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Posts Tagged ‘Office Furniture’

smow blog compact: To work sitting or standing, that is, still, the question….

As we noted in a previous post, spending long periods sitting can result in shorter telomeres and thus a greater susceptibility to health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A new study by researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health would appear to indicate that in addition to health benefits, regularly standing while working in an office environment can also increase productivity.

Based on data collected over a period of six months from employees in a Texas call centre, the researchers found that compared to a control group who worked sitting, those who worked either in “sit-to-stand” or “stand-biased” situations were 46% more productive. The “standers” weren’t standing full time, but rather had the option to work sitting or standing, and spent on average some 73% of their time seated compared to the sitting group who spent, on average, 91% of their time seated. Which equals around 1.5 hours less sitting in the course of an 8 hour shift.

One possible reason for the reduced productivity while seated is cited as lower back pain and general body discomfort; one possible reason for the increased productivity while standing is cited as increased cognitive functioning and thus concentration.

Consequently, the study would appear to indicate that, in certain situations and environments, employees who are offered the freedom to decide between sitting and standing are not only healthier but more productive than if forced to sit all day.

If with a couple of question marks.

The main one for us is that the sitting and standing groups appear to have had different chairs – the report names the chairs used by the “standing” group, and in doing so confirms that two office chair types were in use, one from Steelcase and one from Neutral Posture, but sadly doesn’t say which chair was used by the “seated” group, the photos however lead us to believe that it was a third type. And thus a potential influencing factor that would need to be negated, especially if one accepts that sitting (dis)comfort is a reason why productivity is lower when seated. And something the researchers acknowledge with their comment that, “It is possible that the same productivity could have been achieved if body discomfort had been reduced even for those in the seated workstations through effective ergonomic improvements in the seated workstations.” More research is as such necessary, for all in terms of the relationship body discomfort:cognitive function.

Yet regardless of such considerations, in general the report does offer further evidence of a benefit in regularly working in a standing position, of regularly switching your working position, and thus that raised and/or height adjustable work stations belong in all contemporary office design concepts.

The full study can be found at: Gregory Garrett, Mark Benden, Ranjana Mehta, Adam Pickens, Camille Peres & Hongwei Zhao (2016): Call Center Productivity Over 6 Months Following a Standing Desk Intervention, IIE Transactions on Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors

The height adjustable desk Hack by Konstantin Grcic for Vitra.

The height adjustable desk Hack by Konstantin Grcic for Vitra.

DMY Berlin 2015: The Shrinking Office Project by Roy Yin

As we have often noted in these pages, a combination of increasing automation, advancing technology, the changing nature of industry and commerce and the associated evolution of the term “office work” will increasingly enforce changes in office furniture design. And we’re not being particularly clever or perceptive when we say such, its simply how the process works, how office furniture design has always progressed: be it the evolution of the office chair in the 19th century as ever more workers spent their days sitting in offices managing industry’s rise; George Nelson and Robert Propst’s Action Office project for Herman Miller from 1964 which sought to make American offices healthier and more productive as technology made American office work more mundane and depressing; or the rise of “hot desking” as advanced computer technology meant workers were no longer tied to one computer and one telephone on one desk.

The challenge for designers is, and has always been, to create new systems that respond to the new requirements.

The Shrinking Office Project by Rotterdam based, Royal Academy Of Art The Hague graduate Roy Yin is one of the more promising solutions we have seen of late.

Nothing more complicated than a collection of connected tables of differing heights The Shrinking Office Project offers users a range of working positions and working heights, be that individually or in a group, in an active yet unimposing construction.

No we’re obviously not proposing The Shrinking Office Project as an office furniture solution in its own right, that would be outrageous; however, as part of an integrated office landscape which features a range of what industry experts would invariably call “zones”, the idea has an awful lot of promise.

Still a prototype the ideas inherent in the concept require a bit of development before it can become truly universally applicable, not least we’d like to see it as a modular system that the user can adapt, expand or reduce as required, some form of storage would be useful and also a little more consideration given as to how one can integrate technology into the system. By which we mean of course electricity.

But regardless of such, as it stands the Shrinking Office Project is a very nice concept which explores contemporary office design in an intelligent, realistic fashion and is a project whose development we are thoroughly looking forward to following.

