofa speaks an understated design language, sympathetic to Fredericia stalwarts, whilst demonstrating his understanding and appreciation of the company’s hand-crafted heritage.

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Fredericia Kile Sofa

I’ve been watching with admiration since Vitra acquired Finnish craft masters Artek. With respect and love, Fehlbaum’s team have nurtured and gently repositioned parts of the collection, whilst appointing the immensely talented Bouroullec brothers to continue the product journey in a sympathetic manner.

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Artek Domus chair 1946
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Artek Kaari table 2015

And for those manufacturers with an appetite for growth, maybe this is how it should be done. Acquiring a specialist craft company, whilst retaining their individual design ethos, philosophy and identity. Rather than an endless absorption of trends into a confused catalogue already bursting at the seams; to the detriment of a time served brand.

Be original. Be different…

Which camp would you rather be in? Expert producer of respected niche design solutions, renowned for your knowledge, passion and dedication to the cause – or a mainstream ‘me too’ provider? I say commit yourself to doing something different. Ditch the herd, nerd. Be an innovator. Be a trailblazer.

Be you.

See you next week!

 

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Bring your dog to work (to)day!

Bring your dog to work (to)day!

Over the last decade, our Chocolate Labrador (Finn) has spent countless hours snoozing under desks in the corner of the office. Dreaming of bones, tennis balls, furry pals and open fields. There she lies unnoticed, until the reverberations of her snores and the noise of her tail ‘sleep-thumping’ against the floor becomes mildly distracting. At which point visitors politely ask what ‘that noise’ is.

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The land of Nod

Seven or eight years ago when my better half suggested we brought Finn to the showroom, my first reaction was ‘it just won’t work’. I’ll be honest. I had concerns about other people’s perceptions. Is it professional? Would we be patted on the head (no pun intended) and somehow taken less seriously as a business if our dog was there?

Reality was the polar opposite. The most reserved of business acquaintances dropped formalities and began to speak in a previously unheard ‘doggy woggy’ voice as she greeted them, tail wagging (she insists on greeting every visitor). Some clients even rolled around on the floor with her. No I’m not kidding. Conversations, body language and relationships instantly became informal. More human and less barriers. ‘We’ve got a yellow lab’ or ‘my parents have one’ people would say, as Finn lay on her back in an unladylike manner demanding a tickle. And who could refuse?

Funny how it takes an animal to bring out our human side. People naturally raise their barriers to some degree in the workplace. This is natural. But who isn’t reduced to fits of giggles after seeing someone goosed without warning by a cheeky Chocolate Labrador?

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In Manchester, Finn became an enthusiastic member of the team. Always pleased to see people – and always happy. I’d enjoy to hear the reactions as she trotted around the office each morning, meticulously saying hello to each team member one at a time. An instant shot of positivity to the workplace. Much better than the mumbled ‘Morning’ that most of us manage as we turn on our computer and shuffle into the kitchen in search of caffeine.

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Health & Safety Officer

Some other cool things also happened. We met other dog owners on our rounds that turned out to be local business neighbours. Colleagues offered to walk her at lunchtime so they could get some exercise together. Clients and suppliers sent photos of their dogs – and some called in with treats as they passed. One client set up a twitter account for his dog so the two could have an online flirt! And instead of being a distraction, our regular strolls provided crucial time to reflect on a project, gain perspective on a problem, or just get the blood flowing and take in some fresh air in Manchester’s Castlefield. I’d come back to the office reinvigorated and focused.

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Prior to our move to Switzerland last year, my wife had landed a great job in Zürich and we were pleased to learn that her new office was dog friendly. The business owner brings his dog in too. Now there are two dogs that snore in the corner. Two enthusiastic greetings to contend with in the morning (dogs aren’t fussed about goodbyes). Two pleading pairs of eyes to avoid at lunchtime. But for the time being, whilst I’ve been settling in, Finn has mostly been enjoying a sabbatical as a reward for all the hard work in her previous role as Director of Team Happiness.

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Employee health and wellbeing is a hot topic in workplace circles. Having worked in an office with and without canine colleagues I can honestly say the workplace is a far healthier environment with them present. People laugh more, smile more, exercise more, interact more and generally feel less stressed after a five minute tickle (just to clarify, I’m talking about the dog).

I encourage you to consider bringing your dog into work. I appreciate it might not be possible in every environment, or with every dog, but you might just be surprised. And generally, most potential problems you imagine, actually aren’t problems at all.

