We have to admit, one of our pet peeves as commercial interior designers is working with a client to incorporate beautiful custom millwork or casework shelving into their project, only to visit the site months later to find that the shelves are empty. This is a missed opportunity to create a positive first impression, add visual interest, reinforce your brand, and ultimately define the personality of your space.
This type of accessorizing, to add the finishing touches and pull everything together, is a service RLPS Interiors offers, but sometimes clients opt to handle this in-house. We understand that it can be difficult to know where to start, so we’ve pulled together a few guidelines that apply to both commercial and residential spaces.
As with fashion, we often see interior design trends from the past come back into vogue. While wall coverings have had their critics over the years, this industry has been working hard to reinvent itself. Today, there are endless choices of innovative, sustainable and attractive wall coverings available to create bold, impactful spaces.
An important distinction is that today’s commercial interiors use “wall coverings,” typically from a 54 inch bolt, which have been tested for durability and fire resistance. “Wallpaper” is limited to residential use, typically comes in 27” wide rolls, and is not subject to the same physical requirements as wall coverings.
Most Seinfeld fans can remember George Costanza’s father randomly shouting “serenity now” in an effort to achieve calm in the chaotic world of the Costanza family. However, he may have been able to achieve the same effect by simply eliminating some of the clutter in his home.
Drawing from Japanese design principles, minimalism exemplifies the concept of “less is more.” Simplicity, openness, and often symmetry are some of this disciplined style’s guiding principles. And while the removal of non-essential elements is key, the end goal is not to create stark or sterile spaces. Instead, a minimalist approach to design helps draws attention to outside views, architectural features, key furnishings or striking artwork. The following are a few minimalist design tips to help create peaceful, appealing spaces by reducing visual distractions and interior clutter.
As we approach the time of year when baking and family dinners are a priority, let’s take a look at the epicenter of activity – the kitchen. Once relegated to function behind the scenes, the kitchen has benefited greatly from today’s open concept floor plans. Kitchens are now a gathering hub, used for both cooking and entertainment. Even if you won’t be hosting any family dinners or consider yourself more of an eater than a chef, don’t overlook the importance of melding form and function to create an appealing and accessible space you will likely use several times a day every day.
Color Trends: When it comes to color, today’s cabinet selections represent opposite ends of the spectrum. White cabinets are still popular and pair nicely with today’s dark wood flooring options. We have found some great ceramic tile and vinyl options that provide the look of wood but easier maintenance and durability, particularly for commercial applications. In recent years, darker wood cabinets in natural cherry, walnut or mahogany and dark stains like espresso and clove, have become increasingly popular. These are often paired with white countertops and lighter flooring selections.
Artwork is the “icing on the cake” for interior spaces. It can serve as the inspiration that defines your design style or the finishing touch that pulls everything together. Selecting the right artwork is particularly important for commercial applications to reinforce your brand, strengthen local connections and ultimately create a positive experience.
Nature Rules! Since we’ve been involved in a number of senior care and healthcare settings, we have a particular respect for the positive impacts nature artwork can provide. In the book, Putting Patients First, Roger Ulrich and Laura Gilpin recommend artwork for healthcare settings that depicts landscapes, tranquil water, calm weather and warmer seasons. A number of studies by Roger Ulrich, Ph.D., EDAC, and others have documented not only a preference for nature scenes among hospital patients, students and office workers, but also positive outcomes such as reduced stress, lessened anger/aggression and improved well-being. And the inverse is also true, abstract artwork is the least liked among people of all ages and has been shown to stimulate negative emotions.
As students head back to the classroom, tablets, laptops and even smartphones are increasingly among the learning tools at their disposal. And it’s not just students who expect technology to be available at their fingertips. In today’s world, technology accommodations—recharging stations integrated into the bedside lamp in our hotel room, table ordering systems at our local restaurant and WiFi hot spots just about anywhere we go—are commonplace. From space planning and programming to lighting and furniture selections, interior design solutions must include considerations for remaining connected comfortably, easily and without compromising style.
