The new working principles: The chair "Allstar" and the desk "Hack" by Konstantin Grcic. Photo © Vitra
Work with love
by Adeline Seidel
Oct 24, 2014

Work and love share the fact that with both you start out besotted, don’t worry about silly shortcomings and hapless habits, hardly need sleep, adrenaline and the endorphins patiently do their bit, at times selflessly. Meaning that even in the post-Fordist age we really roll up our sleeves, and float around in the seventh heaven of self-fulfillment. No chair can be too hard, no email too late, no colleague too loud. But at some point, reality checks back in and suddenly the colleague’s voice on the phone is annoying loud, the desk is torture, and meetings never seem to want to end. So how to remain efficient and relaxed at work in the long run? For solutions to all these everyday problems in the relationship between office workers, superiors and the working environment turn to the Orgatec, the “Modern Office and Facility” trade fair in Cologne. The ideas go by names such as “Smart Office”, “Active Dynamic Conferencing” and “Move your life”. Well, move you definitely do. Rolling stones get moss.

In recent years, key themes in product development and design were office workers’ communications, knowledge exchange, and wellbeing. The titans of the internet industry trashed the customary spatial structure of the office (cubicles) in favor of open-plan scenarios and boosted the fun factor at work, and furniture makers did their best to keep pace. Ideas, designs and furniture followed the trend; after all, the new workflow had to be structured. For which people needed flexible work zones, places to communicate or where they could withdraw to and work in splendid concentrated isolation.

All of that is presented by many of the manufacturers at this year’s Orgatec, in advanced and refined fashion. For especially if a company cannot afford a customized architectural solution, you still need furniture that provides all these functions in the usual open-plan office. The idea has to be to make certain work is not in too monotonous a setting, and Mr. Office Worker’s love of his tasks and his company gets a real shot in the arm. The result was on show: any number of “deck chairs” and outsized club armchairs, some of them even with spoilers, little huts and cocoons for intimate conversations with colleagues and for concentrated work. Hey, withdrawing to work hard has to be staged perfectly, otherwise it doesn’t count, and while you still have to work, this doesn’t mean abandoning the fun factor.

Office work or home office? There’s hardly a difference now

Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine, once famously declared he only went to the office to be disturbed. This makes sense, as we all know how challenging concentrating on work can be when you’re in the office. A coffee here, a chat there, a discussion, a “stand-up meeting” and a real dingdong of a debate. That said, it’s hard nowadays to discern the transition from home to office. It’s a bit like Apple’s new operating systems: Even en route to the office you start writing an email on your iPhone and then continue it on the main computer in the office. Apple calls the wireless transition from one device to another a “handoff”, although it can at times lead to a loss of technical orientation, e.g., if you try swiping your finger across the screen of your Macbook.

If one considers how homely office furnishings now are, there’s no escaping the feeling that you really don’t need your own home, or rather you haven’t left it, as the two have become so similar: The home office is now everywhere, in other words. As usual, manufacturers such as Gubi, Muuto and La Palma present their home collections, as working (or rather: being creative) is something you can best do if you feel at home. At Arper it’s done with great subtlety. The new “Kinesit” chair by Lievore Altherr Molina is one of your common mega-office-chairs with all sorts of levers and bits, but very lean and unobtrusive.

The functions every office worker wants are discreetly hidden away: The backrest can be set individually, just as the seat height, and support cushioning for the back brings relief. “Kinesit” is available with backrests of three different heights, and on request with or without very elegant armrests. And the difference between working at home or in the office is reduced to the choice of a five or four-star foot, as norms differ by location. The latter version looks very refined and is ideal for desks or dining tables at home, which functionally speaking is often one and the same table. Multifunctional, that’s the grand idea. A good companion here is Arper’s “Cross” table, designed by Studio Fattorini + Rizzini + Partners, which is suitable as a dining table, a desk or a meeting table and can optionally come with integrated power sockets and USB ports. The V-shaped table legs can be angled outwards or inwards, and that holds even for the version with the 3.90-meter-long top.

