The New Aesthetic
By: Stephanie Kilpatrick, Director of Interior Design, Niles Bolton Associates
Trends have come, gone, and come again in the past 30 years that my commercial Interior Design career has spurred. What was old is now new again. Softer, more approachable design influences in work environments are supplanting the industrial and menswear aesthetics of the last decade. Since 2000, brighter, more optimistic colors are replacing the predominant gray tones that saturated the design aesthetic.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
Growing participation rates of women in the workplace: among the factors that have contributed to the growth and development of the U.S. labor force, none have been as pronounced as the rise in the participation of women. Per reports from the Department of Labor and CREW, the overall participation rate of women was 34 percent in 1950. The rate rose to 38 percent in 1960, 43 percent in 1970, 52 percent in 1980, 58 percent in 1990, and reached 60 percent by 2000. The overall labor force participation rate of women attained its highest level in 2010 at 62 percent. From then on, it is anticipated to decline slowly, falling to 57 percent in 2050. Women are obtaining higher levels of education, marrying later, if at all, and postponing childbirth to later in life – all contributing to their increased participation and longevity in the workplace.
Effect of Millennials and Gen Z in the work environment: the impact of younger generations is being felt throughout the working world. They bring a youthful presence and hopeful attitude to the workplace. These professionals view their entire waking hours more holistically – personal time, down time, and work time all are viewed as seamless transitions. Areas of their lives are not perceived as separate arenas. Design spheres that were previously a linear progression starting with fashion and moving through residential, hospitality, and workplace design are now condensed and even overlap, like the life cycles of the Millennials and Gen Z workers.
Emergence of the “third place”: traditionally, we think of the “first place” as home and the “second place” as the office or workplace. The emergence of the “third place” (coffee shops, gyms, spas, restaurants) encompasses the other places frequented, often considered areas of social interaction, community and creativity. While previously the three “places” have been kept separate, characteristics from our favorite “third places” are now being incorporated into the office environment, challenging the previous aesthetics, with added function and amenities.
HOW IS THIS BEING EXHIBITED IN WORKPLACE DESIGN?
Boundaries are blurred between individuals and teams; owned and shared; primary work spaces and social/activity spaces. The acceptance of softer colors and patterns combined with the notion of shareable space is leading to more “living room” configurations in place of traditional conference rooms and lounges. Scale consideration and elements that cross gender boundaries are becoming essential in small and large ways throughout corporate projects.
The days of cold, industrial, hard-edged design influences have been replaced with warmer tones. Brass and rose gold, not typically found in previous office design, are gaining popularity and can be used to add dimension to a space. Stripes and geometric elements are being replaced by organic patterns. Warmer metals are emerging in place of silver and gray tones; soft rose and sunny yellow tones, indicating a new optimism, are becoming popular.
Hospitality cues create drama and impact in office environments. Residential influences are also flowing into workplace design, creating comfortable and, most importantly, functional spaces to get business done. Softer textures, high-back chairs, and organic patterns blend the “borders” between home and office.
Elements that support characteristics from our favorite “third places” are increasing in popularity and being integrated into the workplace. Corporate kitchens, breakrooms and shared spaces are now resembling coffee shops and restaurants. Incorporating high-top tables, bar tops, and booths make for flexible and more approachable spaces.
The continued emergence of traditional female tones and patterns are becoming more common in the workplace. An overall acceptance of less dominant masculine aesthetics meshes with the Millennial and Gen Z preference for more gender-neutral spaces. An overlapping of worlds – home, work and relaxation – is becoming the norm. Pink is the new gray!
Stephanie Kirkpatrick is the Director of Interior Design at Niles Bolton Associates and offers more than three decades of experience in strategic planning and design consulting as well as administration and management. She has served as project manager and lead designer for a number of large corporate headquarters and ventures. Stephanie is NCIDQ certified, a registered Interior Designer and a member of the International Interior Design Association(IIDA), where she served as Former President of the Georgia chapter.She has been a member of the CREW – Atlanta and served on the Programs Committee almost continually since 1991.
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