Adding efficiency, beauty to interior office designs

People spend eight hours a day in their offices, so why shouldn't these functional spaces rate the helpful hand of an interior designer in making them more efficient and more beautiful?

There is plenty of movement in that direction. Members of the American Society of Interior Designers report that about half their time is now spent on such commercial projects as offices, hotels, lobbies, restaurants, ships, shops, and planes.

Members of the Texas chapter of the society decided this spring to spurn holding a tour of homes or doing a decorator show house, and instead to sponsor the ''ASID Office Showcase'' in the San Jacinto Tower, one of Dallas's newest office buildings. This project, held in March, followed a similar office showcase in Honolulu last year. Both were open to the public but directed especially at the business and professional communities.

''We wanted to show what we could do with office spaces because of the great burst of commercial activity in Dallas,'' explains Ann Sullivan, president of the Texas chapter, ''and also because most people rarely get an opportunity to see what interior designers are doing in office design.''

At this showcase people saw how executives like to live at the office, where they are most often surrounded with Oriental rugs, lush plants, fine paintings and sculpture, unusual crafts, and a few choice antiques.

''There is a tremendous interest in offices these days, and in giving them both individual and corporate personality,'' says designer Richard D. Conder. ''Why shouldn't companies hire interior designers to find out what an employee's needs are, figure out the traffic patterns, plan the space, and then put it all together so that it works well, is pleasant to look at, and makes people feel happy? We know that a good office is a real morale booster and that people who work in it enjoy their work more, and produce more.''

Suzie Patterson, who was co-chairwoman of the showcase with Jeannine Bazer, says, ''Too many people rent office space, buy a standard desk, file cabinet, and chair, and then wonder why their offices are so bland and boring. We all react to our physical environments, so it pays to get design help in creating pleasing ones. We find that many executives want to make a statement about their own taste and interests. Others want their offices to reflect the image of their business. Some say they just want an office that announces that they are ''big people, forward thinkers, highly dynamic.''

Most of the designers have found that if an executive is a collector, he or she enjoys having part, or all, of a personal collection on display at the office. A collection of antique canes served as a focal point in one office, a collection of fine Chinese porcelains in another, an assortment of first-edition books in another. Charlotte Koonsman showed flair in her choice of antiques: a massive French provincial armoire in one office, and an antique inkwell for the desk of another. She also drew attention with a small Picasso drawing placed against the glass of a floor-to-ceiling window.

Lynn Sears chose antique brass scales as an accessory in an office decorated with Indian art. Some designers chose hand-woven hangings or hand-thrown pots for office display. Some selected large Chinese porcelain jardinieres, and at least one chose a reproduction of a Tang horse. Another displayed a handsome modern mosaic screen as the focal point of a highly traditional office.

The office showcase, in which 17 designers participated, included a variety of styles, including traditional, contemporary, high-tech, soft-tech, postmodern , and eclectic. Offices were done with both men and women executives in mind.

A favorite background color used in many of them was some variation of what a designer termed ''rusty burgundy.'' Tall torchier lamps gave soft, indirect light to many offices and reception and conference areas. Several offices were arranged on the diagonal to take better advantage of space and city views.

Most of the older executives who visited the showcase preferred the traditional offices. ''It is almost a rule of thumb,'' says Ann Sullivan, ''that lawyers, doctors, and bankers will want a traditional office, full of English-type furniture and leather sofas and chairs. Someone like the woman head of a cosmetic company, or a real estate or advertising executive, is usually more open to contemporary ideas.''

One thing is certain, Ms. Sullivan maintains, and that is that male executives are generally far more aware these days about who interior designers are and how they do business. This means they do not so often leave the decoration of their offices to their secretaries or to their wives, as they once did.

ASID professionals offer these tips to corporate heads or others interested in office design:

If you hire an interior designer, express your objectives thoroughly. Explain your business philosophy, your operations, your employees. Explain working relationships and individual work responsibilities, and individual needs for privacy. Tell how your business functions now, and how you think it could be made to function better. Be specific and give as much information as you can.

Know and trust your interior designer. Be sure the designer understands your work and procedures. Ask about his or her experience in similar or related business areas. Look at examples of work he or she has completed.

Do not be reticent about talking money and establishing budgets. Then ask exactly what you are getting and when you are getting it, and what your obligations are. Designers work differently. Some have fixed-fee arrangements. Some work on hourly charges, or cost per square foot, or retail-wholesale differentials. All are legitimate, and some designers combine several arrangements. But understand your financial commitment and have a written agreement.

A qualified professional will also recognize safety and fire hazards, as well as potential building code violations, and will tell you how to maintain the materials used for the job.

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