More details can be found at

DMY Berlin 2015 The Shrinking Office Project by Roy Yin

The Shrinking Office Project by Roy Yin, as seen at DMY Berlin 2015

DMY Berlin 2015 The Shrinking Office Project by Roy Yin

The Shrinking Office Project by Roy Yin, as seen at DMY Berlin 201

smow blog compact: The End of Sitting by RAAAF & Barbara Visser

We recently posted on current research which suggests that not only is sitting for long periods detrimental to our health, but that sport and movement cannot compensate for the negative effects of prolonged sitting.

Taking such research as their starting point Amsterdam based architecture/philosophy studio Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances, RAAAF, and artist Barbara Visser created the somewhat polemically titled animation “Sitting Kills” from which they have now developed the installation “The End of Sitting.”

RAAAF & Barbara Visser’s position is largely that from its origins in classical antiquity right up until the early 20th century, and the beginnings of standardised, industrial working practices, offices were generally mobile, active locations.

Then began what they refer to as “the century of sitting”.

A century which although has brought us ever new approaches to office design and office organisation has brought us new ideas which always start from the same basic units: a desk and a chair.

The End of Sitting is a new proposal. One that does away with the desk and chair. And replaces form follows function with what they refer to as form follows body (although in order to maintain the alliteration we favour form follows figure)

Essentially transforming the flat 2D office space into an abstract 3D office sculpture The End of Sitting by RAAAF & Barbara Visser foresees an office monolith in and on which individuals can either stand, lean, sit, lie, crouch, hang, whatever.

Although we do feel that with their focus on sitting RAAAF & Barbara Visser have missed a trick. Through their creation of such an internal geography they have also created the option to include spaces where one can withdraw for a quick nap, and of course for storage space, thus making their sitting solution a much wider, more encompassing, office architecture solution.

The End of Sitting by RAAAF & Barbara Visser

The End of Sitting by RAAAF & Barbara Visser (Photo Jan Kempenaers, Courtesy of Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances, RAAAF)

As we’ve often noted, increasing automation and advancing computer technology, in terms of both hardware and software, will change the nature of office work; indeed must because it will make much of what is currently undertaken superfluous. As such we need radical new approaches to office design and office furniture and furnishings, The End of Sitting presents a thoroughly logical and clearly presented position, and one which really appeals to us.

Even if we don’t believe for a minute that many, if indeed any, large companies will start incorporating such extreme constructions into their offices.

Much more likely is that there will be increased demand for office furniture solutions which offer similar possibilities. Currently for us the best example of such a system is without question Plot by Osko+Deichmann for the German manufacturer Brunner. And we don’t doubt for a minute that similar systems aren’t being developed as we write. Most intriguingly in that sense, again at least for us, is the one-off sofa/installation “Prima” Zaha Hadid developed in collaboration with Swarovski and Vitra in 2013. We’re no fans of Zaha Hadid’s architecture, no fans at all, but Prima, extended, exaggerated and softened could provide for interesting office solutions very much in the spirit of The End of Sitting.

The End of Sitting by RAAAF & Barbara Visser was on show in the gallery Looiersgracht 60 in Amsterdam. Is no longer. It is however to be hoped that it is repeated elsewhere, because the arguments made are well worth hearing. And for all well worth considering. And testing.

The End of Sitting by RAAAF & Barbara Visser

The End of Sitting by RAAAF & Barbara Visser (Photo Jan Kempenaers, Courtesy of Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances, RAAAF)

The End of Sitting by RAAAF & Barbara Visser

The End of Sitting by RAAAF & Barbara Visser (Photo Frederica Rijkenberg, Courtesy of Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances, RAAAF)

osko deichmann plot brunner

Plot by Osko+Deichmann for Brunner

Prima by Zaha Hadid Vitra Campus

Prima by Zaha Hadid @ Vitra Campus

A USM window on the world ….. or at least on the Berner Oberland.

If you visit the Bussalp restaurant above the Swiss resort town of Grindelwald you can experience a curious, inconspicuous, almost underwhelming, piece of furniture design history.

USM window fittings.

Just don’t expect steel tubing and chrome plated brass balls, that all came much, much later……

usm window handle

A USM window fitting in the Bussalp restaurant, Grindelwald.

The story of the USM Haller modular furniture system starts in 1885 in the Swiss village of Münsingen with the establishment of a locksmith and ironmonger business by Ulrich Schärer, a locksmith and ironmonger business that slowly transformed itself into a producer of window hinges, fittings, locks, handles, etc.

