The trick a company uses to design furniture for the hybrid
If the cubicle symbolized the mid-century office and the open floor plan defined the early 2000s, what will the era of hybrid work look like?
For the husband and wife duo behind industrial design studio Mike & Maaike, the answer involves rounded edges and everything flexible. Launched today at the famous NeoCon trade show in Chicago, the furniture collection has been dubbed Haven and offers a glimpse of what our offices might look like in the near future. Hint: Informal collaboration is high on the list.
“It’s no longer an individual workplace,” says Maaike Evers, who designed Haven with her husband Mike Simonian, in collaboration with furniture brand Watson. “Work is evolving into a much more collaborative offering, so how do people get there and connect? “
It starts with a round table, or at the very least, rounded edges. The Haven collection includes meeting tables, benches, coffee tables and a plethora of flexible configurations designed for teamwork, with each piece of furniture rounded. “This is an inclusive framework,” explains Simonian. A square table has four corners that define the maximum number of people that can sit around it. A round table is “like an open door to enter and join the conversation,” he says.
It makes sense. As early as the 12th century, the knights of King Arthur gathered at the Round Table as a symbol of equality. Contemporary studies also confirm this: in a 2013 article, researchers found that angular seating arrangements encouraged more individual decisions, while circular arrangements resulted in a greater sense of belonging.
With Haven, Simonian says they wanted to attract people as naturally and casually as possible, “like a magnet.” To do this, they designed high tables that don’t require chairs. In addition to the regular height table that comes with a bench, the collection includes two standing tables: one that mimics the height of a kitchen counter and one that is as high as a bar. Naturally, both have footrests.
Think about it. An informal meeting was held in the breakout area of your office and you want to join in, but while everyone is already seated you need to find a chair, pull it up and slide into it. Removing the chair removes friction, and makes it easier to feel included.
At its core, Haven is a flexible business. Its two-seater benches are interrupted in the middle to give both sides a personal space. In between, there may be a tray, swivel table, or a charming minimalist lamp that comes with a set of charging ports. Benches can be used in meeting rooms but also in transition spaces such as hallways or breakout rooms. And if two colleagues come to charge their phones and organize an informal meeting, that’s even better. To some extent, a bench seems less flexible and perhaps less comfortable than a chair with a back, but the purpose of these benches is to respond to those transient moments. “You can spend time and then move on,” says Simonian.
Much of Haven was designed for transitional spaces. As traditional offices evolve into a hybrid format where people divide their time between office and remote work, the personal office may become a thing of the past. “If you’re going to the office and you’re out of a home base, you’ve got to have a place that makes you feel like you can make it your home,” says Simonian.
None of these ideas are radical. From 2012 to 2016, Mike & Maaike was part of X, the research and development center formerly operated by Google. The couple have spent enough time in work environments to understand that the pandemic hasn’t created the trend for flexible workspaces, it has just accelerated it. In fact, they started designing Haven even before the pandemic. “The more we worked on it, the more we realized how relevant it was,” says Simonian.
Haven comes nearly 10 years after the duo designed a modular desk system for Watson and a collection of lounge chairs for the Haworth furniture company. Then the duo work on storage solutions, a wider variety of lighting and examine how individual work can be handled. Because, of course, none of that means personal space is dead. “People want privacy,” says Simonian, “but where people come together, that part is going to change. “