Form follows function. Nowhere is the late American architect Louis Sullivan’s most quoted phrase more applicable than in office furniture and accessories. When companies were comprised of managers with secretarial pools, furniture reflected the need for visual connectivity between private offices and open area workstations. When people began moving out of offices and into open areas, movable systems furniture panels replaced solid walls. Now, people are working on the go, 24/7. Technology has freed them from the cubicle, yet many still have a permanent desk at the office. And interior designers are scrambling to keep up with the latest trends, gadgets and products, all the while managing shrinking budgets and spaces to design with.
Hong Kong native Monita Yick is a career office furniture specialist. She worked her way up the corporate ladder in one of the city’s largest office furniture dealerships, and then established EGI in 2002 to specialise in high-end corporate furnishings. Her brands include USM Modular Furniture and Giroflex chairs from Switzerland, DAS dealing desks and Bisley storage systems from England, Novus office accessories from Germany and Markant chair systems from The Netherlands.
“Our strengths lie in our long term relationships with end users and designers,” says Yick from her working showroom on Morrison Hill Road. “We remain with them after their products are installed, to help them manage inventory as their needs change. Our products such as USM are investments that can be re-used and re-configured over years, and we can help them adapt to new environments. Clients simply buy the new parts they need for the furniture they already have.”
Yick acknowledges that people now have more choices when it comes to corporate furnishings, and that most can be sourced online. With rents in Hong Kong’s prime office buildings rising, budgets are getting squeezed. She sees many inexpensive brands being specified and thrown away as soon as the lease is up and the company relocates. While it may save the designer and the end user time and hassle during a move, in the long run it is detrimental to the environment.
“We used to see a wide range of task chairs to designate hierarchy: high back with arms for top management and low back without arms for clerks,” says Yick. “Now, one chair type fits the entire company. It is usually a simple chair without too many bells and whistles.”
To address the need for occasional privacy in more open workspaces, Markant offers high back chairs designed to cocoon the user and buffer sound for phone conversations or concentrated work. To help employees perform better, it recently introduced a desk with pedal system. Staff cycle as they work, similar to the way they may pace when concentrating on a conversation. “Studies have shown that with increased blood flow and oxygen to the brain, people think more clearly,” says Yick. “I can see this being a great addition to common areas and lounges.”
Employee comfort and well-being are increasingly taking precedence. This is reflected in furnishings such as USM’s sit-stand desks, where the user can easily adjust desk height to avoid being in one position all day long. For trading floors, adjustable Novus post and arm systems for flatscreen monitors allow users to retain correct postures when overseeing multiple transactions. To reduce heat discharge from all those CPUs and keep traders cool, heat exchangers can be incorporated into DAS desks so that the air cycled back into the room is at a comfortable temperature.
“Although a lot of people work at home, hot desking in large companies are not as popular as they are in Europe or North America,” says Yick. “Commutes in Hong Kong don’t take as long. And everyone prefers having their own personal space at work.”