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The ‘Resimercial’ Takeover

Design firms are mastering the art of blending commercial and residential furnishings in the workplace, creating home-like atmospheres for more relaxed environments.

09.01.2017 by Robert Nieminen
Large corporations like Dropbox, with offices in Austin, Texas, once used amenities to attract and retain employees. It is now an industry standard to provide informal areas for relaxation and collaboration. Photograph by Casey Dunn

Has the office furniture industry finally settled on a happy medium? The shift to residential-inspired workplace interiors is nothing new; however, with more products now boasting the anti-corporate look while still maintaining commercial quality, achieving “resimercial” balance is quickly becoming the norm.

This trend began with an increase in workplaces dedicating more square footage to amenity and common spaces. Senior Project Designer Raul Baeza from interior architecture firm lauckgroup noted, “At one point large corporations were the leading examples of utilizing amenities to attract and retain employees; it’s now become an industry standard to provide informal areas for relaxation and collaboration, which align closer to a hospitality aesthetic and residential comfort.”

The coming together of what were traditionally two very different markets can largely be credited to contract furniture manufacturers taking cues from crafted hospitality and residential furniture. Baeza explained the Makers Movement has been influential in clients seeking one-of-a-kind pieces that do not feel corporate. “Residential furniture provides softer lines and a combination of materials that have a more handcrafted feel,” he said. “In contrast, commercial furniture has historically been more bulky and monolithic in order to satisfy the functional requirements of high traffic wear and tear.”

m.a.d. Furniture Design is one example of a company taking these cues. m.a.d.’s Managing Director Matt Cole said the company found its combination of original design, contract standards, and competitive pricing to be a significant draw. “We originally set out to design for the home space, but we’ve seen our furniture increasingly used in the workplaces of companies such as Dropbox, Airbnb, and others,” he noted.

Caro Wilbanks, director of furniture services for lauckgroup, believes corporate clients are more aware of what options are out there. “We’re even seeing retailers blurring the lines themselves through the introduction of commercial lines, inspired by their residential collections,” she said.  

The observation carries through to contract furniture dealers. As Scott Lesizza, a founding principal at Workwell Partners—a provider of workspace furnishing solutions—observed: “On the dealer side we spend a significant amount of time coordinating with companies like Blu Dot, Wayfair, and Restoration Hardware because a client or A&D specifier prefers the residential aesthetic.”

Wilbanks attributes this movement to corporate clients abandoning the sterile office. “Instead, they’re asking for entry spaces and collaborative zones that feel more like living rooms to encourage a level of comfortability that was largely absent,” she explained. “Part of this has to do with increased workday hours. As we’re seeing a decline of the traditional 9 to 5, employers are actively seeking out ways to make their workers more comfortable for longer periods of time.”

So, what should specifiers consider when looking to incorporate residential furnishings for commercial use? “Integrity and durability are key,” Wilbanks said. Residential furniture is not made for multiple people sitting on it for long periods of time, so it is going to show wear and tear much sooner.”

Lesizza agreed, and suggests companies set realistic expectations of how much use a chair originally designed to be sat on for a few hours a day by one person can hold up under around-the-clock usage. “Many of our clients feel they can get three to five years out of their furniture, which aligns with when they would most likely need to refresh anyway.”

Because residential furniture often does not carry the same warranties, weight capacity, flammability testing, or stain and wear resistance to which commercial furniture is built, this ultimately can result in higher costs for replacements and repairs, and additional coordination time by facilities teams for warranty issues with manufacturers. “I like to combine the two and evaluate the appropriateness of where residential-grade furniture can be incorporated with commercial to meet the functional and aesthetic goals of the client,” Baeza explained. 

“Manufacturers have done a great job at answering that call and thinking outside the box,” Wilbanks added. “They’re producing furniture that looks more like art, while still being functional and durable. The availability of those decorative yet functional pieces at any price point has allowed us as furniture specifiers far more freedom and flexibility in creating interesting spaces than we had before.”

When blending residential and commercial aesthetics, Ajay Chopra, founding principal of Echo Design + Architecture, specifies soft seating in subdued colors, such as browns and grays. “The darker palette offers the ‘homey’ contrast to the sterile white of many corporate spaces,” he said. “Additionally, lighting and wall treatments play a critical role in creating that comfortable atmosphere.” 

Mark Daniel, creative director at m.a.d., added, “Low lounge seating and the use of warmer, unexpected materials and finishes all contribute to making the space feel more intimate and less institutional. For example, our Pier Table and Lamp incorporate a cast concrete base, which serves as a visual and physical counterpoint to the lightness of the tabletop and lampshade. In addition, leather in dark, ‘moodier’ colors like oxblood red and emerald green, paired with metallic silver and brass finishes like those seen in our Trace collection, can add a touch of Old World glamour to previously institutional spaces such as lunch and meeting rooms.”

Commercial fabric manufacturers have started to soften offerings that are exceedingly durable, incorporating more residential patterns. “Overall, this offers a far more inviting look and feel to the way contract furniture sits in a room,” Wilbanks explained. “Seating doesn’t appear to be as stiff or rigid through the use of both softer lines and softer cushions.”  

Most important, with commercial furniture each piece has a set function for a set space. “When you introduce residential materials, such as wood, a conference table can turn into a casual dining table,” Chopra noted. “Residential furniture allows for more freedom and flexibility, but those dual purposes have to fit with the intent of the space. If you are trying to design a high-level, defined space, residential furnishings are going to complicate that goal. People of all ages, regardless of industry, want to be comfortable at work, and ‘resimercial’ furniture styles are increasingly allowing that option.”