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A Tribeca library by Jamie Drake
© Jamie Drake

The new office design: how leading designers are reimagining the workspaces of the future

In May, interior design and architecture practice MoreySmith asked 1017 adults what they wanted from their offices when they returned to work. Half wanted specially designed socialising areas, while 43% wanted outdoor space and on-site mental health facilities. Two-thirds demanded Covid havens, with guaranteed hygiene measures to cut back on potential restrictions. A quarter would embrace a four-day week, even if that meant taking a pay cut.

This report will come as no surprise to top interior designers who have been predicting these office design trends even before the pandemic. Martin Waller, founder of the global design emporium Andrew Martin, has been transforming offices spaces since 1979. Andrew Martin’s flagship store on Chelsea’s Walton Street reflects the brand’s 40-year-old reputation for flamboyance and Martin, known as the Indiana Jones of the design world, is increasingly sought out to inject fun and warmth into functional corporate spaces.

Martin Waller (right) sits in the Andrew Martin-designed Starpowa Office

About ten years ago, Andrew Martin broke the mould, installing an Asian spirit house (a raised wooden shrine) in the lobby of Standard Chartered headquarters, representing the bank’s pan-global presence from Hong Kong to New York. The combination of the traditionally elegant with the exotic and rustic was the opposite of what anyone expected from a bank lobby and became the signature global Standard Chartered look. Since then, Martin Waller has become increasingly playful, placing a replica of Apollo II as a chill-out area in the office of an electronic market-maker in Kings Cross and revamping boardrooms to make them look more like domestic dining rooms.

For this generation, the cold, sleek look is over. The emphasis of office design has shifted to enticing and keeping talent, so bosses must create the right atmosphere – Martin Waller, founder of Andrew Martin

“Boardroom tables needn’t look plastic with horrible chairs,” says Martin, “so why not a lovely table made from a tree? If you feel comfortable and relaxed it encourages open discussion and less trepidation about articulating creative views. For this generation, the cold, sleek look is over. The emphasis of office design has shifted to enticing and keeping talent, so bosses must create the right atmosphere.”  Martin has just revamped the offices of Starpowa, a Chelsea- based vegan vitamin and supplement company. He replaced solid partitions with crittall ones, painted walls dark grey to complement bright artworks and added contrasting banana-coloured sofas and orange swivel chairs.

“Offices will be as important as salaries to attract the very best people,” says Martin, “as glamorous and comfortable as the best hotels. Beautiful offices in places like Hudson Yards in Manhattan will be at a premium and in high demand but ones that are still about filing cabinets and desks will die.”

Ryan Prince, founder of UNCLE, the property rental business that aims to make city “renting as it should be”, sees a new era in city living to accommodate working from home. “Offices won’t shrink, but rather re-calibrate their purpose,” he says. “We’re less likely to see a line-up of cramped desks (think IBM in the 60s) and more likely to see a hotel-style environment with multiple purposes – private workspaces, collaborative areas, creative and social spaces. Meanwhile, the home will evolve to fill the needs of people working there one to three days a week. New facilities will incorporate both physical health – gyms, yoga studios and Peloton rooms, but also mental health and hotel-style services for parcels, security and the creation of neighbourhoods within buildings.”

In New York, Jamie Drake, of Drake/Anderson, who has designed countless glamorous interiors for clients including Mayor Bloomberg and Madonna, is witnessing a rise in demand for state-of-the-art home offices as well as being asked to refresh corporate spaces. “While it doesn’t make sense for big companies like major law firms to go back to maintaining as much real estate as they had, they still need a presence for client pitches and meetings,” says Drake. “That presence has to have a wow factor as it represents who that firm is.”

Drake has recently been adjusting the offices of a philanthropic client. “We saw that people wanted to work in informal lounges in small groups, rather than at desks,” he says. He kept capacity in open plan areas but incorporated elegant finely crafted acrylic partitions that could be removed or attached to work-stations while making the environment more creatively stimulating. “We selected furnishings with a unique voice, including some artisan statement tables, comfortable, unique, and personality-filled chairs. At one work station, we’re surrounding an elegant modernist table with Campania Brothers chairs made out of recycled materials, creating a statement and putting a smile on people’s faces while embracing sustainability. It’s increasingly important for young people to see this in an office.”

Like Ryan Prince, Drake’s also seeing a surge in demand for reimagined home offices. Recently, he designed one for a man whose wife already had her home office in the bedroom. “He wanted his office to have a clubby feel, so we gave it dark walls in teal woven textural cloth of reeds and filaments,” he says. “The desk has a beautiful teal leather surface which matches the chair. It’s very tactile and there’s also seating for the children to come in and spend time with him rather than feel discouraged from entering. The focus was on being calm and quiet, embraced by colour and beauty, but also available to his family.”

Drake’s also designed a partner’s desk for a couple who wanted to work together. “We had a kidney-shaped desk custom-made with one lamp with two branches so they can sit side-by-side in their Tribeca tower and look out north all over Manhattan up to New Jersey. It says volumes about the strength of their relationship,” he says. “We also created a side-by-side minimalist floating steel desk, for their residence in upstate New York, overlooking fields and forest.  It might not look much, but for their needs, focussed on being able to talk to each other while working separately on laptops, it worked perfectly.”

As office and home design blurs, top designers will increasingly be asked to create comfortable, inspiring spaces with which to attract global talent. Bosses ignore the office design refresh at their peril.

Effect Magazine is brought to you by Effetto