Building a Slice of Home into the Office

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Making office space feel homey and cozy makes use of familiar residential furniture.

The lexicon of architecture and interior design is specific: smooth and taut, a little slick and flashy, occasionally marked with a touch of irony, and always cloaked in style. At least that’s the way we see it.

kim hoff
Kim Hoff
Design Director, Kieding

So, it comes at somewhat of a surprise that one of the most prevalent terms gaining traction today is “resimercial.” It’s an uninspiring term, the lazy offspring of “residential” and “commercial.” Its origins are unclear, and many industry leaders are loathe to use it in any context. But its meaning obviously carries enough import to qualify it as more than just a trend.

Resimercial conflates what’s in the home with what’s in the office. More precisely, it signals the migration of the home-style design aesthetic to the modern work environment, the intent of which is to make the office feel less “office-like.” This means bringing the homey, cozy, comfort of home into the office – with friendly price points.

The product range runs the gamut: mix-and-match clusters of sofas, lounge seating, sectionals, guest chairs, credenzas, lighting, book shelves and more. The design combinations are endless and innovative like their home counterparts. These pieces reveal no hint of utility, the arrangements of which resemble a well-appointed apartment or home living room rather than an office space.

“This was bound to happen, given the desire by younger generations to create a more welcoming workplace,” said Brooke Wolf, principal at Merchants Office Furniture, a Denver-based contract furniture dealer. Merchants is making a splash in metro Denver as exclusive reps for West Elm’s “Workspace,” a collection of residential-inspired furniture and other household pieces redesigned and remanufactured to withstand the rigors of the office environment.

In 2014, West Elm partnered with Inscape, a long-established Canadian company known for its benching, systems, storage and other adaptable office products. By NeoCon 2015, West Elm Workspace with Inscape became the only residential outfit to send a fully integrated line of home-style products to market.

It’s not that larger contract manufacturers have been unaware of the pull for a residential aesthetic. Many have been churning out beautiful contract-grade pieces for years. It’s just that they were not designing collections en masse through a residential prism. But they are now.

“What we are talking about here is the merging of work and home lives,” Wolf explained. “Taking the comfort, familiarity and richness of the home and offering that same personal and casual component in the office. It’s a simple concept really, and yet it’s an entire aesthetic that did not exist until recently.”

The conference room incorporates the home-style design aesthetic into the modern work environment. Courtesy Eric Laignel Photography

Millennials certainly have been hurrying along that notion. And why not? Their group – the largest of America’s workforce – still has the most leverage in today’s office design, which means furniture makers as well as everybody else in support must respond to their requirements just to remain relevant.

From the vital perspective of recruitment and retention alone, employers must be acutely aware of workplace design and how their space performs. But that might not be exclusive to millennials anymore.

“It’s always attributed to the millennials, but I’m not sure that’s the case,” said Mark Kinsler, president of Michigan-based Trendway Corp. on the company’s website. “I think all of us like to have comfortable spaces. And where are you the most comfortable? Typically, at home.”

There is more common sense in that opinion than anything else because who wouldn’t be more comfortable – and potentially more productive – in a space that feels more like home?

Other industry leaders offer a more expansive approach.

“Right now the dominant generation is Generation Y, the millennials, and we’re designing spaces for them,” said Haworth’s Michael O’Neill in a 2016 Dezeen magazine interview. O’Neill leads the company’s research and innovation team which studies how social norms, demographics and other factors affect office design.

“If your time frame is several years out,” O’Neill explained, “you need to be designing spaces to accommodate the next generation and also have a more inclusive environment that supports the needs of all generations.” That appears to be right on the mark because baby boomers are still in decision-making roles and nobody knows quite yet what Generation Z will demand.

What he’s clearly saying here is that the modern office should be designed for everybody. While it may be just a bit of an oversimplification, it would seem logical that the rather innocuous characteristics of resimercial should also appeal to everybody. Its foundation after all, is built on comfort, which is neither a threatening concept nor a narrow one.

Resimercial has had a broad and prolific coming-out party. After just a few years, the movement in general has garnered sterling reviews and inspired dozens of new products from myriad manufacturers. Its many options encourage both collaboration and privacy, but mostly, the opportunity for employees to find balance in a space that feels like home, even if it isn’t.

Published in the September 2017 issue of Building Dialogue.

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