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Office Design



Office Design vs. Residential Design

I have just put the finishing touches on my latest office design project and thought it appropriate to reflect on the differences in designing an office space compared to a clients home. This project was for Montreal’s Root Data Center; a hip, youthful startup with a very limited budget. Creativity was going to play an extra big role in this one!


The initial consultation works the same for both types of projects. I need to get a feel for where the client is coming from; their likes, dislikes and wishes. We talk about the overall feel they would like to achieve in the space and how it will be used.  We talk budget; how much they think they need to spend and then, realistically, what they will need to spend to get the look they desire. Then, off I go to create a design concept to be presented at our next meeting.


Now for the differences. In office design there are more users to please; employees who need a stimulating work environment to keep them happy and productive. There are clients who visit the office and need to be met with a design that appropriately projects the company’s image. Existing space needs to be divided into a reception area, offices, board/meeting room, washrooms, staff/client kitchen, workout area, employee “playroom”, and the whole secure area of the data centre’s core business. There are also many more building code rules to adhere to in office design.


Finishes need to be more durable than in a residence due to increased wear and tear. It is not easy to find office furniture that looks great at a good price. This is where the creativity comes in! In this case, I modified the reception desk with corrugated metal to better fit into the overall design. As a wall treatment for the feature wall behind the reception desk, I used panels of inexpensive cement board, fastened with large bolts, and spaced so the orange paint behind shows through.  A custom neon sign mounted on orange corrugated metal punctuates this wall. The seating area was furnished with blocks of multi coloured upholstered cubes. They are office quality. But the backrest was customized by covering it with the cement board rather than the laminate from the manufacturer. The seating arrangement is grounded by the large “art installation” mounted on the wall above. Because the seats are low and backless, something substantial was needed behind them. I took a pallet from the construction waste pile and wound orange and yellow extension cords around the boards and finished it off with a construction work light. This was low budget and has big impact. It also ties in the raw wood from the “packing crate” coat closet that divides the large reception area into two spaces, yet can be wheeled out of the way when one large open space is desired.


My client wasn’t happy with the look of the boardroom tables available in his price range. We decided to look at other options and found a local furniture maker who customized one of his table designs to make it seat up to 10. The large thick planks of wood and steel beam legs give it just the industrial look we were after. The price was comparable to the low price range office furniture we looked at, but this table is much nicer to the touch and will last longer. Thinking outside the box works in commercial design as well as in residential!


Artwork, due to the budget, was mostly sourced at Homesense and provides pops of colour and texture throughout the space, just like at home. There was no need for area rugs on the polished concrete floors so that differs from residential design. In summary, despite the differences in how a space is used, good design is the common thread in both office design and residential design. It is still critical to understand and listen to your client every step of the way in order to pull everything together to give them a look they will love!


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