NEW YORK— The home office is getting more homey and more office-like at exactly the same time. As the home office goes, the evidence suggests, so goes the small office.
Home and small office both are becoming more lifestyle oriented, and, as consumers become more insistent on bringing their personal preferences to purchasing task-related furniture, the product category is getting reinvented.
The change in how consumers purchase for the office environment is impacting retailers and vendors equally and has even provided the mass market some advantage as shoppers in the category balance performance, look and price.
These days, mass market retailers and vendors recognize that they have made inroads by providing value in product features and price terms and that especially holds true for the office furnishings space as it has evolved. Multifunctionality and features that provide flexibility have become more important even if some consumers looking to create new workspaces continue to purchase items such as sofa tables and accent chairs as makeshift task space.
Still, many consumers who have discovered the inadequacies of make-do home office arrangements are looking for, even expecting, additional features including storage, device charging and even adjustability.
At the same time, consumers are seeking products that appeal to their taste preferences. They are less content to adapt to what once was the norm and more insistent that the office furnishings they live with, both at home and in professional settings, reflect their personal preferences and conform to lifestyle considerations.
In fact, a cross-fertilization has become evident in that consumers now demand the same kind of utility that they encounter in the office setting at home while gravitating toward products that reflect their individual taste and quality of life.
For example, Hayneedle recently teamed up with lifestyle website The Skimm on an office redesign that had a strong domestic influence (see story, page 8). Unlike some tech offices, which thoroughly emphasize group furnishings and mobility in settings that reflected what younger consumers had encountered in their school settings, The Skimm determined to create spaces appropriate to large group interaction, smaller gatherings and even solitary endeavors that also provides domestic comforts. Rather than developing its headquarters facility based primarily on constant stimulation and interaction, The Skimm, with help from Hayneedle, chose to cultivate an office environment based on comfort and invitation, where employees could work long hours in relaxed circumstances.
Jennifer Dorfmeyer, Hayneedle senior brand marketing manager, said the e-tailer helped The Skimm select products that would help fashion the low-stress environment they sought. Hayneedle presented the room environments The Skimm arranged on its website, demonstrating how a retailer can build on the crossover of home and office furnishings, allowing consumers to purchase the products that were furnishing the headquarters office in Manhattan’s Flatiron district.
Hayneedle, in working and promoting the project with Skimm, demonstrated how an office could be arranged to support workers who labor long hours and that require both individual and group effort, and suggested how professional and domestic furnishings elements can combine in a natural manner for the home.
Retail Reimagines Home Office
The opportunities to take new approaches to how people work today are abundant and initiatives are abounding in retail.
Office Depot has developed new approaches to the store environment meant to provide small business with the support they need. In January, the company unveiled its market makeover of 14 stores in Austin, TX, including a flagship location dubbed BizBox: Powered by Office Depot, that integrate the company’s recently launched BizBox offering into its retail locations. BizBox provides services developed to help small to mid-sized businesses start and grow their companies, including logo and website design, digital and social marketing, full-service copy and printing, finance and accounting services, payroll, human resources, tech support, asset management software and more.
The reimagined stores offer a unique set of services for small business owners with online and in-store components, along with flex workspaces in select locations. The Austin move is another step forward in the company’s strategic transformation from a traditional office products retailer to a broader business services platform. The stores in the Austin market will offer face-to-face, one-on-one consultative support to help local businesses thrive and pioneer an Office Depot approach to a personalized, more omnichannel customer shopping experience. The company intends a phased approach to the store makeovers it plans as this is the next evolution of its retail transformation, one that will continue to unfold across its 1,400 stores.
Gerry Smith, Office Depot CEO, said, “Helping small and medium-sized business customers is core to our identity, but the reality is that our customers’ needs have changed. BizBox reflects our continued commitment to an omnichannel experience that addresses the challenges small businesses are facing today.”
The changing way people work— whether they are entrepreneurs developing new businesses, off-site employees taking on a full range of responsibilities from a home office or members of the flexible workforce that spends time working both in the office and from home— is a factor in the broad change in the office products marketplace. Yet, the evolution goes beyond a single, specific trend. With electronics and constant communication being the norm today, work never really ends, it just changes in intensity during the course of the day. At the same time, people have to live their lives and, so flexibility in task management is increasingly important as the professional and personal time mingle.
