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Latest Office Designs Offer Comforts of Home

Some of today's offices barely resemble their predecessors: gray, steel office furniture is giving way to bright colors, soft fabrics and warm lighting — just like at home. Manufacturers say the trend speaks volumes about the work force many employers are trying to attract.

At Structure Interactive, an advertising firm in Grand Rapids, Mich., sleek minimalist furniture is clustered in irregular shapes; two of the walls are catsup-red. No one has an assigned cubicle.

Vice President Charles McGrath says the office's feel is aimed at inspiring creativity.

"We wanted something that would say this is a place where work is being done, but that would also facilitate creative work," he says.

Manufacturers say today's white-collar workplaces are undergoing drastic changes. Part of the change may be attributable to the increasing portability of work, thanks to laptops and PDAs. Now able to work from home or a cafe, employees are getting used to the creature comforts of an espresso machine or a soft couch. They want that atmosphere at the office, too.

Furniture industry consultant Michael Dunlap says he started noticing the trend a few years ago with bold color and home-like fabrics being offered for the workplace. At last year's office furniture convention in Chicago, Dunlap noticed plants, flowers, designer eating utensils — even a bed.

"Thirty years ago, none of that would have been there," Dunlap says. "Or if it was, it would be strictly utilitarian, near-military issue."

Sales at the Michigan-based izzydesign, a company specializing in office furniture with a residential feel, are up nearly 20 percent over last year, which is twice the industry's growth rate.

But could replicating home at the office create too much of a diversion from work? While that may be possible, izzydesign founder Chuck Saylor and others say that line hasn't been crossed yet. That means office furniture makers will continue to push creature comforts for the workplace.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kaomi is a former reporter at WSHU.