Office Furniture Design: A shifting paradigm

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Rock Galpin

“Today’s office furniture design is actually the inverse of the rigid structured office space of earlier times,” says London-based Rock Galpin in conversation with Anurag Yadav. He indicates that the dynamism of modern office furniture design is directly influenced by the current trend of seamless blending of work and relaxation for the young workforce today

What is the new dynamics of the office space today?
As many of us have witnessed, our workplace has become a vastly different place than it was even 10 years ago, with open plan offices, flat managerial infrastructure and fully mobile working capabilities for most. We now have a real choice: if we are computer based, to select how and, most important, where we wish to work.

For some, the home springs to mind. For others, perhaps, a nomadic work type suits better. The work place is no one form fits all- its is more fluid so as to accommodate varied sensitives and attitudes. Certainly the quality of our environment has become more important than ever, as we place higher demands on it. An environment which makes us feel our best in complete comfort for work, empowered to be as productive as we can. There is a need for an environment which perhaps automates even more tasks, through an interactive world beyond digital screens yet provides a tangibility that is grounded and perhaps homely. This is all becoming a new reality along with a trend towards a typology where home and work seamlessly overlaps.

How is it influencing office furniture design?
Now partly invisible influences at the work place are recording and controlling our environment. A softer, less corporate aesthetic with a more homely feel, more textiles and richer experiences combined with an apparent lower tech perception is the norm and preferred choice. This is actually the inverse of the rigid structured office space of earlier times. It is not a conveyor belt any more. New technologies in terms of electronics but also materials and processes are allowing this invisibility to reflect in the furniture. We will see environmental control as we have never seen before and those influences will follow.

What is this fusion or connect between work place, relaxation and fluid concept of space?
As I mentioned before, there is a melding and seamless overlapping between the boundaries of work and free time or relaxation periods. The work spaces are already blending relaxational and recreational areas with work. The two are seen with breakout areas, table games at work, well-being services in house etc. This trend, I believe, will certainly continue to grow and develop. The work force in modern office is turning younger and this attitude of individual space within the work environment is gaining ground as productivity and quality takes precedence over straitjacketed norms at work.

How does  your furniture design reflect the trend?
I am currently working on projects which are aiming to respond to all of the above trends, embedding sensory technologies to collect data to automatically adjust the environment, using a softer more homely aesthetic whilst describing a focused environment. We are using apps, high-tech screens for multi-user use and everything is connected in many ways. I have also been developing a typology which is softer, more feminine, using more textiles and flexible surfaces. Comfort is key and user flexibility is an integral part of my designs for office furniture.

Do you see this trend in office furniture a global phenomenon or limited to any cultural context?
That’s an interesting question and a difficult one to answer. I imagine that certainly the above trends, in particular, increased use of technology to control the workplace, a more domesticated aesthetic and increased quality of experience and comfort will be very relevant in high density urban environments. In those spaces work intensity, pressures and stress levels are generally higher and in more rural environments it still remains the same, but in a slightly diluted form. The trend is widespread but cultural influences can be very specific and individual to particular situations.

What have you designed lately?
Currently, we are working on four new large collections, three in the workplace and one hospitality. They include a range of solid wood upholstered furniture for restaurants. The workplace furniture consists of a holistic workplace collection covering all areas away from the desk, a soft seating collection to aid focus in solo, in team meetings, collaborative and client meetings and breakout or more areas, that have an eclectic identity combining work and leisure.

We are working with technology companies also who are developing new operating platforms, screens and working together with us to embed technologies. In addition, a range of workplace desking, including a high tech multi-touch screened executive desking range, based on one of my original designs for Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London.

Is your work bespoke or meant for commercial marketing by furniture brands?
My work is typically designed in response to a client brief, so designed for commercial were we work closely with them to help them develop their own brand and product collections. I also quite often act as a Creative Director for my clients helping them move forward in all ways, from product, brand and vision. It is thus more a response to the challenges to the present office space and is hence custom designed for modern sensitivity.

About the Firm
Rock Galpin Studio is an established Central London design studio originally founded by Rock Galpin in 1995. The studio has over 25 years of commercial experience, working with small businesses to top level international clients.
The studio specialises in furniture design and development, whilst also providing the additional services of product design, brand development/graphic design as well as interior design.
Rock Galpin has won a number of awards for his designs including The Laurent Perrier Design Award in 2005 and has been featured throughout the world in the press and TV alike.
Clients include; Aram, Authentics, Boss Design, Frem, Diageo, Bartle Bogle & Hergarty, Covo, Candy & Candy, Designers Guild, Heals, Purves & Purves, Weber Shandwick, Hill & Knowlton and Channel 4, The British Council, Conran Shop, Geoffrey Drayton, Bacardi Global Brands, Ogilvy & Mather, Saatchi & Saatchi and an own brand collection of design/supply furniture supplied to architects and interior designers, such as BDP, Swanke Hayden Connell, Featherstone Young and Waugh Thistleton.

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