Originally based in small facility near Münsingen railway station things went well for the Schärer family’s business, or better put very well, and in 1961 Paul Schärer, grandson of company founder Ulrich, could afford to commission the local architect Fritz Haller to build them a new production hall on the edge of Münsingen.

And then an administration pavilion next door.

And then some filing cabinets, book cases and general office furniture for the new administration pavilion.

The clou – production hall, pavilion and furniture were all constructed according to the same flexible, modular system. Just at different scales.

The office furniture system that Fritz Haller developed for his USM pavilion was intended as being simply for USM, a classic case of site specific design. Fate however in her fickle way had other plans for the two and so it came to pass that ever more people began enquiring if they too could have the furniture. As a result of such requests, and for all the increasing regularity of such requests, in 1969 the decision was made to start producing the USM modular furniture system as a product in its own right.

For over twenty years USM produced window components and office furniture parallel, before in 1992 production of the window elements ceased and the company concentrated 100% on the USM Haller system.

Consequently, those window handles and locks in the Bussalp restaurant almost certainly belong to the last of their kind. Rarities, so to say.

As such, should you find yourself on the Bussalp do enjoy the stunning view of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, do enjoy the wine, enjoy the cheese fondue, but before you enjoy sledging back down to Grindelwald, do take a couple of minutes to enjoy the window fittings, handles and locks in the restaurant.

For without them there would be no USM Haller sideboards, USM Haller highboards, USM Haller filing cabinets……….

first usm factory münsingen

The first USM factory in Münsingen, Switzerland. Left hand side factory, right hand side the Schärer family home.

usm window lock

A USM window lock in the Bussalp restaurant, Grindelwald.

usm window on the world

A USM window on the world ..... or at least on the Berner Oberland. Or to be honest, metre high snow!


Tidy Desk vs. Untidy Desk. Or, Thank You Prof. Vohs!

Among the more memorable moments in our long, if troublesome, tenure at and of (smow)blog is the day we took possession of our new 1m x 2m USM Haller table.

Less on account of the object and more on account of the looks of fear and trepidation that crossed the faces of those forced to share an office space with us.

“Given the chaos created on their Eiermann Table“, their pained expressions screamed, “what will they achieve with 2 sqm of finest Swiss fabrication?”

The answer was as swift as it was explicit.

Within a day the pristine white surface had vanished under a mountain of notes, brochures, loose change, books, receipts, invoices, bent paper clips, train tickets and dirty crockery.

Just as Prof. Kathleen D. Vohs from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota would have, hopefully, predicted.

In the recently published, peer reviewed, paper “Physical Order Produces Healthy Choices, Generosity, and Conventionality, Whereas Disorder Produces Creativity”1. Prof. Vohs and her colleagues explore the relationship between the level of workspace chaos and a series of behavioural attributes, and discovered that, “Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights. Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.”

And that “…orderliness seemed to encourage a general mind-set for conservatism and tradition, and disorder had the effect of stimulating the desire for the unknown.”

Or, put another way: Chaos promotes creativity. Order stifles.

A phenomenon which can also be witnessed, less scientifically but more entertainingly, at

We can particularly recommend Steve Jobs circa 2004, Mark Zuckerberg – even if we don’t believe for a minute that he really works under such conditions – and Albert Einstein, whose desk leads us to surmise that e=mc2 can also be understood as “creative output= volume of paper on your desk x speed of light squared”

Quite aside from the quiet satisfaction we understandably take from the paper, there are a couple of interesting point raised by the research.

The first is, do we now have recourse to sue all those librarians who have so obviously hindered our development over the decades with their dogma of orderliness?

Secondly, what does that mean for those who work, creatively, from a small home office, yet occasionally want to invite friends and family to their home. Must one tidy up? Should one tidy up? Should one take pride in displaying, like some especially vain peacock, ones creativity? Or should one rather invest in an object such as International Marianne Brandt Contest 2013 Public Award winning 2tables by Anna Albertine Baronius, the ever wonderful Heimlicht by Leoni Werle or, for the only mildly creative, Sphere Desk by Hella Jongerius through Vitra. So desks which allow one to quickly and easily hide the chaos.

Thirdly can we now, by extrapolation, understand the harm of urban gentrification in a new light. It is potentially not just that affordable living and work space becomes rarer through gentrification, but environments vanish that genuinely nurture and support creativity. Thus making our cities culturally poorer. Similarly street art can be seen as not only creative in its own right, but as encouraging creativity.

