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11th January 2021

The importance of form and function in the post-2020 office

Mark Hobbs

Director of Furniture

“Form follows function’ is mere dogma until you realise the higher truth that form and function are one.” This statement is as relevant now as it was when Architect and Interior Designer Frank Lloyd Wright adapted the original phrase which was coined by his mentor, Louis Sullivan. It highlights that form cannot exist without function and that the two need to be in balance when it comes to design.

We’ve all experienced change in our day to day lives - especially in 2020 - and it’s become evident how important adapting to change is. When it comes to the workplace, one of the simplest solutions to flexibility is furniture. It can minimise the need to completely re-design or re-mould a space that currently isn’t working.

While I’ve been working from home, I’ve tried to create my desired workspace which has been a challenge for many reasons – lack of space, equipment and ergonomic furniture are just a few. However, one of the benefits of a home-working set up is that my space is my own and can be adapted to suit my lifestyle and my personal working habits.

We all have ways of working and demands of our working environment that are beneficial to us as individuals and may differ from our colleagues. The tactile experience of interacting with furniture is, after all, part and parcel of how connected we feel to the space we are in. With that in mind, the commercial office also needs to become a place of comfort and adaptability; to move with the changing world around it and the preferences of the people spending time there.

An office is a place for productivity, focus, collaboration, interaction, fun, and importantly distinction between work and personal life. It needs to be many things to many people so it’s necessary to put real thought into the possible uses of space.

Furniture that can flex to different requirements while also looking stylish and offering comfort, makes a space more relatable to the wide range of working styles found in a company. Investing in adaptable modular spaces is worthwhile. In the past, adaptable furniture took on a more utilitarian aesthetic where function over form was obvious. Now, there are beautifully designed pieces emerging and the balance between function and form is evening out. Some of my favourites are the Rail from Zeitraum designed by Kaschkasch, Dancing Walls from Vitra designed by Stephan Hurlemann, Campers from Orangebox designed by Mark Partridge, and Huddlebox from Workagile designed by Chris Glass.

Office space has always incorporated well-designed furniture to create an aesthetic or to aid a function or activity. But over the last few years, the style and choice of furniture have evolved to bring the comforts of home into the workplace, introducing plush velvets, intricate cane & polished stone to the corporate environment in the form of relaxed seating, and des res coffee tables and accessories. This has been driven by designers looking at offices as ‘destinations’ where people visiting them feel happy, comfortable, encouraged, and inspired. It was happening long before 2020’s mass exodus to home-working but I expect the circumstances of the last year will only serve to catalyse the trend.

The office now and into the future needs furniture to look the part as well as fulfill multiple functions - a constant give and take of both factors. Maintaining a marriage between form & function doesn’t have to be complicated and can still translate to a simple everyday piece of furniture. With great designers and manufacturers developing new solutions, the line between both is more and more blurred which means the solutions to space problems are easier to find.