As such, Office Depot offers both professional and home office purchasers products that suit their needs as business mingles with personal time. Preferences once expressed in the home, say for wellness regimens, begin to influence the work day.
Office Depot has responded to the consumer desire for wellness-oriented workstations in its product mix and merchandising. For example, it has created special displays where it can address wellness on sales floors by calling out sit/stand adjustable desks.
Steve Griego, senior director of merchandising furniture for Office Depot OfficeMax stores, told HOMEWORLD BUSINESS®, “There has been a quick evolution to healthy and active workplaces. Many ‘active’ furniture products have been on the market for years, but, recently, social awareness of the benefits has been spreading rapidly. Studies have shown that standing for portions of the workday can provide tangible health benefits, such as improved posture and core strength. Office Depot has responded to the trend with active furniture solutions such as the Realspace height-adjustable desks in 2017, and we continue to refine our offerings. Both the manual and electric models have been performing very well and are ideal for small-or medium-sized business customers because of the commercial-grade construction, large work surface and pricepoint.”
Griego said the demand for healthier workspace products remains strong.
“Our active workplace program continues to grow double-digits, led by desk risers and height-adjustable desks. We look forward to launching a new, exclusive product as part of this assortment in the next few months,” he said.
The Resi-Mercial Movement
Wayfair has seen the movement toward domestic-influenced office furniture evolve to the point where the company has taken to describing it in no uncertain terms.
According to a company spokesperson, Wayfair has taken to addressing the trend as “resi-mercial” (see story, page 10). Offices are incorporating more residential-style décor into their spaces to create environments where employees feel more comfortable and engaged. The trend has identifiable elements including a focus on variability to establish a “palette of places” from open rooms that facilitate collaboration and communication to quiet, secluded spaces where employees can plug-in and dive deep into their projects.
In addressing the trend, Wayfair is, among other factors, stressing product durability with resi-mercial emerging from its vendors. Those Wayfair suppliers recognize the need, and opportunity, that arises from the attraction of residential-inspired furniture with commercial quality. Also critical is a focus on ambiance that makes factors such as styling, lighting, decorative features, noise level and temperature critical in workplace design as is the focus on making collaborative environments available, executed by creating more open spaces that are conducive to movement and interconnection. One consequence of the aspect of today’s offices is more on furnishings to define functions and space rather than traditional interior walls.
Among mass merchants, Walmart has given evidence that it recognizes that selling the kind of basic, simple, almost inevitably brown desks that were once a big part of its home office furnishings business isn’t tenable in a marketplace where consumers are intent on finding products that suit their homes, the way they live and the way they work now.
The company has added home office to the various curated collections it recently launched online. Organized by style, Walmart is giving consumers a direct means of shopping to their tastes.
In one example of how it is integrating task furniture into the initiative, Walmart recently offered a home office presentation including a Southern Enterprises Victoria mirrored desk with drawer in chrome with a LeisureMod Carroll Modern acrylic chair as part of a glam-styled room setting. Clicking through the presentation image caused a product list to pop up with the pieces available for consumers who embrace the style.
Walmart is using its range of resources to pull together looks that speak to consumers who aren’t as compromising as they might have once been when it comes to customizing their work settings. The desk is sold and shipped through Hayneedle, which is indication that Walmart is using the resources it gained by acquisition to give it new means of satisfying furnishings consumers, including those seeking office-oriented products.
Walmart has developed new approaches to furniture generally and home office specifically that reflect a broader view of the market and a more intent approach to creating and merchandising furnishings such as new curated collections it continues to develop online.
“The collections were curated based on trends Walmart was seeing in the market,” said a company spokesperson.
On the flip side of the lifestyle dynamics that are driving the office segment, Walmart has developed a wide portfolio of standing desks with compatible seating, as well as adjustable sit/stand desks.
Amazon.com tacitly acknowledged the consumer demand for home office furniture that coordinates with broader household décor as it continued to develop its proprietary furniture brands.
“Amazon’s two home furnishing brands, Rivet and Stone & Beam, recently expanded to include home office furniture, which includes desks, office chairs, art, lighting, etc.,” said Amazon spokesperson Kelsey Friedrich.
The new office furniture collections within the brands launched in April.
“Rivet features mid-century modern and industrial-style home office furniture that is ideal for smaller living spaces,” Friedrich said. “Pieces in the collection embrace styles that are versatile and functional, catering to the style and needs of today’s urban dweller. Customers can now shop the orb office chair, curved mid-century desk and modern hairpin desk.”
