Elements of Style

What makes an interior design unique? Every O+A workplace grows organically from the culture of the client. No two are the same. But just as we all use the same words to tell our individual stories, a designer uses common space types to craft individual and idiosyncratic spaces. At O+A we long ago codified the most used space types in commercial interiors by giving them names. These Typologies run through O+A’s projects like verbs and nouns run through a novel—but of course it’s how they’re used, in what combinations and with what refinements that determines the story they ultimately tell.

With this post O+A begins a series on ten Typologies that launched a revolution in workplace design. These are the spaces that rushed in to plow over cubicle farms, blow open dark conference rooms and pull the executives out of corner offices. If that sounds like a mutiny, this first post and first Typology should make clear it was a bloodless revolution.

Bloodless? It was downright comfy.

Typologies 1. The Living Room

Lounge seating and tables assembled in a space designed to replicate the comforts of home. The Living Room is a meeting area configured as an apartment with the goal of making the meeting more informal. To a greater degree than other typologies, the Living Room is identified by its furniture. Sofas, overstuffed chairs, leather chairs, artful coffee tables, end tables, ottomans—anything that will make a work area feel like a place you might kick back and watch TV. Except for the TV. This Living Room is for personal interaction, a place for people to talk to each other.

What it Does

Like its counterpart at home, The Living Room is a multifunctional space. Perfect for meetings, it is also a place to sit alone and chill out. Almost everything that goes on in the other typologies can be accomplished (with your shoes kicked off) in The Living Room. Through its informality, this space changes the tone of the conversation. Everything that happens here happens more casually, more intimately.

As a meeting space, The Living Room minimizes common meeting dysfunctions (daydreaming, working on other things, dropping off) by creating an environment that breaks the pattern of a conference table, a chair, a droning voice… In this context, sofas may be said to inhibit dropping off by promoting engagement and proximity with the other people in the meeting. Creating personal connections that may not be duplicated around that conference table, the Living Room reduces both the opportunity and the desire to zone out, sneak a peek at something else or be otherwise than an attentive participant in the discussion.

Why It Works

Here, perhaps, is the key to this typology’s effectiveness in the workplace. It is an axiom of business that personal relationships determine what deals get made and how they’re executed. In politics, in commerce, in the collaborative arts, success is, again and again, the product of rapport. “Make movies with your friends,” the screenwriter Robert Towne once advised an audience of aspiring filmmakers. The concept of finding creative fulfillment in alliances based on mutual enthusiasms is at the heart of Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial history. To a remarkable degree, this vast transformation of the global economy was, in the beginning, a story of people working with their friends. By creating a work environment that replicates the environments of rapport, by populating the office with friendly spaces, the Living Room becomes a symbol and an example of the impulse that started it all.