Do your reception area and lobby create a positive first impression that reinforces your organization’s brand? From the moment they arrive, people start making assumptions about your business and the products or services you offer. There is no one-size-fits all solution, since the best solutions are unique to your brand, location and profession. (Check out these unique office lobbies at The SquareFoot Blog that reflect the brands of the companies they represent.) However, there are basic rules that apply to every lobby space, regardless of your organization’s business focus.
MAKE IT A POSITIVE EXPERIENCE: You want to create a lasting impression, but make sure it’s a good one. This starts with the basics of making the front door easy to find and then providing a clear indication of where to go once inside. Have you ever gone into a restaurant and been forced to pause in the foyer unsure of where to go next? We’re all about creating a “wow”, but the first priority must be to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome as soon as they open your front door.
YOU ARE INVITED: Create an open, inviting and fully accessible experience. Seating areas should feel intimate, but avoid cluttered or segmented vignettes that compromise circulation and visual access to other spaces. Optimally the lobby should provide views to adjacent areas to help with wayfinding and reinforce a sense of positive energy and hospitality. In our office, a gallery featuring local artists provides a nice transition space between the lobby and work areas.
HOW MAY WE HELP YOU? The front desk should emulate hospitality venues with the visible functionality of a concierge desk rather than an office work station. Table height is preferred. Any equipment should be screened. Think respectful, welcoming gesture versus imposing barrier.
THE QUEST TO IMPRESS: Create a focal point (like our before/after example below) that reflects your organization’s brand and typically is not the front desk. This could be a fireplace, water feature, distinctive artwork or even a vase of fresh flowers. If you opt for flowers, just be sure someone has responsibility for keeping them looking fresh.
LIGHTING THE WAY: Light levels should adapt to avoid glare issues when entering or exiting the building. Maximize natural light and outdoor views whenever possible. Decorative lighting can be a simple, inexpensive solution to easily adjust light levels throughout the day and reinforce your design style.
BRAND LOYALTY: The lobby should define your organization’s brand; with updated furnishings, finishes and accessories. If the physical setting of your lobby conflicts with your brand or lacks impact, then the consumer experience is one of confusion and uncertainty. Recognizing that this is typically a high traffic area, finish selections should be not only esthetically pleasing, but also durable and easily maintainable to avoid looking dingy or “tired” over time.
This article from Homedit highlights the endless possibilities for reception desks including the Chic and Basic Hotel front desk pictured at left. We also like the recycled books used for a library front desk.
UNIVERSAL DESIGN: Stylish yet functional furniture should accommodate users of varying ages and abilities. This makes a positive impression by signaling your organization’s commitment to serve the needs of all individuals including those with limited mobility.
In today’s marketplace, attracting consumers and meeting their expectations starts with making a positive and lasting first impression. More examples of noteworthy entry spaces can be found at Office Snapshots.
Charlotte Stoudt, IIDA, LEED AP, has 16 years of experience as a commercial interior designer. Her appreciation for the value of a “wow” first impression goes all the way back to the 7th grade when she stepped into the foyer of the Philadelphia Academy of Music. She strives to create that kind of lasting impression for our clients today, for projects large and small.
Based on our project experiences, industry research and, perhaps most importantly, numerous post-occupancy evaluations over the years, we have developed very specific guidelines for our designers to reference when making seating selections. These considerations, designed primarily to support older consumers, can be useful for a wide range of commercial applications such as restaurants, medical office waiting rooms, hotel lobbies and other public spaces.
Embracing the concept of universal design to accommodate individuals with temporarily or permanently reduced abilities often results in more comfortable, inviting and user-friendly spaces for all. For example, our designers primarily specify seating with arms since this makes it easier for an elderly person who may have diminished mobility and upper body strength to get up from the chair. Most people, not just seniors, find chairs with arms easier to “exit.” Likewise, a back recline from the seat of less than 100 degrees is typically comfortable for people of all ages.
