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Offices to go.

Changes in business structure have produced a sea of customer-focused, agile and mobile workers who require less office space and share furniture. Contract furniture manufacturers are plotting new courses in order to stay afloat.

If your office measures 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches and fits into your briefcase, if you do your work on the plane, on the phone, and on the you have a head start on the 21st century, when the new office may be no office at all. In Chicago in June, NeoCon '92, the world exposition of |workplace planning and design, left the confines of the office to present a challenging perspective on the workplace of the future. According to at least one prominent authority, the off ice as we now know it is played out.

Keynote speaker Michael Brill, president of the Buffalo Organization of Social and Technological Innovation, and a professor at State University of New York, Buffalo, said major changes in business structure have produced a project-based, customer-focused, agile -- and mobile -- work force. Technology allows these "road warriors" to work from home, from a car, hotel, airport -- everywhere, anywhere, anytime -- via portable "electronic briefcases" with cellular phones, laptop or notebook computers and modems.

One-fourth to half the workforce is out of the office from 50 to 80 percent of the time, Brill said, resulting in less floor area needed per person. As many as 500 "road warriors" or "nomads" can be accommodated in 100 workspaces if space is properly managed. It's happening in job sharing, data processing and telemarketing situations where people work in shifts. Space is also being shared by field engineers, project managers, sales personnel, auditors, consultants and other off-site workers.

In the "just-in-time" office, people will play high-tech musical chairs, calling in to reserve space. Personal items are stored in carts or lockers. Floor area thus saved is available for high-performance team space, or very small (65 square feet) private offices, Brill suggested. This translates to real estate savings for the company (as much as $6,000 to $9,000 per employee, he estimated) and a need for highly flexible, one-size-fits-all furniture for the office.

"We need more supple furniture with instant adjustments and less systems furniture -- fewer or no panels. If we have panels, we won't need to move them," Brill said. "We'll be moving people not furniture."

Personal Harbor

The most unprecedented conception of the future office to appear at NeoCon '92 was Steelcase's Personal Harbor. One's first impression is "telephone booth," but from inside it resembles a space capsule. Steve Eriksson, manager, product development model shop, and one of the designers, likens it to a tree fort, and says being in it is like Saturday morning at the office -- when you accomplish five times what you can on a weekday.

Whatever you make of it, Personal Harbor is unique. It springs out of studies on the way people relate to small spaces and is a product of the FOTO (Future of the Office) research project. The design team -- Eriksson, Paul Siebert and Mark Baloga, were given three months to come up with something for privacy in an open environment teamwork area or "commons."

Personal Harbor is not yet a product that can be specified or purchased. It is at the "proto-cept" stage, between concept and prototype, said Dave Lathrop, design team marketing. Just 40 square feet of privacy in a self-sufficient post-and-beam frame "capsule" equipped with all the electronic necessities is designated for knowledge workers whose job is to think, create and collaborate. A typical office might have eight harbors clustered around the commons.

Of 4,400 people who passed through the Steelcase exhibit, 610 responded to an informal survey, Lathrop said. Seventy-seven percent said the knowledge worker concept was relevant to their own workplace.

Adapting to the workspace

Responding to changes in how the work force operates, Footprint from Kimball International is a new collection of components that blurs the distinctions between fixed wall and open plan offices and bridges the gap between free-standing and systems furniture. Footprint allows optimum use of available space by adapting to the size and shape of the workspace or building floor plan, hence the name.

Footprint consists of three elements: Traxx horizontal twin wall tracks; modular storage components, some of which can function as freestanding units; and modular worksurfaces and wall tiles. Traxx is mounted horizontally to wall studs with screws and can be cut to fit on site. Components are easily hung from the Traxx by means of hooks and brackets and can be moved as needs change. Movable tiles replace stationary panels and come in acoustical, dry marker, wood veneer and slotted (for paper management) versions.

Today's economy and changing business environments were the rationale behind Footprint, a spokesperson said. Companies are being forced to restructure work processes and to consolidate where possible, utilizing all resources. Footprint fills the need for such adaptability.

