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VOL. 126 | NO. 63 | Thursday, March 31, 2011

Take a Seat

Office furnishings change to meet latest demands

STACEY WIEDOWER | Special to The Daily News

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In the past two and a half years, companies have had to tighten more than budgets – instead of expanding offices, business owners have been forced to do more with their existing real estate.

Roger Wooten, left, and Mark Wells of APG Office Furnishings install a desk in a cockpit configuration at Provider Health Services LLC.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

“They’re trying to get more people into the spaces they have without having to move or take on more square footage,” said Jeff Schultz, senior vice president of sales for APG Office Furnishings, an Ohio-based furniture distributor with a regional office in Memphis.

Among the trends Schultz has noticed are smaller individual footprints in personal workstations, greater focus on common areas and elimination or lowering of walls, resulting in more open, communication-oriented environments.

“If a person was sitting in an 8-by-8 workstation in the past, there’s a good chance maybe they’re in an 8-by-6 or 6-by-6 today,” he said. “Or if they were in a 14-by-20 private office, maybe they’re in a 12-by-14 office now.”

APG has seen its role as one of helping clients find space and cost solutions in the midst of the downturn.

“Manufacturers have continued to innovate their products so that people can go into smaller work areas that operate as efficiently, if not more efficiently, than larger areas,” said Mike Ratcliff, APG’s Memphis-area vice president of sales.

Businesses also have a need for lower-cost, higher-function products. As a result, APG’s largest vendor partner, furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, has launched a new line of ergonomic task seating designed to meet client companies’ need for efficient, well-designed office chairs that won’t break the bank. APG and Herman Miller will host a launch party for the new Sayl office chair from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at Automatic Slim’s.

The drive to produce high-style, low-cost products is a long one. Since the Bauhaus and the birth of the Modern Movement in the early 20th century, designers have been on a quest for products that bridge the gap between cost and quality.

Architect and designer Charles Eames, whose mid-century furniture designs are still produced by Herman Miller today, famously said he wanted to do “the best for the most with the least.”

San Francisco designer Yves Béhar had that quote in mind when Herman Miller called on him to produce an ergonomic task seating line at a moderate price point, said Heather Mathias, the company’s Tennessee territory manager.

“Herman Miller has a real legacy of working with outside designers, which makes us a little bit unique in the furniture industry,” Mathias said. “We don’t have a team of designers in our headquarters in Michigan designing pieces for us. We go out and recruit designers to work on our projects.”

The company approached Béhar, an industrial designer who has developed products ranging from laptops to motorcycles to shoes, to produce a full family of chairs that met the company’s ergonomic and aesthetic standards. The chair took nearly two years to design, Mathias said.

“The inspiration behind the Sayl is the Golden Gate Bridge,” she said. “(Béhar) can see the Golden Gate from his window, and he thought about how no piece or part of that bridge is not useful in its stability or design. He wanted to take that same principle and apply it to the Sayl chair.”

The chair’s name refers to the shape of its back, which tapers as it rises, like a sail. The “Y” in its name refers to the chair’s “Y tower” back support, which provides support but requires less material than a traditional, framed chair, enabling its mid-market price point.

APG Office Furnishings works with clients ranging from corporate offices to government complexes to health care facilities. Herman Miller is its primary vendor partner and comprises 85 percent of its business, Schultz said.

“We can do everything from common areas, like cafeterias or lobbies, to conference rooms to work areas, cubicles and private offices,” Schultz said.

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