The first consideration when selecting seating is the dimensions. Public spaces are not the place for overstuffed or oversized chairs that can be difficult to get in or out of and are often tempting for young children to climb. However, it’s important to note that it is also a good idea to specify 10 to 20% of seating in bariatric sizes which are different from what we’re showing here.
Pull up a Chair
Especially in dining venues where chairs are moved constantly, it’s critical to specify the appropriate glides based on the flooring types. We recommend casters, preferably two in the front, on carpeted surfaces to aid in moving chairs in and out. Cross-support stretchers between legs provide stability and help prevent the legs from loosening due to the constant pushing and pulling by diners.
The seat should be removable for ease of cleaning and made of a firm foam material rather than using down fills. Supportive cushions prevent the bottom of the seat from sinking much lower than the height of the occupant’s knee to maintain comfort and ease of mobility when exiting the chair. There are a wide range of moisture-resistant fabrics available to provide the desired durability and easy care without compromising comfort or aesthetics.
Perhaps the most important universal design consideration when making seating selections is recognizing the one size will never fit all. Therefore a variety of options should be provided whenever possible. For The Harvest Table at Garden Spot Village in New Holland, Pennsylvania we incorporated seven types of seating options. This includes traditional two and four-top tables, a 12-seat farmhouse table, traditional booth seating, banquette seating, circular booths and comfortable “hip-height” bar stools at the ice cream counter. And that’s not even counting the comfortable chairs and sofa by the fireplace leading into The Harvest Tables or the café tables along the main street corridor.
Some good resources that provide more information on this topic are: Beautiful Universal Design: A Visual Guide by Cynthia A. Leibrock and James Evan Terry and Residential Design for Aging in Place by Drue Lawlor and Michael A. Thomas.
Derek Perini, IIDA, Senior Interior Designer, has 17 years of experience providing interior design solutions that support the needs of those with physical challenges. He has also served as an adjunct professor at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as a jury member for the Environments for Aging Design Showcase and a grader for the International Interior Design Association, National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam.
Since March is the time of year when we start thinking green, whether four leaf clovers or the advent of spring, this month’s focus is on embracing your inner (as in interior) green. Most of us can agree that greening our indoor spaces is a good idea—for the earth, for future generations and for own health and well-being. Therefore our interior design team is continually looking for green design strategies and product options that are readily available, cost-competitive and perhaps most importantly, do not require compromises regarding style, comfort or durability. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years, it’s that there’s no “one size fits all” option, but instead a balance of pros and cons to determine the best solution for each space. The myriad of opportunities for greening your interiors are far too many to cover here, so for this month’s topic we’ve focused on wall coverings and flooring.
Wall Coverings: Paints and Wallpaper
Today, most of us recognize that the smells of new vinyl, carpets and fresh paint are actually chemicals “off-gassing” or evaporating from the products we’ve applied or installed in our buildings. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, furniture, paint, adhesives, composite woods, carpet and cleaning supplies contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which can result in a number of negative health effects. The good news is that low or no VOC products are now readily available and competitively priced. When selecting a paint or adhesive product it’s important to look beyond terms like eco or green in the name and specifically review the VOC level. The lower the VOCs, the better. Generally, a low-VOC paint contains less than 50 g/L before tinting; zero-VOC paint has less than 5 g/L before tinting.
And did you know that latex paint is a recyclable item? Latex paint can be turned in to collection facilities which ship it to paint-recycling facilities such as Amazon Environmental. Similarly, Global Paint for Charity, a nonprofit organization based in Georgia, collects leftover paint from residents and businesses nationwide and uses it for global rehabilitation projects including homes, schools, hospitals, jails and churches for families in developing countries.