Kimball has also entered the booming home office market which is currently estimated at 35 million workers and expected to exceed 45 million by the year 2000. Kimball offers Harmony Woods, flat and rolltop desks, hutches, bookcases and file stands in medium, light and washed oak and cherry finishes.

Free-standing modules

Also in step with the concept of the flexible office is Revisions, a line of modular case goods introduced as prototypes by La-Z-Boy Contract Furniture Group. Modules are free-standing and can easily be configured for use in any space, from an 8-foot by 10-foot home office to corporate scale. Revisions features adjustable, angled worksurfaces with "shark-nosed" edges and wire management in each piece.

Research studies over a one-year period and eight months of development preceded the debut of Revisions. Gary Vanderwood, director of design and merchandising, said the mid-priced line was developed to meet the need for furniture that conforms to each user and has the flexibility to grow. Angled worksurfaces are infinitely adjustable and lift effortlessly to standing height from about 29 inches.

Removable pedestals with full-extension metal drawer systems and Accura glides can be set up for files or storage. Arched pedestal tops can be cantilevered sideways for extra worksurface.

Reconstituted veneer with catalyzed finish in a bird's-eye maple pattern and a cherry pattern in light cherry, medium oak or dark mahogany finish; base colors of black, storm (charcoal grey), pearl, sand, fog (mid-grey) and two lighter greys; and about seven different laminates including wood tones and stone patterns are all compatible. "It will be impossible to make a design mistake," Vanderwood said. Customers also can specify their own laminate.

The hottest new market

The new scope of NeoCon '92 which included industry forums and educational programs on health care, child care, hospitality and the home office underscored the diminishing role of the commercial office. And the entry of Steelcase Design Partnership into health care furnishings is an indication of the strength of that rapidly growing market. A bustling showroom marked the debut of Health Design, a new division of Brayton International, a partnership member.

Patient seating is designed for ease of sitting and rising and includes broad arm rests that fold down, lumbar support and removable seat and back covers. Ricetta, a sled-base model chair designed by Gary McCracken, has a high back, 18 1/2-inch seat height and laminated hardwood veneer Flex motion frame.

"While function is always the first concern in health care furniture," said Michael Shields, design director, "style and design are very important. Studies show that physical environment can influence a patient's recovery." The company is offering finishes and fabrics in uncommon colors, patterns and textures in the line, which includes tables and seating for patient, visitor, staff and waiting areas. DesignTex, a sister company, introduced a new category of fabrics for Health Design seating.

Adding warmth

New Generations, the company's first collection of health care designs, was introduced by Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers, makers of spare and simple classic hardwood furniture. Included are a high-back rocker, a large wardrobe and a small night-stand with beveled frame-and-panel construction, high-back and side chairs, a solid cherry bassinet and an ottoman. "Each Generations piece is designed to add residential warmth to institutional settings," Moser said.

Thayer Coggin Institutional introduced an extensive collection of health care products that can also serve for hospitality and corporate purposes. The Health Form chair has a natural flex that allows a gentle rocking motion of the seat front said to prevent lack of circulation in the legs. Molded cushions have a lumbar curve for spinal support and the arm design ensures easy push-off when rising or moving to a wheelchair.

Changing designs

Thirty-five years experience has given Nemschoff special insight into the

health care industry. The company was first with innovations like dry (no-glue) construction for easy on-site replacement of parts and Floor-free designs allowing case pieces to be mounted to walls to facilitate floor cleaning.

Marketing manager John Rademacher said the big shift in design is from contemporary to transitional and traditional furnishings. "A different set of eyes are looking at health care furnishings now, as hospitals and care facilities compete for patients," he said. "The comfortable look of home is replacing cold hospital surroundings."

Sovereign is Nemschoff's traditional-style case goods collection which combines solid oak trim, doors and drawer fronts with matched wood veneers and catalyzed lacquer finish. Tops are thermofused melamine panels on particleboard for durability and resistance to stains and wear. Dry construction uses mechanical fasteners for locking structural parts. Five-sided drawers are made of injection-molded polystyrene.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:National Exposition of Interior Contract Furnishings
Author:Garet, Barbara
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Aug 1, 1992
Previous Article:Furniture makers' do's and don'ts.
Next Article:Claro: the West Coast walnut.

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