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CEO Roundtable: Interior Design

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As office life restructures, so does interior design to accommodate the changing times. How does one keep up with all trends? Springfield Business Journal Editorial Director Eric Olson asks Rebecca Elliott, owner of Rebecca Elliott Interior Design LLC; Haden Long, owner of Ellecor Design and Gifts; and Nathan Taylor, co-owner of Obelisk Home LLC.

Eric Olson: How do you define the interior design industry today?
Rebecca Elliott: Evolving. I think technology is one of the main factors in that. It changes the way people work, especially in office design. It’s more mobile.
Haden Long: Ambiguous. There isn’t anything exact about it. Everybody’s interpretation of everything is different.
Nathan Taylor: My word was ambiguous, as well. It’s a very changing environment. It’s not only evolving, it’s almost revolutionizing the way we live and the way we act, because home is now becoming a much more important place. You can work from home and run a business.

Olson: Are you seeing more clients design a home office?
Taylor: We are doing more of a cross collaboration of space, not as much of a defined office as a multiuse space. People have kids and want their kids to be doing their homework and sometimes want to see what they’re doing, so they don’t want to push everybody into separate rooms. We are connecting rooms.
Long: You want to be able to be mobile, or easy to work around or move around and convert space – really which means needing to be very organized.

Olson: You’ve heard of Google and Facebook headquarters and the environments where they’re creating more collaboration and on-the-fly meetings – very manipulative spaces. Is that kind of what we’re talking about?
Long: The traditional office has been “millennialized.” The younger generation really doesn’t necessarily like the closed-off conference rooms, or this desk being only yours and this space is mine. It’s all very fluid.

Olson: What are the challenges as designers to hit that mark?
Elliott: What I’ll do is find out exactly what their needs are, how many people they have and the way people are collaborating in offices. The last few offices I did, they wanted open tables for collaboration and I just started taking inventory of their employees.
Long: I think it’s challenging when you have an office with lots of different ages in it, too. The young, new people want it to be a certain way, but the manager may be old school. Finding a way to make the two parties happy and be able to coexist and collaborate together, and maybe the older generation can understand that not every person may have the same setup they’re used to.

Olson: What types of technology in interior design can we expect to see?
Long: Being very automated. You can get things to control your entire house from your phone, and you can do the same thing from your office – you can control your window treatments or garage door or temperature or light switches. You can do all that from one little program on your phone, and there are more things like that for office spaces, as well. That leads to more people working from home because you can do all those things.

Olson: How critical is design when considering workflow and production?
Elliott: I’ve seen a lot of what they’re calling “biophilic design,” where they’re bringing natural light, bringing plants inside, air quality, more comfortable spaces. I think companies, millennials especially, are really trying to make their employees feel more comfortable so they look forward to coming to work. I see CEOs and employees almost becoming friends. And they’re having a conference room, but it’s really modern. And they’re having a bar where they stock wine and beer, and they have a meeting in the evening and have a happy hour meeting.
Taylor: Relationships are formed so different today because of technology. You can have somebody you never met, who you’re already doing business with. But I think, as humans, we are finally feeling the disconnect that has happened, which is where the collaborative and ambiguous workspaces are kind of becoming more important because CEOs are becoming younger and they don’t want to have this unapproachable “you’re not welcome in my office unless you have an appointment” feel.
Long: A lot of new offices, there are no solid walls dividing this office from this office. Just like in a home space, the open-floor plan applies to offices.

Olson: You mentioned the fun elements of an office. Andy’s Frozen Custard’s Springfield office has a pool table, shuffleboard, a full kitchen. Is that rare for Springfield?
Taylor: I think one of the things, too, is in that multiuse space where you have a pingpong table you can convert instantly into a dining table … you can use the same space and do a lot of the same things. There are bars, pingpong tables, we allow employees to bring dogs to work – we have a very open concept of our working environment where everyone still interacts. Instead of sending an email to someone on the other side of the wall, you say, “hey,” and we encourage conversation. It automatically takes it to another level of “we can relax here” instead of it being so formal.
Long: I don’t think a lot of offices in Springfield are like Andy’s. Not at this point. I’m sure there are more business owners who would like to do that and maybe have plans of it, but I think it’s definitely a newer-age thing. I think it’s more popular on the coast and will work its way here, like everything does.
Elliott: I’ve definitely seen it a lot more in the last year. We want a bar, we want to have wine glasses up in our break room, in our conference room, have parties, bring out clients.

