Workplace Has Comforts of Home : Furniture: Manufacturers soften their designs to create warmer, more efficient work space. Many of their applications can be used in homes.


Home is supposed to be a refuge at the end of a long workday, but it seems that many people are spending more time at the office and health club than at home.

Thus, reasoning that a home-like environment should surround people wherever they are, the furnishings industry is using a softer color palette and rounded forms for office and institutional spaces.

It was curves and color front and center at NEOCON this year, the mammoth institutional furnishings trade show that brings 50,000 to Chicago’s Merchandise Mart each June. The show also previewed contemporary furnishings and new products and materials for institutions that could work as well at home.

Manufacturers this year focused on flexible, responsive environments. Most office furniture makers introduced or added to free-form and rounded pieces. These are meant to transform rectilinear modules into more versatile spaces. Accessories such as picture frames and vases that let each worker personalize a space were also hot items.


One of the most complete and appealing new packages is Knoll International’s additions that go with its Morrison System. An optional shelf above the desk surface not only adds a second level for papers, its undulating outer edge has a softening influence.

In the company’s redesigned showroom, the shelf and a tall storage cabinet with rounded top were shown in a luscious blue-green color, adding a playful quality to the office environment.

Accessories that attach easily to the desk and wall surfaces include a clock and radio, a fan and air cleaner, flower holder and picture frame.

Tack boards and partitions in print and solid color fabric also personalize the office. Haworth Inc. of Holland, Mich., one of the largest manufacturers of office furniture, introduced fabric prints in purple and green combinations to coordinate with its wood finishes of rich red-brown and cypress gray. The furniture is available in either metal or wood, and painted finishes are so similar it is almost impossible to tell which is which.


If retail shoppers were allowed at the show, they might find solutions to some furnishing problems that beset many homeowners--such as tracking down durable outdoor furniture that is comfortable and smart looking. Since the show isn’t open to the public, the next best thing would be to thumb through “Interiors” or “Interior Design” magazines, geared to architects and designers and chock-full of sources.

There’s a Toledo chair of polished cast aluminum with matching aluminum and stainless steel table designed by Jorge Pensi, a Barcelona-based architect, and shown by Knoll. Their primary use is likely to be at outdoor cafes, but they would look good on any home patio.

Krueger International’s enormous, lightweight faux granite planters of fiberglass would look great in a hotel lobby or private patio. The Green Bay, Wis., company’s white armless perforated steel seating now bought by Amtrak and public parks would work equally well on a suburban terrace.

Those searching for furniture for a home computer would most likely be happy with one of the many solutions offered in NEOCON showrooms.


One example is the “Axiclen” table produced by a French firm and marketed in this country by New Directions International of Atlanta. The adjustable-height mobile computer table in bright blue is split in half so the computer screen is at eye level. The computer itself rests out of the way at knee level.

A motorized or manual bar holder can be used to display and revolve a paper document at the best angle to avoid neck strain. The table will sell for about $840 without the motorized paper holder, $1,185 with it.