Where Did All the Cubicles Go?
Six office design experts explain their demise.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 6:53 AM
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Where we work is becoming just as important to us as who we work with. Once gray spaces with harsh fluorescents beaming down on isolated desks, offices are now vibrant, open-concept floors where kombucha flows (on tap!), real plants grow, and creatives mingle freely.
A wave of inspiring workspaces like The Wing in New York and The New Work Project in Brooklyn are redefining what a traditional HQ looks like, and we tapped top experts in the field to give us the lowdown on the latest must-have features. It’s time to pack up our cubicles and jump into the colorful, connected, light-filled future of 9-to-5s.
Less Fixed Desks, More Nooks
“How often do you see one person in a conference room intended for five?” points out Jonathan Wasserstrum, founder of NYC-based SquareFoot, a commercial real-estate company. In the age of open floor plans, finding a quiet spot for phone calls (or a quick snooze) is more important than ever, so square footage has increasingly shifted from expansive meeting rooms to cozy corners for one-on-one meetings and smaller booths for solo tasks.
“We use architectural elements, such as nooks or screens, to provide privacy without closing off completely from the larger room,” explains Ebbie Wisecarver, global head of design at WeWork. Areas that would typically be left unused are being turned into niche seating, phone rooms, lockers, and, yes, siesta spaces to help bring stress down and improve inner balance.
Varied Color Palettes Help Set the Mood
Modern offices are getting more than a spatial makeover; a lot of it is cosmetic, too. “It’s important to have a diverse palette so that people can find the environment best suited to their mood,” says Robert Jonsson, cofounder of furniture brand Scandinavian Spaces. “Color impacts mood and energy levels, which are directly correlated to productivity and creativity.”
At The Wing’s various locations, for instance, a signature palette of mint green, navy blue, and soft pink helps create various zones in an otherwise open space. “We rely a lot on color psychology, which tells us that these colors can inspire calmness, productivity, and creativity,” explains Laetitia Gorra, director of interiors at The Wing.
Creative Processes Are at the Forefront
To further spark ideas, the experts suggest adding walls of books, magazines, and pinned images for inspiration. “Let works-in-progress be shown off, so that anyone involved (or not) can take part in how things develop,” says Jonathan Pettersson of Swedish design studio Form Us With Love. “And don’t fall into the trap of having too much stuff. Keep spaces less like a showroom and more dynamic to encourage improvisation.”
Even boardrooms are getting a softer, less hierarchical makeover: “They should be democratic and invite conversation,” explains Jeannette Altherr of Arper, an Italian office furniture company. “Round tables, rather than long, encourage collaboration.”
Comfort Is Put First
Office designers are also creating hubs where people can get on the same page in real life, beyond shared Google Drive folders and Slack channels. “The ‘homey’ aspect is a radical shift in office design. Instead of walking in and seeing a sea of desks and it feeling impersonal, things feel human centered,” says Wisecarver.
With furniture feeling increasingly residential and designers paying more attention to what’s outside by focusing on access to daylight and nice views, long hours at the office may not seem so bad anymore.
Discover more ways to spice up your workspace: Sad Cubicles, Begone—The Office Furniture of the Future Is Here How to Elevate Your Office Essentials for a Happier Space The Wing’s Chicago Location Features a Frank Lloyd Wright–Inspired Color Palette