Stone & Beam is a “modern farmhouse and rustic-style home office furniture that is not only stylish but also made with durable materials to endure the beautiful messes of family life,” said Friedrich.
In designing the desks, Amazon was cognizant of the features that target customers would appreciate.
“The features depend on product,” Friedrich said. “For instance, the Rivet Ventura mid-century reversible writing desk is reversible to accommodate right- and left-handers. The drawers glide easily in and out, thanks to concealed, self-closing, ball-bearing extension guides.”
In a more specialized retail setting, West Elm is focused on practicality that relates to its young, urban, or at least urban-oriented, shopper.
West Elm office products include writing, secretary, wall and mini desks that “are complimentary extensions of our core product lines typical of our signature aesthetic, small scale, multi-functional solutions for modern living, and style, modern, global— or rustic— and more of a ‘pure,’ read neutral, palette,” said Dru Ortega, a West Elm spokesperson.
RTA Vendors Address Home Office
As retailers have been positioning their furniture offerings to address what they see as the trends effecting their customers and the demographics they covet most, their suppliers are looking more broadly at the marketplace, taking note of what is happening in the mass market but also beyond into other channels and even the commercial market, for which more are producing furniture these days.
Mass market furnishing suppliers have been developing products that address the trends driving home and small office, taking various approaches based on style, function and the consumer demand for items that better address their particular lifestyle-based preferences.
Major trade shows, including the High Point Market, the Las Vegas Market and NeoCon, have been rich in office products that do more and say more about the people using them. Even the International Home + Housewares Show and National Hardware Show have seen the advent of the new-generation workstations from, for example, Seville Classics, which has expanded its adjustable desk and desk topper lines with pneumatic and electric items.
Bush Industries has been focused on adjustable and standing desks for the past few years as it got a view on the trend from the commercial side of its business. Although it has developed items on a one-off basis, Bush has focused on developing adjustable items within the context of its collection development, ensuring that those products remain consistent with the trends it addresses on a regular basis.
Bush has continually addressed the sit/stand workstation change in fresh ways, adding adjustable desks that can work alone or as returns with other desks in its product assortment. It also is among those companies adding wireless charging to its furniture, and it recently added seating including a number of office chairs with non-traditional casual designs.
Mark Weppner, Bush vp/product development, said, that while the company has adapted to changing tastes on the consumer side by adding new products and finishes, trendiness is getting a response on the commercial side as well, with a gray look becoming a top seller.
“People are becoming aware that they want the lifestyle look on the commercial products,” Weppner said.
He noted that lifestyle, as an element in Bush collections, is becoming more influential in the office product range, and gradually replacing blockier, traditional designs. The demand Bush has experienced is for more colors and materials that lend themselves to self expression, more metal legs and embellishments, and more customizable products that permit the purchaser to decide, for instance, to have a pedestal or not. At the same time, the diversity of demand requires varied assortments for consumers who might want anything from a wall configuration to a standard 60-inch wide desk, Weppner said.
He added that, although scaled down products for tight quarters, swing spaces and consumers who need little more than space for a laptop have gotten a lot of attention as they’ve become more popular, full-sized workstations continue to have an audience.
“People want to spread out,” Weppner said. “We see reviews online. People still appreciate surface. That’s where L-configurations come in.”
As consumers become more insistent on office furniture that satisfies their unique requirements, suppliers are coming up with product introductions that are more diverse in assortment and specific in terms of what consideration they meet.
Roseanne LaRosa, Linon Home Decor vp/merchandising, noted that because many consumers today want home office products that are appropriate to their lifestyles, it’s not surprising that the casual office chairs the company has developed in myriad styles have been successful. Upholstered over caster bases, they allow consumers to blend task spaces into the larger home décor.
For some consumers, self expression can be of a more flamboyant variety. LaRosa pointed out that among Linon’s best selling office chairs is one clad in a flokati-style fabric, suggesting that if fuzzy suits a consumer’s lifestyle parameters, a flokati-style office chair is certainly within bounds.
“We’re still selling a ton of faux fur,” she noted.
Still, blending home office into the larger home décor scheme is a prevalent market dynamic, and Z-Line Designs mode of responding to that is the Xander desk, which has a retractable work surface at standing height.