And it’s not just my opinion – a number of recent studies conclude that offices with dogs create a less stressful and more positive environment for employees –

BBC ‘taking dogs to work reduces stress’

USA Today ‘more companies allow pets at work’

Harvard Health ‘therapy dog offers stress relief at work’

As a final thought – do many co-working spaces allow dogs? They should, as this would encourage further integration and chance meetings. What better ice breaker is there than the shock and surprise of a cold, wet canine nose appearing in your crotch as you type away on your macbook..?!

See you next week!

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No working like Co-working?

Over recent weeks I’ve enjoyed remote working on the move. A borrowed desk in Zürich, a cafe in Chamonix, a hotel in Stockholm as I visited the furniture and light fair and this blog is coming to you from a creaky old wooden hotel near St Moritz. Ben, you’ve changed I hear you say. Maybe so. I’ve also developed an expensive croissant and caffeine addiction, but that’s just how I roll. Ahem.

I find it easy to work almost anywhere whilst on the go, but I also recognise the attraction of dedicated coworking spaces for those without a permanent office. Co-working is undoubtedly the buzzword of 2015/6 and has become staple diet for mobile workers and start ups.

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Factory, Berlin.

But it isn’t new, it just got itself a name. People have been strewn throughout Starbucks and Costa for years with their heads in MacBooks. Others shared offices, leased premises in startup incubators or rented desks from local businesses. What’s new with today’s cool co-working is dressed down start-up style has reached the high street. Try saying that 5 times in a row. Add edgy utilitarian furniture, fast reliable wifi, flexible membership and multiple locations. When compared to high street coffee shops, the carrot cake-eating Grannies and the screaming toddlers have been quietly disposed of. Nothing sinister mind, but these places are for work. Co-work.

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wework, London.

The co-world keeps turning

And so the trend spreads through our cities.  We are now witnessing the battle for market share as the big guns pump out their hip schemes, similar to the battle for prime coffee shop sites in the noughties. Landlords rip out false ceilings, expose brickwork, make plywood coffee counters and hire tattooed baristas quicker than you can say ‘Yo, where the bike-rack at homie?’. Co-working even has a Wiki definition now – it’s a household name like Simon Cowell or Gok Wan. And soon the term itself may be just as irritating as they are.

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Central Working, Manchester.

People want the productive Google-esque working environment with trendy colleagues. The quality of the coffee, connectivity and building locations are all potential deal breakers. Co-workers like the routine of ‘going to the office’. For solo professionals used to working at home, this environment provides a focused and positive place to get things done amidst the buzz of the city, with the added option to meet and collaborate with like-minded ‘CEO & Founder’ type dudes.

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betahaus, Berlin-Kreuzberg, August 2013

And many co-working spaces offer additional facilities, member database info, help desks, IT troubleshooting and concierge services. Some host events and seminars. Communities and networks are formed; new companies too. These workplaces are shaping a new generation of caffeine-fuelled businesses. Bigger businesses are paying attention too with banks opening branches in co-working spaces to support (capture) new start ups. Your local branch manager is now called ‘Dee’, wears shorts and always has one earphone in. He’s down with the kids.

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Impacthub Zürich

It doesn’t stop there. Some high street banks are now offering free co-working facilities to account holders in next-gen premises.

“Will we see Starbucks own brand co-working soon?”

So the ageing coffee shop has to respond right? They need to fight to keep Colin, the grey suited Dell laptop carrying area manager, who’s peckish and low on battery. I’ve read some co-working spaces have partnered locally with coffee chains, but will we see Starbucks ‘own brand’ co-working spaces soon? Or Costa Co-work? Surely they’ll respond as the trend snowballs, taking an ever larger slurp out of their coffee takings.

On the other hand, many large commercial landlords are still peddling the traditional ‘serviced office’ model, complete with bookable meeting rooms, generic suites, grey carpet tiles and black leather executive chairs. Seriously?

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Traditional serviced office model: shoot me now…

“…but that’s the cost of being cautious: you miss the edge.”

Two or three years back I pitched a co-working style scheme to a large commercial landlord. I suggested they lose their partition walls, strip out and open up their ground floor space to increase ceiling height whilst making it more visible from street level. Ditch the bookable (aka empty) 16 seater meeting rooms in favour of informal open spaces that are flexible, multi-purpose and IT supportive. Build a coffee bar with stools, soft seating and coffee tables. Soften the lighting. Add focus study spaces and an open meeting area. The PM loved the idea, but his Director stalled. They delayed and deferred making a decision and ultimately the project didn’t go ahead. Now they are trying to catch up with the co-working invasion. But that’s the cost of being cautious: you miss the edge.

