Living in the (Corporate) Material World

The corporate workplace has always felt like a prison to me. High rise buildings with windows that are locked shut, no fresh air and lots of fluorescent lights that color everything in a blue haze. Although I have not be an avid fan of Mad Men (will catch up later on Netflix) the designs of the time were revolutionary. "Office design in the 1960s and 1970s actually became more humanistic, with greater concern for the ability of the individual worker to have some freedom in the design and specification of his or her work area," state the authors of Designing Commercial Interiors. The term 'ergonomic' (user friendly) designs were de rigueur for the '70s office environment. The birth of sustainable building design became a mainstay as a result of the energy crises (remember those long lines to fill up at the gas tank?) The fun part was the introduction of experimental furniture, high-tech materials, and eye-popping colors that seemed to mirror the sign of the times. With the popularity of Mad Men, we've seen a comeback of those revolutionary days where the hippies clashed with the conservative straight laced old timers.

My first corporate job was as a rookie sales leasing agent for Olympic Tower, the most haute office building in Manhattan when it was on the brink of bankruptcy. I spent my days canvassing the world's expensive offices, on foot, to invite them to move to an even more expensive office space. It was also the first commercial building on Fifth Avenue that had mixed zoning. The top 25 floors were condominiums, and the bottom were commercial offices and luxury brand retail. Suffice it to say that I saw some of the most outstanding office design in the world at that time.

Some notable residents, like Dr. Aldo Gucci and Jackie O, were gracing the lobby on occasion. Elegant, refined and timeless design are the tenets of fine living, especially if you live on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan. But great office designs were not as widespread at that time.

Italian designers such as Ettore Sottsass created furniture pieces that were in direct opposite to the dull, drone-like oppressive office environments of the 50s. With the onslaught of women in the workplace, many companies were focused on more youthful designs to appeal to the baby boomers. Many of these pieces are in the permanent collection at the MOMA in New York. Even 70s executives with an eye for minimalist design were drawn to the innovative options including form fitting chairs that catered to comfort as well as style. Some of the most notable designers of that time were Charles and Ray Eames, who developed one of the most popular, the aluminum-ribbed office chair, still produced today by Herman Miller.

In the new millennium offices of today, we are seeing a resurgence of mid-century style. "In the 1970s, designers took a great interest in sprucing up lobby areas and atriums, aiming to give guests something beautiful to look at -- and sit on. The classic Verner Panton chair, with its curvaceous design and glossy lacquered finish, would often be found in the most stylish office waiting areas", says Alison Nastasi for Flavorwire. With the gas shortage, home offices also became a mainstay with the introduction of the flexible work week. Especially in the UK, companies introduced a three-day work week in to combat the scarcity of electricity during strikes.

Almost fifty years later, in the competitive world of global commerce, many companies have succumbed to the virtual office in order to survive in the world economic climate. The whole concept of the workplace has changed radically with the technical advancements in how we do business. After a few decades of spendthrift corporate squandering of luxury excess, in today's modern office, only the select few have the impressive over-the-top decor saved for the new royalty of top tier execs and oil money.

The modern office trends of today are more ergonometric, stressing comfort, creativity, innovation and flexibility paired with good design basics. Since we are a global economy now, the trends in the Manhattan are influenced by those in London and vice versa. There are many mega-manufacturers on the market today to meet the growing demands of the business world, but not many are geared to include the small business owner and/or start up.

Saying this, there are exceptions to this rule when you look a little closer. You only have to look at large retailers such as IKEA and smaller ones, such as Office Reality from across the pond, to see the blurring of the styles in office spaces with personal home spaces. Trends for both minimalism and retro styling are more popular than ever and are allowing for companies of all sizes to escape the grey corporate look of the masses and achieve a chic professional look, irrespective of size.

With clients such as major players in the world economic market, from Coca Cola to GlaxoSmithKline to the BBC and beyond, the business furniture sales market is big business.

Now, online furniture sales is the burgeoning market. In a recent report, "Sitting pretty: Growth in employment and internet use will strengthen online office furniture sales"

The Online Office Furniture Sales market research report provides key industry analysis and industry statistics, measures market size, analyzes current and future industry trends and shows market share for the industry's largest companies. As stated in IBISWorld - which publishes the largest collection of industry reports so you can see an industry's supply chain, economic drivers and key buyers - the industry experienced growth in line with the e-commerce sector as a whole, as more brick-and-mortar retailers focus on their internet presence and an increasing share of consumers opt to purchase consumer goods online.

According to delighT. Office Solution, the new trends are Convertible Workstations!

"Some companies have taken the common sit to stand desk and turned it into an entire sit to stand workstation. This is great for startups who need office furniture that can expand and grow with them... many companies are even opting for standing meetings instead of seated. Businesses want their workers on their feet for a portion of their work day and standing during a meeting also reduces the chance of employees zoning out. A plus in standing meetings is that they are significantly shorter and more productive. Standing conference meetings will be big in 2016".

One huge trend, the introduction of residential style furnishings in the office, includes solid wood desks that look more like dining room tables or lighting that would look more at home. To increase creativity and motivation, workplace design is becoming more comfortable and also inspirational.

Looking into the future, with the onslaught of the 24/7 world, the blend of home and office seems to be the wave to catch. So IKEA and Home Depot will likely start to receive an influx of corporate clientele if the office suppliers don't keep their ears to the ground with these trends... watch this space!