New order

Hays’ new all-purpose weapon was developed by Stefan Diez. With “New Order”, or so the modular system’s fitting name, Diez manages to tread the thin line between home and office most persuasively. And this is duly staged in the fair booth: Be it an office along with tables and shelves for a one-person outfit or intelligently arranged group workstations, a kitchen, living room, meeting room or storage room, the “new order” offers you any conceivable structure in a room in a way that meets all the functional needs. “New Order’s” variable aluminum elements, and they’ve all been carefully thought through, have consciously restrained colors: yellow, red, light gray, “Army”, “Chocolate”, and “Charcoal”.

In other words, here nothing is brash and overly colorful, which is a good thing. And rarely the case at the Orgatec. Because a large number of the office furniture makers go for color big time: Wherever you look there’s a dirty orange and irritatingly misunderstood pastel hues such as ketchup red, mustard yellow, bland blue, and nastily joyful green. Do offices really have to be decked out in such colors just because Google once really went the whole hog and somebody assumes colors keep office workers cheerful?

Taking work seriously

Konstantin Grcic proves that the Google office aesthetic need not define the form and function of all offices. During his travels through Silicon Valley he concerned himself with what start-ups need: Depending on the project, such companies can mushroom overnight from a payroll of 2 to one of 50, only to shrink again just as quickly. And staff members do anything but “lounge” around all day, as the founder tends to want to really get things going. Meaning he needs an easy-to-move desk that can be readily assembled and disassembled. Grcic’s answer goes by the name of “Hack”, a table that has more in common with a workbench than a desk. Yet even the crank you have to turn to adjust the worktop height is pleasantly uncomplicated and masterfully keeps things analog in a digital office, encouraging you to set up your “Hack” and get to work.

The offices designed by Dutch fashion label “G-Star” likewise seem a far cry from the digital world. For the interior of their new HQ, masterminded by Rem Koolhaas and his OMA office, the company has chosen designs by Jean Prouvé which the Frenchman created in the 1970s for corporations and universities alike. The green metal frames with the brown wooden and upholstery elements are, or so Vitra says, now also available as the “Crossover Collection Prouvé RAW Office Edition” for collectors and other companies.

Technology for the workplace

It is practical solutions that first make working enjoyable, of course: Where can you hook up your electronic devices without crawling round on the floor under the desk hunting for a power socket? If everyday things don’t function smoothly it hardly matters how beautiful the desk is. Here, Evoline’s “Square 80” is the solution, as smart as it is practical: The power socket comes complete with USB ports and doubles up as an inductive charging station for mobile phones. Which spares you one cable for starters. And the “consolidation points” enable the flexible configuration of workstations without an entire storey first having to be re-wired.

Over and above all flashy effects, workstation illumination is increasingly being spotlighted again. After all, who wants to leave the office overly drained? This depends, or so Durable says, primarily on the light color, which is why its “Luctra” luminaire series boasts a touchscreen that allows you to set brightness and color exactly the way you want. And that’s not all by any means. If you want the light to adjust automatically to your needs, you can use an App to record the working day, which then calculates the right light and adjusts the luminaire accordingly. And Tobias Grau’s “Go XT Floor 4x55W” is a luminaire with an integrated motion sensor that also dims automatically depending on the ambient light. This saves energy, a not inconsiderable cost factor in offices. Luceplan’s “Pétale” luminaire, designed by French architect Odile Decq, kills two birds with one stone. The white pendant luminaire not only delivers pleasant light, but thanks to noise-absorbent textiles also limits noise in the office.

An office for doing business

There is another, completely different work world that does not seek to appeal to the ominous “creative”, but is reminiscent of the realm of godfathers, patriarchs and tycoons. In the luxurious world of Fendi and Bentley, the office consists of super-elegant, perfectly handcrafted leather and black hardwoods destined to last an eternity. Here, or so one imagines, the big deals are closed by the fat cats, and then celebrated with a dram or three. Flexible workstations are not called for, but rather a long table, a high-end bar, and inviting settees where you can lounge with the latest from the humidor.