Olson: Ultra violet is the chosen color of the year by Pantone. Do you pay attention to that?
Elliott: I always want to know and I always try to inform my clients and let them know that this is a trend, it’s in style, it’s really cool, you’ll see lots of great things about it. But it’s what the clients love. It’s their space. If a client says, “let’s do ultra violet,” I say let’s do it in a pillow and artwork instead of investing in flooring material or painting all your walls purple or buying really expensive chairs that are purple. Try to keep that natural and keep everything really neutral. I accent with colors in vases and splashes here and there instead of all around because, psychologically, some colors can overstimulate and create anxiety and stress – especially ultra violet.
Long: I like to know what they are, but I feel like, around here, we don’t follow all of those. They’ll use it as accents. In offices, more people are willing to do color in small doses than they used to be, even manufacturing companies.
Elliott: I see color trends (correlating) with the economy, and globally. The stock market is up now, and violet signifies royalty. Gray, I think, came after the recession. It’s kind of sad, gray. So you see that a lot.

Olson: What are the trends here in Springfield, then?
Nathan: I know that when we go to the market this fall, there are going to be ultra violet rooms. But just because someone shows it doesn’t make it sellable. I think that’s where good designers say, “You’re welcome to use it, but I’m trying to look out for your best interest.” I really notice focusing on the local craftsman, using what is local, what Missouri has to offer, even with art, with wood, with workmanship and trying to focus on the art of people. We’ve used pieces that have cost more money but have had a history and connection to Missouri, and that makes people want it more because it has a sense of belonging and it’s not on trend. There is nothing wrong with a classic design. There is classic modern, traditional and just plain old funky. It’s always been there, really, but we’re just packaging it differently. We learned what the usability was or wasn’t, and we use it in a different way.

Olson: So are there any design trends that are unique to themselves? What about industrial modern? Is that a rendition, too?
Taylor: Sure it is. If you go back to some of the oldest factories in Chicago and New York, they had big skylights that came down … with prism effects on it to cast light differently. There was communication and trying to be very open. Then we went into the 1970s, and the ‘70s started losing that. The industrial design was all they had because we didn’t have all the computers, so it had to be. And we connected. We talked. So there were huge factories and you could oversee all this from elevated areas.

Olson: What about textures, materials, fabrics – what are you hearing clients want?
Long: I feel like we mix a lot more materials than we used to. Recently, we just redid a desk and conference center in a law office and every piece was a little bit different.
Taylor: Embellishments are the texture and the layering in and I think it adds timelessness to the design because you’re not overcommitting to one trend or one design. There’s really a push of natural fabric styles.
Elliott: It depends on the use of the fabric. People want a sofa that’s going to last a long time, then accent with different textures on fun things like pillows that aren’t going to get a lot of use or that are easily replaceable.

Olson: What are your views of artwork, especially in office spaces?
Long: Artwork is very subjective. In an office, it’s hard to make a selection, even in a home. It’s hard to pick art for a client because what I like, they may hate – and just because it goes with a room, your art doesn’t have to match the room. It’s art. It should stand by itself. Especially in offices, it’s a great place to make statements.
Elliott: It has to speak to them. That’s the most challenging thing for me in selecting art. Nathan always has a First Friday Art Walk and always has new featured art. A lot of my clients enjoy going to that and finding something that speaks to them where it has a story. If it’s a big piece, they love it, and it’s even better if it’s local artists. I have a lot of people who want photography of local landmarks. Then it also becomes more of a conversational piece.

Olson: In the workplace, why does having art matter? What is the connection?
Long: It makes it feel more like home. Most people don’t have sparse, bare walls in their homes. And it may serve as a bit of a distraction, as well. If your brain is fried and you just got off a frustrating conference call and you gaze up for a minute at art and be absolutely distracted by something beautiful on the wall, it may give your brain a slight way to turn off for a minute.
Elliott: I enjoy the motivational phrases on the walls in offices, just something to read.
Taylor: I think it gives you a place of rest of some sort. It stops you, makes you look and appreciate it. That’s why museums have blank spaces and then art. In offices, it’s the exact opposite. They say a lot of offices should have big pieces of art and you can never have big enough art.

Interview excerpts by Features Editor Hanna Smith, hsmith@sbj.net.

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