Wallpaper is enjoying a return to its former glory, not only for its decorative value but also for its acoustic properties and durability. Digitally-customized wallcoverings are especially popular for today’s commercial applications. Like paints, wallpaper options include products with low VOCs, recycled content and equally important, 100 percent recyclability after use. Many of today’s products are also 100 percent vinyl (PVC)-free. To help make the selection of sustainable wallcoverings easier, the Wallcoverings Association developed Standard NSF/ANSI 342, a third-party certification program which measures the environmental impact of both the manufacturing and distribution of a product, from raw material extraction through disposal.
Other available wall covering options include reclaimed wood or rapidly renewable cork and natural fiber wallcoverings, such as grass cloths which degrade naturally when removed from the wall and thrown away. Arguably the “greenest” option is a green wall, also known as a living wall system. A green wall is comprised of hydroponic plants grown on screen structures attached to the wall. A great example of regenerative design, green walls go beyond sustainable design strategies to limit VOC emissions and instead create a positive impact by actually improving indoor air quality as the plants go through photosynthesis and cleanse the air as they grow.
Flooring: Carpeting and Beyond
Flooring materials, and particularly carpeting, are another potential source of VOCs in our interior spaces. Not too long ago, there were few alternatives to carpeting made from petroleum-based synthetic fibers containing VOCs. Fortunately today there are better options for carpeting as well as other types of flooring. Wool is a natural, beautiful and renewable carpet option that also works well for rug pads, as it reduces noise, inhibits mold and provides insulation. These benefits do come at a price however, since wool is typically more expensive than synthetic alternatives. Other natural options, such as sisal, coir and sea grass, tend to be rougher and less durable than other alternatives to manmade carpet materials.
Polyester (P.E.T) Berber is a durable, spill resistant and economical product that is made of recycled plastic bottles and comes in a variety of colors and patterns. However, it’s important to note that berber can be easily snagged causing it to unravel if not repaired promptly; and it is not as soft to walk on as conventional carpet options. There are a number of carpet tile product options made with renewable, recycled and recyclable content. One of the most appealing benefits of carpet tiles is the ability to easily replace small sections when stains or other problems occur. Carpet tiles still include some synthetic materials, but look for options that meet or exceed the Carpet and Rug Institute’s “Green Label Plus” standards for low VOCs. One carpet company, Bolyu Contract, has also developed Puralex®, a self-renewing, non-toxic fragrance-free odor reducer made from a salt compound which contains no harmful chemical ingredients. According to the company’s website, Puralex reduces odors and room VOCs by breaking down most organic molecules in the air into inert material.
While carpeting in one form or another is definitely the softest “underfoot” option, there are a number of alternatives to consider. Cork, a relatively new flooring option, is an easily-maintainable, fire retardant material that’s warmer and softer than wood, has anti-microbial properties and acts as a natural insect repellent. Cork is harvested from the bark of the cork oak tree, without having to cut down the tree, and grows back every three years. Like wood, cork can be finished in a variety of paints or stains (preferably low or no VOC options) and can last up to 30 years.
When people hear the term linoleum, synthetic vinyl made of chlorinated petrochemicals often comes to mind, but the two are actually very different. Linoleum is made from linseed oil, cork dust, tree resins, recycled wood flour, pigments and ground limestone and is naturally anti-bacterial and biodegradable. Like cork, it is fire retardant and water resistant. Linoleum fell out of favor with the introduction of vinyl in the 1940s, but has reemerged with new vibrant and natural color options and is valued for its easy maintainability and durability. For a really unique option, rubber flooring made from recycled tires is making its way from gymnasiums and playgrounds into kitchens, sunrooms and bathrooms. This versatile, water-resistant option comes in many colors and patterns and provides a comfortable walking surface.
Hopefully we’ve given you some ideas for embracing your inner green. The good news is new products and design concepts are constantly being developed to help make the various indoor spaces where we live, work and play better for us and for generations to come.
