Modern Office Design: Laminates Hit a Sweet Spot
By Leah Wheeler
Thirty years ago, an office worker might have spent eight hours a day working alone in a small isolated cubicle. Typically, the cube was furnished with a writing surface, a computer cart, a chair and various storage and filing cabinets.
As the 21st century dawned, a perfect storm of technological, demographic, economic and environmental forces converged to bring about a dramatic shift in the very concept of work, as well as where and how work is done. Bulky desktop computers morphed into laptops; land lines gave way to mobile phones, and digital storage replaced paper files. At the same time, millennials entered the labor force in significant numbers, bringing with them new ideas about collaborative work styles, work habits and work environments.
Mobility, flexibility, value and functionality were watchwords in “the new economy,” as business owners focused relentlessly on costs, ROI and economies of size and scale.
A fresh look at laminates
As a result, workplace designers took a fresh look at laminates. And the laminate industry had come of age with an exciting new generation of beautiful, durable, versatile and easy-to-care-for products.
“The laminates on the market today offer outstanding quality, superior value and incredible options in terms of colors and textures,” said Randy Farah, vice president of merchandising at National Business Furniture, one of the nation’s top office furniture retailers.
NBF provides clients with free space planning and design services, and a great majority of its recommendations to customers involve laminates and other panel-processed goods.
“Every customer comes to us with a problem; it’s our job to solve it given their budget, space size, style and design preferences, and other factors,” said NBF General Manager Rich Wachowiak, a 28-year veteran of the furniture industry. “It’s about finding the right solution for each client. More often than not, the heart of the solution involves laminates.
“Laminates are generally the best long-term value proposition,” Wachowiak added. “Their overall value surpasses wood and other traditional materials.”
“In working with our clients, we try to get to know their business, understand their parameters and anticipate what they’re looking for in the way of a work environment,” Farah said. “We discuss how the furniture will be used and, of course, ask about their style, color, and design preferences. It’s a process of deduction.”
Laminates hit the sweet spot
The transformation in the way people work and see themselves as employees has brought about new concepts in office furniture design and work space configuration. And laminates hit the sweet spot of these new trends:
- Mobility and connectedness: Millennials will soon make up the majority of the workforce, and studies show that members of this generation value mobility, flexibility and connectedness. They also care about the environment and want to spend their time in places that are both stylish and functional. When it comes to mobility, flexibility, style, and functionality, laminates shine.
- Collaboration: Led by Google and other tech industry leaders, a growing emphasis on employee collaboration has brought more focus to open areas and meeting spaces where creative sharing and problem-solving can occur. These environments call for durable, versatile applications; think laminates.
- Touchdown areas: In today’s economy, part-time or telecommuting workers often share office space or temporarily occupy workstations where they can use their smartphones, tablets or laptops without distraction. Sturdy, well-built, low-maintenance laminate surfacing is the material of choice for these touchdowns.
- Technology everywhere: Data ports, USB ports and outlets that enable employees to stay charged, connected and productive are everywhere. Wire management is often integrated into the design of laminated tables, desks, storage units and other furnishings.
- The comforts of home: Office furnishings are undergoing “residentialization” and becoming more comfortable, more colorful, more homelike, often with contrasting splashes of color, texture or contrasting materials. Laminates can make this happen in any environment.
- Colors, textures and flair: Colors can influence energy, mood and thought patterns; they can inspire creative thinking and enhance problem solving. Contemporary laminate design trends favor strong, bold, thematic colors, such as slate or espresso, that stimulate creativity and stir the imagination. These are often contrasted with eye-popping tonal or texturized accents.
- Modulars: Ready-to-assemble modular components are versatile, scaleable, flexible and customizable. Standardized laminate panels, furniture and furnishings make it easy to expand, augment, reconfigure or repurpose any space. Plus, modular laminated components play well with other materials, such as metal hardware, fabric, stone, tile and glass or plexiglass, either frosted or unfrosted. Manufacturers such as National Office Furniture, Trendway, HPFi and Highpoint are among those that offer a wide selection of modular lines.
When Sizmek, a digital advertising firm, turned to NBF to build out its new headquarters in Austin, Texas, Sizmek specified that the new workplace should reflect the company’s brand and culture. It had to be eye-catching and functional as well as “a funky, energetic environment for employees.”Sizmek recognizes collaboration as a key element of its success. To create an environment for employee workstations with the right combination of openness and privacy, the NBF team incorporated pieces from Trendway’s Choices (HPL) and Trig (TFL) laminate collections. The team designed small touchdown spaces for teleconferences and impromptu meetings furnished with Mio Collaborative Tables (HPL) and Cinch Stools by National Office Furniture.
Private conference rooms and executive suites were outfitted with desks and tables from the Epic Collection (HPL) and seating from the Aurora Collection, both from National Office Furniture. Break areas throughout the office feature café height tables and stools. The team used Trendway Rustik (HPL finish) on benching work surfaces and on conference tables to complement authentic reclaimed barn wood and vintage metal accent pieces and impart the essence of Texas to the work areas. Employees can chill out and de-stress in cozy nooks that incorporate Sizmek’s brand colors using bright yellow Fringe (HPL) soft seating contrasted with brilliant blue walls and floors.
Creative environment inspires creative work
National Business Furniture recently relocated its own corporate offices from downtown Milwaukee to West Allis, Wis. In addition to expanding its footprint, the company sought to incorporate modern design and work style elements into its new headquarters to encourage employee engagement, improve work-life balance and boost productivity.
The new office features a mix of private and open spaces, with ample gathering areas, comfortable and attractive break rooms, a large modern waiting room and a stunning product showroom. Floor-to-ceiling windows invite natural light into the interior.
In addition to six formal conference rooms, several small and open lounge areas serve as spaces where employees can collaborate casually. One touchdown area is equipped with soft seating from the Officient Gather (TFL surface) collection, a whiteboard and a mounted TV and computer monitor. Another features KI’s Sway (HPL) collection surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows that drench the space in natural light. A third touchdown space is located in the main stairwell and includes four felt lounge chairs from National’s Fringe (HPL) collection with matching ottomans.
HON’s Accelerate (TFL) panel system throughout the sales and customer service floor provides sales and service associates with comfort and privacy. NBF’s database, logistics, administrative and merchandising teams occupy private cubicles furnished with Trendway’s Choices (HPL) collection, while the marketing and analytics teams work at desks from the Global Evolve (both TFL and HPL) collection.
What’s not to love about today’s laminates?
Thirty years ago, most laminated products on the market were pretty basic in terms of color, texture and design attributes. Today, if you can dream it, you can make it happen with laminates.
“The selection is so deep that designers can achieve almost any look or style. The options are virtually unlimited,” Wachowiak said. “From something bright, fun and eye-catching to wood-look textures that are almost indistinguishable from real wood. I’ve had clients that can’t believe a surface is laminate even when they touch it. It feels so much like wood, they’re just blown away.”
It really is an ideal solution for almost any customer problem. Honestly, what’s not to love about today’s laminates?
Editor’s note: Decorative surface materials, including thermally fused and high pressure laminate, have become popular in the majority of office furniture manufacturers’ products. It’s common for these manufacturers to select materials from a variety of thermally fused and high pressure laminate manufacturers from around North America and the world to build their own surface collections. The laminate collections mentioned throughout this story are the established brands of the manufacturers and the retailer. The wide use of these materials and their branding by these companies are a testament to laminates’ quality, durability and growing popularity.