And finally, as tablets and similar forms of mobile technology become increasingly important in ever more people’s every day reality, how should Prof Vohs’ research be understood in conjunction with research showing that most ipad usage is in relatively disorderly locations – in bed, at the kitchen table, on a sofa. Do we make different decisions when using our tablets and smartphones in such locations compared to when using them in more “conservative locations? Are we, for example, less generous when we write a restaurant review in a disorganised location than in an organised? Or in terms of, for example, online shopping, do we take more “risks” when shopping on a mobile device, are we more receptive to new ideas, do we shop less conventionally online than we would in a neat, tidy store with a neat, tidy sales person?

But perhaps the most important take home message from Prof. Vohs’ truly excellent research is reserved for all suffering under the burden of a tidy desk, an orderly work environment.

There is hope.

Just mess your desk up a little.

If anyone needs any tips or advice, just get in touch……..

1. Kathleen D. Vohs, Joseph P. Redden, and Ryan Rahinel 2013. “Physical Order Produces Healthy Choices, Generosity, and Conventionality, Whereas Disorder Produces Creativity” Psychological Science 24(9) 1860– 1867

usm haller table

Can't imagine much creativity will occur at this USM Haller table workspace......

new at smow: USM Haller for beginners

USM Haller sideboard

USM Haller sideboard

System USM Haller is a storage and display system for all. We know that most people only come across USM Haller units in lawyers and accountants offices, doctors surgeries or museums … but that is, if you will, a historical relic based on the traditional distribution system.

The times my have changed but system USM Haller remains the reliable, versatile and practical system it has always been.

Many new customers, however, have a problem understanding what is and is not possible with USM Haller.

And while we at smow have the official USM configuration software – our customers don’t.

Therefore, to try to smooth the process a little and make USM Haller more accessible and easier to understand, the (smow)techies have designed an easy to use guide to the basics of USM Haller.

At USM Independent you will find a “fail-proof” overview of which elements are available in which sizes, as well as a clever interactive colour guide and a description of some “standard” configurations.

USM Haller as seen at DMY Berlin

USM Haller as seen at DMY Berlin

The beauty of USM Haller, however, is that you don’t need to accept “standard” you are free to decide how your unit is designed … as well as how you extend and adapt it over the years.

For all who are new to USM Haller the smow USM Independent is the perfect starting point for experimenting and exploring.

And once you have an idea of what you need, simply contact us at smow with details of your requirements and our experienced USM team will prepare a detailed offer.

Further images of system USM Haller in action can be found in the (smow)flickr gallery.

smow design spring gems: bao-nghi droste

We at (smow)blog we have often mentioned Vitras Net’n’Nest office design concept – one the one hand because we like it and on the other because as an official Vitra partner we at smow like to draw attention to new developments and products from Vitra.
We have, however, never made a secret of the fact that one can – if one wants – mix and match furniture from various producers.

Adenike by Bao-Nghi Droste

Adenike by Bao-Nghi Droste

Which was pretty much our third thought upon seeing Adenike by Heidelberg based designer Bao-Nghi Droste at DMY Youngsters in Berlin.
Our first thought was what a fantastic object.
Our second was then, hhhmmm wonderful design, but with the padded surface it is a bit impractical for writing and drawing.
Then we spoke to Bao-Nghi and realised that our interpretation of it’s usage was incorrect.
Although the upper surface is solid enough to allow one to write on it, Adenike should be seen more as temporary work or meeting island. Or simply as a place to withdraw to from a group work situation in the same room and either do some work by yourself, or just read a paper and relax.

Adenike in action - Three designers discuss an object.

Adenike in action - Three designers discuss an object.

The first thing you notice, or better said don’t notice, when you approach Adenike is how it draws you in. You automatically lean on it, use it, interact with it. But because of the quality of the design you don’t notice, it feels natural, feels good.

Adenike has enough space for 4 or 5 people to comfortably work around it, and with it’s own in-built lamp is perfect for checking proofs, finalising documents or even playing poker to wile away a slow afternoon. Sorry to encourage a creative brainstorming session to ensure your company maintains the commercial high-ground.

In addition to beautifully fulfilling it’s intended function Adenike is also a well crafted piece of furniture; you genuinely don’t need to be a carpenter to appreciate the craftsmanship of the joints.

And so after chatting with the extremely amiable Bao-Nghi and testing Adenike, we came to thought three.