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Neuehouse NYC

So I’m waiting with anticipation, wondering who will make the first big (global) move. Will a big coffee house buy out a co-working company, or strike a partnership deal? Has it happened already and I just haven’t heard? What about other food and drink chains like Pret in the UK or (currently under pressure) Mcdonalds – do they fancy a bit of the action? Will a big serviced office landlord dust off the cobwebs and unveil a cutting edge co-working scheme? Either way a few businesses need to wake up and smell the co-coffee.

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From Stockholm with love (sequel)

From Stockholm with love (sequel)

Welcome back!

Following part one‘s review of Form Us With Love, Barber Osgerby and my personal struggles with the colour burgundy, what have I got for you in part two I hear you ask?

Are you sitting comfortably. Then let’s begin…

Trend: pastels and zing!

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The HAY stand was packed – their growth continues at pace. They went with another colour trend at #2016sff: pastel colours, muted greys and salmon pinks, with sharp accents of day-glow reds and luminous yellows. The kind of bright colours that when worn in Manchester people say ‘well you won’t get knocked down wearing that, love.’ It creates a nice fresh feel and I would have taken more photos if some women in ponchos hadn’t gotten in my way. Pfft.

BAUX – fantastic acoustix

Those clever chaps at Form Us With Love are at it again. They discovered a manufacturer called Traullit producing a simple yet sophisticated material they describe as ‘Wood Wool’ – made from wood, water and cement. Inspired by an old ceiling tile system and a belief that functional design can also be beautiful, FUWL formed a joint venture to develop a modular wall mounted acoustic tile system. Baux was born. There are a number of size, shape and colour options allowing architects and designers to create pixellated, textured 3D murals individual to each scheme. I absolutely love it; the possibilities are endless.

They recently commissioned Swedish electronic music artist Smutskatt to play around with the Acoustic 3D pixel. Check out the cool vid below:

 

Designer DIY

Form Us With Love are part of a growing movement of designers taking products to market themselves. Pioneers like Tom Dixon have done this for years (he just sold his business by the way). Increasingly, today’s designers are unleashing entrepreneurial talent in a bid to retain complete control over how products are designed, developed, manufactured and distributed.

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Form Us With Love even have their own watch collection

The financial risks of going it alone are high – so are the potential rewards – as many larger manufacturers look to acquire successful new brands in order to expand collections (e.g. Fritz Hansen and Lightyears). Meanwhile 3D printing and open source designs mean manufacturing is more widely accessible than ever.

Back to the fair…

Bla Station

The Swedes best known for wacky design, Oppo cement chairs and the Innovation C swivel whatsit had a great stand that hummed with visitors. I almost got into a tussle with a Swedish bloke equally eager to try out the new Honken chair. He backed away from the Honken when I threatened to bonk him on de conken. I’m kidding (love the name though).

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Honken Chair

A great design with mesh backrest, removable upholstery and the option for a work table and ottoman. The sustainably minded Swedes designed the chair with longevity in mind. Metalwork can be repainted and cushions replaced if you wish to spruce up your tatty old Honken after years of faithful service. Ok I’ll stop now.

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chilling on his Honken

Bla Station also celebrated 30 years (wow already?!) with the launch of the Ahus chair. I like the continuous line of the metal frame on this chair – lovely touch with the perfectly proportioned marble side table too. Nicely done.

(((Acoustic overload)))

I attended a talk chaired by Dezeen editor Marcus Fairs, who drew attention to the sheer volume of acoustic products on display throughout the fair. And the sound quality in there was so good I heard him perfectly, without any reverberations whatsoever.

Seriously though. There are so many hard surfaces being specified in modern interior schemes that noise reduction has become an industry of its own. We know it takes 15 minutes to regain full concentration after an interruption in the office. We know noise equals stress. We know stress equals time off work. So good acoustics makes us happy right? Don’t believe me? Ask the guy with his head in the Darth Vader style acoustic pod above. He can’t hear you but he’s smiling.

And for dessert: Menu

Last but not least is Menu. This cool young Danish company showed a really tasteful range of typically Scandinavian style furniture, lighting and beautiful objects. Very delicate curved black metal frames, with lovely upholstery, side tables and lighting. Timeless and elegant.

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Menu

Their first chair collection, designed by (and named after) another Stockholm design studio: Afteroom, has echoes of Jacobsen and Le Corbusier. Other pieces in Menu’s collection such as the easy chair and day bed nod towards Thonet and Carl Hansen respectively. And that’s quite a compliment.

Well that’s all that’s on the menu for today (sorry). I hope you enjoyed my little tour of Stockholm Design Week. If you did, all I ask is that you share my blog. You can also sign up to get the blog straight to your inbox. Cool eh?