Anyone wanting something a little more toned-down and slightly more modernist, elegant and consistent will also find what they’re looking for. For example, at Wilkhahn. Its new conference armchair called “Sola” was designed by Justus Kolberg and, no surprises here, boasts a very clear shape: The backrest and seat are slender, the armrests blend with the star-base to form a single elegant unit, and the seams are highly refined. The company’s ad copywriter should be woken up, though: The press folder praises “Sola” as “a hip seesaw”. But anyone in the “upper middle-class segment” (and that’s apparently the target group) is hardly about to want to hiply seesaw back and forth, may even find the idea repugnant. Anyone who finds “Sola” a bit too masculine will love Pedralis’ “Ester”. This conference armchair designed by Patrick Jouin is also both elegant and light, and its closed seating shell means it’s really comfortable. And thanks to its medium-high backrest it would also look good at a dining table.

Racing chairs and riding the bull

As with any tour of a trade fair, wandering round the 2014 Orgatec there was many a gloriously absurd object to be seen. For example, desk chairs for stock exchange brokers that resembled racing-car seats. Racing drivers are after all just as much gamblers on risk as brokers are high-speed fanatics. Optionally, brokers can also sit on a bull and rest their laptops between the animal’s horns. However, the model is not available with a side-saddle for women wearing pencil skirts.

And while we’re on the subject of saddles: John Wayne would have liked the Orgatec as there are countless saddle-shaped seats, all in the interests of ergonomics of course, because healthy office workers not only sit but also want to keep mobile while seated. Alternatively, you can sit on a stool shaped like an apple-core or a barbell, letting your hips gyrate to strengthen your lower back muscles. In uncontrolled moments you could use it for a swift sparring bout to let off steam. Such hip movement is encouraged by Wilkahn’s “Stand-Up” – a conical movement stimulator that comes in many colors. Of course you could simply enjoy the comfy side to work and go about your business in the office while residing in a kind of swing seat.

Only one item of furniture was missing at the Orgatec: the bed. Surprising, as it’s a great place to work and be creative. Not just kings received people from their beds, but also Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine, showed how to do it: The first issues were mainly shot in his famous oval bed, surrounded by hi-fi equipment, film projectors and all the media of the day. This is where he wrote, phoned, ate and partied on down. Well, for obvious reasons, maybe beds aren’t officially yet available for all the staff. But who knows what will still change in offices to make sure the love of work doesn’t get lost.

MORE on Stylepark

Everybody:Stand Up! – Height-adjustable tables at which you can work standing or sitting are a welcome addition to ergonomic office worlds and encourage you to change posture. We present the best examples.

Simple and smart working from home – Working at the dinner table or cram heavy-duty desks is not necessary – considering the abundance of small, delicate, readily movable and well-designed alternatives. We present the best choices.

For intimate conversations and concentrated work numerous pieces of furniture have been presented at the Orgatec. Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
Whether home or office, the furniture by Gubi fits to both workplaces.
Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
Muuto also presented its entire home collection at the trade fair and makes no difference between office and home. Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
"Kinesit" is the new chair by Lievore Altherr Molina for Arper. Photo © Constantin Meyer
The table "Cross", designed by Studio Fattorini + Rizzini + Partners for Arper, could be used as a dining table as well as a conference table. Photo © Constantin Meyer
With “New Order”, or so the modular system’s fitting name, Diez manages to tread the thin line between home and office most persuasively. Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
The “Crossover Collection Prouvé RAW Office Edition” by Vitra is the result of a team-up with the fashion label „G-Star“. Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
Luceplan’s “Pétale” luminaire not only delivers pleasant light, but thanks to noise-absorbent textiles also limits noise in the office. Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
The working world of Bentley is made for damn thick contracts.
Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
And in a Fendi environment the fat cat deal can be celebrated with a dram or three.
Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
Its new conference armchair called “Sola” was designed by Justus Kolberg and, no surprises here, boasts a very clear shape. Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
Pedralis’ “Ester” with a closed seating shell is really comfortable. Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
Stylepark's "Architects Lounge" offered a welcome retreat in the hustle and bustle of the Orgatec. Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
In uncontrolled moments you could use the weird stool for a swift sparring bout to let off steam. Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
Hip movement is encouraged by Wilkahn’s “Stand-Up”. Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
The "Fun Factor" in the office is still a topic for many manufacturers. Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
Some manufacturers are not to stop when it comes to develop nonsense for the office. Or do you want to take place on a bull and put the laptop on its horns? Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark