When it comes to outfitting your office, furniture choice is no small task. As celebrated interior designer Charlotte Moss said, "There are two things that make a room timeless; a sense of history and a piece of furniture."
But designing a workplace isn't the same as decorating your home. It's a public space where people of all different walks of life, cultures, and work styles come together to work toward a shared vision. At the end of the day, the furniture you choose needs to be functional, but that isn't the only task—it's also about creating a coherent design experience that ideally reflects the company's culture and values. It's a tall order.
So how do you do that? The short answer is that it depends on your office layout and team needs.
Where's the power?
"You want the space to reflect your corporate culture and to be welcoming, inviting and engaging so that people want to be in the space that way, you get the best return on your investment. But there are a lot of practical aspects that are really where everything starts," says David Branham, senior director of merchandising at Poppin.
First on the agenda: Where do you have electrical power in the space? It's one of the first questions to ask since it directly impacts the ways in which you're able to configure everything from desks to conference tables to lounge areas. Employees will need power wherever they're working.
Think in terms of zones
Another practical consideration is how the office itself is laid out. Do you have multiple rooms that can be broken up into distinct work areas? Perhaps one space can serve as a conference room while a larger stretch can be split between an open-plan workspace and a small café. Jeff Miller, Poppin's VP of product design, says one of the most critical elements when designing an office is to think in terms of "zones." The goal is to provide employees with a variety of mini workspaces within the office.
"You want your whole office to be like a village or town where you have some breakup of form and character and opportunities to let your mindset shift and let focus arise where it can," he says.
Most employees don't work best when they're chained to a desk all day. In fact, getting up, moving around and changing your surroundings is directly linked to increased productivity. It's little wonder Stanford University researchers found that creative thinking increases during and shortly after walking.
Meanwhile, installing long tables where multiple employees can come together and work side by side mimics the vibe of working at your favorite coffee shop. Another section of the office can sport couches where one or two team members can brainstorm in a quieter setting, while a private conference room is ideal for conducting conference calls and big-picture meetings. One section of the office can also be devoted to traditional desks that give employees solitude.
Before you start picking out furniture, let the layout guide your vision to help you create a rough plan of action.
Select furniture that reflects your collective style
Functionality aside, the actual pieces you select should also reflect the company's personality. A proudly quirky startup might opt for bold colors or out-of-the-box design aesthetics, while a more conservative company may be more drawn toward sleek lines and cleaner design elements.
The ultimate goal is to go with furniture that functions well and also "feels" like you. This leaves the door open for originality and creative freedom.
Don't forget about lighting
The right lighting helps your furniture pack a bigger punch.
"You can make a terrible space look great if you've got the right lighting," says Branham. "The reason movie stars always look great is because they're in the best lighting possible."
Lighting can be an often overlooked design element in the modern office, but that doesn't make it any less important. Research from Northwestern University suggests that experiencing natural light in the workplace helps workers feel better, stay more active, and sleep more soundly; all of which support employee happiness and productivity.
The holy grail of lighting is having beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows—of course, this isn't always possible. The next best thing is to offset harsh overhead lights with softer, ambient lighting. Accent lighting sprinkled throughout the office is another way to make the workplace feel more inviting.
Branham adds that some companies, particularly those invested in the wellness movement, are going as far as installing lighting systems that are in tune with our natural circadian rhythms.
"The light quality of the office evolves from morning to afternoon to evening," he says. "So even if you aren't sitting at a window, the light you're sitting in is changing with the time of day to help restore that natural sensitivity to time and the season."
In the end, furniture doesn't stand alone. It's the interplay between functionality, aesthetics and layout that elevates workplace design to the next level.