The Lifestyle Direction
Twin Star Home has been focused on consumer trends as the company has rebranded under CEO Lori Gonzalez.
In its collections, Twin Star has embedded task-facilitating furniture meant to suit designated tastes and lifestyles. Whether purchased alone, paired with other products that might work specifically in the task function or as one element in a room full of furniture, Twin Star’s home office furniture embraces lifestyle as central to its market positioning. The company is taking lifestyle as inspiration for new kinds of products such as a vanity/writing desk combination in the Don’t Fret collection.
Twin Star’s recently launched collections include task furniture, such as the electric adjustable sit stand desk in the Genevieve and Command Central in the Uptown Loft collection, which incorporates top pencil drawer, larger center drawer and bottom file drawer, and a width of 52 inches for big projects. Twin Star designed the Command Central as a pillar desk/crafting station/kitchen island/multipurpose table, in other words, a station that works wherever the consumer wants to take on a given task.
The research that has guided the rebranding and product development that have occurred at Twin Star spotlight the opportunity that beckons suppliers and retailers of home office furniture if they can provide products with the right features to attract demanding consumers.
Lisa Cody, Twin Star vp/marketing, said that Twin Star research demonstrated that a third of consumers are looking to move households in the immediate future and 30% are thinking about a major remodel.
“We know more people are looking to carve out space in their homes to work,” she said.
The company considers two critical factors in product development, multi-purpose and multi-function, and weighs them independently.
Early on as people began to shift at least some of their personal and professional work away from the dedicated home office, multipurpose was a key issue, as a writing table might do double duty as a buffet or bar when guests arrived. As workstations emerged from the basement and guest room, multipurpose furniture gained favor for functional purposes.
The development had a qualification, however: Multipurpose furniture might perform two or more functions but in other than a dedicated context. As such, many pieces lacked features that consumers needed to perform tasks. Some sofa tables intended as part time workstations even lacked a pencil drawer. Then, anything that might make a part-time workstation more functional, from wastebasket to chair, had to blend with the room both in terms of style and scale.
The incorporation of task furniture into collections, true at Twin Star and at other mass market furniture vendors, became a next step that tied multipurpose furniture into specific popular styles from the start. The addition of functional elements, as in the addition of lift-tops to coffee tables, provided even more utility as personal electronics became gradually more pervasive. The pairing of furniture and electronics has become continually more pronounced with wireless charging appearing not only in furniture but also in task lighting.
Although multipurpose remains an important notion, multifunctional is a consideration with broad implications.
Multifunction isn’t just about the ability to use a piece of furniture in more than one way, at least not in the consumer’s mind.
“Innovation is important to people,” Cody said. “For us, innovation is finding creative solutions to solve consumers’ problems. In our space, that might translate into somebody being able to sit down next to different pieces of furniture and connect an iPad or a computer in any room. But that type of feature is almost table stakes now. For us, it’s combining that innovation into furniture that’s multifunctional. It’s taking something that was an inanimate object in the past that people couldn’t interact with beyond opening and closing a drawer and transforming it.”
Charging is important as is offering products that consumers can use on their own terms, and that may mean that an end table charges electronic devices if it suits the lifestyle and preference of a potential purchaser. Storage also is a critical element given consumers might want those accessories that help them get work done near at hand no matter where in a home they like to tackle tasks.
“Our focus on multifunctional furniture begins with understanding problems or needs consumers have in their everyday lives and solving for that,” Cody said. “When we think of something being multifunctional, we think beyond creating furniture for a singular purpose or singular location in the home. For example, in the case of designing a motorized adjustable height desk, it’s not only about raising a desktop but customizing how that’s done in terms of function and form. Customization and flexibility are huge for consumers. How they use their furniture and where they use it varies from one consumer to another. Desks live in different parts of people’s homes.”
The long and short of it may be, she suggested, that people in a household are of very different heights, so presets on an adjustable sit/stand desk may be appreciated by certain consumers. Prompts that remind consumers when it’s time to stand for awhile can be helpful and, indeed, feature centrally into whether a consumer is satisfied with an adjustable desk purchase.
“Think of multifunctional as simplifying people’s lives while allowing them to get more out of life,” said Cody.
With its collections, Twin Star is trying to suit core consumer groups who are more likely to be starting out in adult life, self employed and working from home, and dealing with space concerns whether in tight urban settings or in defining the geography of an open floor plan.