An RLPS employees since 1997, Deb Kimmet, IIDA, LEED AP ID+C, focuses on commercial interiors. Sustainable design has been her passion for many years and she loves to share her ideas for greening interior spaces.
February is a good time to explore the power and possibilities for going red. Not only is this the time of year for ruby roses and Cupid’s arrows, it’s also the month to “go red for heart health.” Even the experts at the Pantone Color Institute have selected Marsala, “a naturally robust and earthy wine red,” as their 2015 color of the year.
To state the obvious, red is a bold color that draws attention to itself—think fire hydrants or stop signs. Despite its energy and intensity, red can work with almost any color scheme, adding drama, spicing up a neutral palette or drawing attention to features that may have gone unnoticed otherwise. Many designers feel red raises the energy level in a room. According to Better Homes and Gardens, red has been shown to raise blood pressure, speed respiration and increase heart rate. Red is also credited with stimulating the appetite which is why you’ll often find this vibrant color option selected for restaurant interiors.
Red can create the “wow” factor for your rooms in a way that no other color can. However, many people are reluctant to introduce this attention-grabber into their home. Although it’s unlikely to ever be described as a wallflower, the color red can be used in a myriad of ways without overpowering. There’s no need to fear red if you follow a few simple guidelines for utilizing this commanding color with confidence.
- A little red goes a long way. Red accessories and lighting selections are a great choice to perk up any room. Pops of bright red for an accent wall, pillow or throw rug work well for contemporary designs while the same features in a rich burgundy provide a more traditional aesthetic. A bold red accent can also be used to draw attention to specific elements in the room, like painting the inside back of a bookshelf or china cabinet.
- Red is a statement color, so choose carefully. Reds that lean toward orange tones generate energy; while more purplish shades like burgundy or maroon can make a room feel cozy. When combined with other colors, red offers even more versatility. Red with light gray (the new beige) and a few pink accents fosters a soft, feminine style. Red with a touch of brown or purple works well with natural wood tones and will feel warmer than primary red with hints of pink.
- Red can influence the perceived size of your room: Painting your walls red will typically make a room feel more enclosed and intimate. Conversely, limiting this powerhouse to selected areas will highlight features without being overwhelming. Using red on one wall of a long, narrow room can visually minimize the perceived length. Particularly when using red as a bold statement on every wall, balance the richness of the red with soft neutral shades for floors and furnishings. Deep reds often absorb light, making a room feel more enclosed, while brighter reds allow light to bounce off walls for more of an open feeling.
This versatile color can feel contemporary, traditional, rustic, timeless or romantic, depending on the shade and context. Red is a great complement to black or white, a sophisticated, classic combination. However there is no need to limit yourself to this palette. Red highlights can warm up a cool blue and white room, or a combination of neutral beiges and whites with softly patterned burgundy accents can create a relaxing color scheme. A vivacious mix of spicy reds, deep oranges, bright yellows and lime green work well with deep neutral flooring and walls for a lively gathering space like a family room, kitchen or sunroom. Similarly, brick reds work well when used in combination with soft yellows for a country French color scheme. If you want to include a mix of rustic antiques with contemporary elements consider a color scheme of crimson red, deep, rich browns and light tan or beige neutrals to successfully integrate the traditional with the modern.
From crimson, ruby and scarlet to auburn, chestnut and vermilion, there are endless ways to use this warm shade. And if you’re not quite ready to go red, consider pinks, corals or mauves. These alternatives, incorporating a touch of red, offer many of the same opportunities for enlivening and adding dramatic flair to your interiors.
One last bit of trivia about red: According to Benjamin Moore’s Facebook fans, the most popular rooms for red are bedrooms and bath/powder rooms! Some favorite reds are caliente (AF-290), moroccan red (1309), crimson (1299), and confederate red (2080-20).
Abby Stewart, IIDA, has more than 10 years of experience as a commercial interior designer. Her top tip for using red is to keep in mind that small doses are often more effective than large amounts of this strong color.