See you Monday!

PS. and they say sequels are disappointing… pah!

 

Destination: workplace 2030.

Destination: workplace 2030.

Everyone wants to know the future. We accept change is constant. The goal is anticipating change before it arrives. Putting your shades on before the sun appears. Putting your brolly up before the first raindrops land on your freshly coiffured bonce (or beard). Success in design, business and life relies on intuition.

‘The 24 hour garage is dead’

I read an article this week on the death of parking, discussing driverless cars and their knock-on effects. Driverless cars are shared, vastly reducing traffic whilst optimising usage and efficiency. No time wasted searching for a parking space and less traffic means less time commuting. Obsolete car parks are demolished, freeing up valuable urban land for redevelopment. With parking spaces now redundant, the masterplans of urban sprawls across the globe change forever. Bus, truck and taxi drivers are out of a job (cue Union outcry). Where we go for bad coffee and a Rustlers burger at 3am is beyond me – the 24 hour garage is dead.

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No Parking: literally

I digress. You get the picture.

Apply this thinking to the office. By 2030, what office features become obsolete? What voids or opportunities are created by their absence and how does the office change? Consider these five themes; all currently trending in workplace design:

  1. Wellbeing 
  2. The Internet of Things (IOT)
  3. Automation, AI & Smart Technology
  4. Biophillic design 
  5. Collaboration, co-working, remote working

Now put your future goggles on and get in the driverless car. Destination: workplace 2030 (but where we’re going, we still need roads)

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Your driverless Merc collects you at 7.42am and logs you in to your virtual office. As you’re not driving, this is the new third space: a place to work. Your messages are displayed along with your meeting calendar as you are chauffeured to your office door, arriving promptly at 8.00am (no you can’t stop for a McDonald’s breakfast). You enter the office fresh, prepared and focused.

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This is where the Internet of Things (IOT) comes in. IOT refers to sensors and technology embedded in practically everything. Your office chair self-adjusts to your weight, size and height, then makes regular minor adjustments as you sit to ensure constant muscle movement and circulation. Your i-desk whirs into life and rises to standing height when it senses you’ve been sitting too long. The furniture is communicating with your wearable tech, which in turn gathers health metrics. The 2030 employer understands that good health optimises the workforce and in turn reduces sick days. It’s win-win.

The traditional desk is dead: replaced by the intelligent table.

In 2030 you have no monitor, keyboard or mouse. The latter were superseded by technology responding to speech recognition, as well as hand and eye movement. Your monitor was replaced by Apple idesk with touch screen adjustable height worktop. There are no wires or chargers required. The traditional desk is dead: replaced by the intelligent table.

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Vitra future office: interior walls shift to accommodate meetings

Office furniture in 2030 will be flexible and easy to reconfigure. And with cable management no longer necessary, it’s easier than ever. Suspended lightweight acoustic interior partitions shift and tilt; opening and closing to suit various layouts at the wave of a hand (or verbal command). The office is designed using a simple grid-like modular format creating interchangeable spaces. The virtual conference layout repositions walls to create a large meeting space, as 3D visual equipment connects remote workers in other locations. Ideas are shared and developed. As the meeting draws to a close, another wave of the hand and private focus spaces are created. Smart furniture responds accordingly and multiple needs are met.

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‘This office is about collaboration, free movement and flexibility.’

Office lighting, acoustic performance and temperature is optimised throughout the day. After the midday exercise class has finished and the team have taken time for lunch, task lighting gently fades in and the temperature adjusts, eliminating that early afternoon drowsy period. The air circulation is so good you don’t even smell the kippers Colin in Accounts had earlier. At 3.12pm, Sensing you are losing concentration, your smart-wristband prompts you to stretch your legs and grab a drink to rehydrate. Sitting still is for old geezers. 

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The IT server room is long gone. Instead there is an expanded comfortable business lounge with an abundance of plants and trees creating a healthy feel-good environment. Acoustic panels adjust their angle slightly to absorb noise during busy periods. The office lives and breathes.

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Employers in 2030 understand that working staff more than 8 hours a day leads to stress, decreased productivity – and risk of illness. They know their workforce struggle to resist the temptation of checking emails 24/7 so they take responsibility by limiting access to the company cloud to 40 hours per week per user.

It’s 5.30pm and your (driverless) Merc awaits. No remote working this time – you’ve been logged out. You’ve maxed out on hours today, so it’s off to the bar for a download with your mates. The car asks you if you’d like to order your usual. You’ll be there in 4 minutes…