“We have to come up with furniture that seamlessly becomes part of the fabric of the home,” Cody said.
The lifestyles of those consumers favor furnishings that offer flexibility, rich design and convenience when it comes to charging and tucking things away at 5:30, when a desk goes from being multifunctional to multipurpose, as in doubling as a buffet or bar.
“That’s what we’re designing towards, whether it’s with a lift-top coffee table or Command Central, and the likelihood someone’s going to use a piece in a slightly difference place in the home,” Cody said. “We’re trying to be innovative in ways that people don’t have to sacrifice beautiful design to have something that is flexible and is very productive. For example, with the Modern Dweller desk, we took a beautiful piece of furniture and refined it into a motorized lift top version and hid the cord in the base. It’s a beautiful desk that works very hard for you and makes life easier.”
The Product Pipeline
Sauder Woodworking has continued to think about how consumers who are looking for home office products are working today and consolidating their concerns into its designs.
“The new product development team is taking the use of electronics, tablets, phones, televisions and laptops into consideration on all products for every room,” said John Amell, Sauder’s trend and design manager. “Technology is engrained in the consumers’ everyday life, in all areas of life, and all day long, so we need to make sure our non-dedicated office solutions enhance or support the use of technology. Storage, ease of use, charging and ergonomics all have a place in our product development.”
Nicole Paparelli, a Sauder furniture designer, said that home and small office products have become increasingly successful but that the ideas propelling them extend beyond the segment including such products as lift-top coffee tables and end tables that support consumer electronic device use through charging. At the same time, Sauder also recognizes the need many people have for a full home office.
“Sauder offers collections that cater to consumers who have a home office with ample space, and we offer those silhouettes in a variety of styles and finishes to cater to a full spectrum of consumer needs,” she said. “Items like lift top coffee tables, Smart Center end tables and small ‘touch down’ work spaces are becoming a huge part of our innovation and product line.”
In a sense, just as work changes in intensity throughout the day, electronic device use changes intensity throughout the home, from places where someone can quickly check emails to spaces where they can sit down and work.
As the U.S. is a nation of 16- to 18-hour per day email checkers who can’t but help sneak a peek at the latest communication whether in the kitchen, living room or bedroom, it can be important to offer consumers more kinds of electronically compatible furniture that makes using devices convenient but doesn’t disrupt the room for other purposes, such as entertaining.
“Millennials look at their phone more than 150 times per day,” Amell pointed out. “Technology is an active constant part of home life, so it’s considered in all rooms and all furnishings.”
Yet, simultaneously, dedicated office space is a necessity for many consumers, including Millennials. Sauder recognizes that consumers who are purchasing for heavy-duty home offices have specific needs, including charging capacities that exceed those necessary for casual electronic device use, Amell said. The demand for products supporting the dedicated home office isn’t going to go away in part because younger consumers have gravitated to entrepreneurial and gig economy careers.
Sauder isn’t alone in seeing that people who are opting for self-employment are essentially establishing a lifestyle for themselves, a development that provides opportunity for those who can cater to the needs that arise from taking the independent path.
“Many new homes are still built with a dedicated home office available, and more people are working from home either part or fulltime, so the need for a dedicated space is still very relevant,” Amell said. “Décor has adjusted to a less masculine feel and into an aesthetic that blends with the home. Dedicated spaces often are used by more than one person in the home, so the style profile needs to reflect that. Sauder has added office solutions to many of its existing collections to reflect that appeal.”
The notion that people who have work to do should determine how to do it is becoming ingrained as more people spend more time working at home. The attitude carries back to the office while, at the same time, innovative office products including furnishings installed to deal with personal employee considerations can generate demand for similar products in the domestic space, as was the case with sit/stand workstations. The trend shows no sign of losing pace and may even become more compelling and diverse going forward, Paparelli indicated.
“Millennial consumers are making environmental changes to transform work into a healthy, warm and welcoming place. They’re improving their outlook on work by incorporating natural light, plants, and personal items to bring in elements of home. But to maintain productivity and keep the ‘office’ in ‘home office,’ Sauder’s designs introduce some clean-cut elements of the office into the home to focus and maintain professionalism,” she said.
The outlook for home office furniture is, in that case, for a greater demand for product that helps consumers express their personal style and deal with work more effectively in whatever intensity suits the moment.