Adenike promotes a good working atmosphere

Adenike is perfect for all whose work involves occasional group discussions and/or short bursts of group consultation. Or for those who after a long sitting session creating something, want to stand to check the outcome of their work.  And so a wonderful addition for any office looking to base it’s layout on the principles of the Vitra Net’n’Nest concept.

Adenikeis currently not is serial production, and so if you are interested you will need to contact Bao-Nghi Droste direct.

Designed for work: smow and office furniture

In a recent article wired magazine presented their own take on the evolution of office furnishing.

From the introduction of the vast, cattle-shed like offices that characterised early office design through the cubicles and “virtual offices” of the 1980s and 90s and onwards the text makes one thing clear: Too many office workers have suffered through bad office design concepts.

But one needn’t work from home in order to benefit from the advantages of a convivial and stimulating office environment.

System USM Haller

System USM Haller

The Swiss designer USM Haller has been producing its patented – and in the MoMA New York displayed – System USM Haller furniture for over 40 years. Centred around the USM Haller ball the units are not only infinitely expendable but can be designed to suit your individual requirements. And then re-designed as your requirements change. In addition USM Haller tables are available in range of sizes and colours. Or alternatively the Eiermann Table from Lampert also fit wonderfully with System USM Haller units.

Tolomeo Tavalo from Artemide

Tolomeo Tavalo from Artemide

The Italian lighting designer Artemide has been producing high quality, stylish lighting systems since 1958. With it’s floor lamps, table lamps and hanging lamps Artemide has established a reputation for excellent luminescence in timeless designs that fit just as well in a reception area, office or conference room.

Among the pioneers of office furniture design were Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson and many of their classic designs remain in the Vitra collection – including their Aluminium Series of chairs which offer outstanding quality and versatility with the minimum of material and fuss.

Headline by Bellini for Vitra

Headline by Mario and Claudio Bellini for Vitra

And while Vitra “adopted” Eames and Nelson through the collaboration with Herman Miller, the company has established it’s own reputation for high-quality office furnishings. Through, for example, collaborations with Mario and Claudio Bellini, including the award winning Headline Chair or Jasper Morrison with his ATM range onto its new Net’n’Nest concept Vitra is one of the most active and innovative office furnishers on the market.

In addition smow stock the Foster Series of desk accessories by Sir Norman Foster for helit.

And with many items in stock and available for immediate worldwide delivery, you may be able to write your own chapter in the development of office design quicker than you imagine.

“Net ‘n’ Nest” concept from Vitra: The future shape of office design

The colourful future of "Net 'n' Nesting" (Photo:

The colourful future of "Net 'n' Nesting" (Photo:

For the creative bosses at Vitra the days of the large unified office space are numbered. Not only are the working conditions in such environments not ideal for productivity, but much more each employee and every visitor has a feeling of surveillance, exploitation and treadmill.

A more inspiring and positive atmosphere, however, promise Vitra from their playfully named “Net ‘n’ Nest” concept. Here the connection between individual work and rest areas and the possibilities of communicative and open collaboration are placed in the foreground – and all in space saving styleee. The “Net ‘n’ Nest” concept originated with a detailed analysis of office work flows and was further refined with professionnel monitoring in customers offices.

“Netting” is used to define the space that is created within the office system, and which is suitable for team work and meetings and which is intended to promote communication between employees. “Nesting” in contrast is the term for those areas of still, concentrated work. For Vitra CEO Hans-Peter Cohn it is important that there are spaces for relaxing in which expressive colours dominate and extend a cozy living room atmosphere; as well as areas with more restrained colours and a puritanical design to promote relaxation and concentration.

NesTable from Vitra

NesTable from Vitra

The “Net ‘n’ Nest” „ concept was first presented in 2006. Since then designers and architects have worked on versions intended to connect the Netting and Nesting components in a ever more space saving fashions. In the future moving from communicative team work to concentrated individual work should not necessarily involve moving room: Ideally the work place should allow for both possibilities. Features such as height adjustable room dividers between the work places as well comfortable office chairs that double as relaxing armchairs are just a couple of examples of the “Net ‘n’ Nest” philosophy.

Worknest from Vitra

Worknest from Vitra

Among the Vitra products in the smow collection with which to begin “Net ‘n’ Nest” in your own office we can recommend:

– Office chair Worknest

BaOBab Table


– Lounge Chair Amoebe

ATM Mobile Unit

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