Access ability

First impressions count, so Nicky Churchill suggests ways of achieving a stylish company reception area, whatever the budget

This is undoubtedly a traditional space, reflected in the choice of finishes and the obligatory black leather seating. The bespoke marble or timber console hides both the technology and the clutter beyond, and the receptionist or security guard sits on a spacious, high-backed chair reflecting the importance of the role and status of the company.

The furnishings budget will be a good one and the classics are usually a must for this environment, obvious choices being the now commonplace Grand Confort armchair and sofa by Le Corbusier or the Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair. This latter design was originally produced for the German national pavilion at the Barcelona international exhibition of 1929 and is still being manufactured today by Knoll International. A modern interpretation emerged a few years ago in the form of Milana, designed by Jean Nouvel for Sawaya & Moroni. Here Nouvel has played games with the classic design, twisting the legs and substituting the upholstered leather of the original with an open seat made of interwoven leather straps. A future classic perhaps?

The new floor-standing Tigre light by FontanaArte is also a contemporary interpretation of a traditional idea. Launched at Euroluce in Milan earlier this year and standing more than two metres high, Tigre has a conical shade in resin-dipped aluminium mounted on to a carbon fibre and resin stem. But the difference here is the two light sources – the lamp beneath the shade and a warm tone fluorescent tube concealed in the stem which gives a glow to the black and translucent stripes. A double switch allows these to be operated independently or together, depending on the time of day and the mood. The FontanaArte portfolio, which also includes lighting by Candle and furniture from Schopenhauer, is available here from Cavigioli.

Colour in this interior will come from the company’s collection of artworks, the specially commissioned sculpture and the obligatory yet beautifully arranged vase of flowers. Here too you may find a luxurious rug or wall hanging such as those produced by Tracey Hillier, who produces architectural and abstract designs in pure wool. Hillier has picked up a number of commissions recently, including the refurbished British Embassy in Dublin and an exclusive collection for the Furniture Union Harvey Nichols. A piece from her latest collection, Squares, is shown here. These and other designs will soon be on display in London at the new Oxo Tower development, where Hillier has recently won a Sainsbury’s scholarship for a showroom outlet.

From the large corporation to the smaller private office, the reception interacts with a daily throughput of people from the motorcycle messenger to the international client. It is the public face of business which portrays the image of the company to the outside world from an often small but well-defined space.

First and foremost, it is a working area, accommodating one or more receptionists with a multitude of tasks. But it is also a showcase area for the company’s achievements and a place for visitors with comfortable seating and a table on which the daily papers or company publications take pride of place.

Here we look at three very different types of image – the hallowed interior of the city centre corporation often found within the walls of a traditional building; the futuristic look of the up-to-the-minute hi-tech company located on an out-of-town site; and the “fun” face of the young creative agency in a trendy part of town – and suggest furniture and furnishings that will provide a taster to the goings on behind the public portals.

The hi-tech corporation

A modern building sited on an out-of-town landscaped site where steel, glass and stone blend together to create an almost futuristic design. The slick interior is in keeping with both the materials of the building and the philosophy of the business park which proclaims that fine minds are more productive in an open, clean environment. The entrance will have a high level of daylight penetration (for the ficus benjamina), with sunshine reflecting off the smooth and shiny floor tiles and the hi-tech lifts.

The minimalist design of the Less office system by Unifor seems destined for this space. Conceived by Jean Nouvel for the interior of the new headquarters of the Cartier Foundation in Paris, Less is made entirely of metal and consists of just three pieces: a desk/table with optional return (but no modesty panel), a filing pedestal with cable-management compartment, and a revolving storage cabinet which provides double the depth of conventional cabinets.

Couple this with the classic Eames Aluminium Group chair for Vitra or the new H2O chair from Blo, which combines the traditional geometric seat with a five-star base.

For the waiting area, metal beam seating provides a practical and hardwearing solution while at the same time complementing this calm interior. There are a number of options, although many systems on offer are designed with large installations in mind and as such do not lend themselves to the smaller space. One that does is Terence Woodgate’s Public Seating System for SCP. The tapered base, independently flexing back and optional tables can be specified in various configurations to suit the space. The latest variations of this system are a plywood or aluminium bench seat and a slatted steamed beech version which has been developed in conjunction with SOM for the new Sun Life HQ in Bristol.

And for decorative lighting I have chosen Romeo Babe, the latest design from Philippe Starck. Manufactured by Flos, this is a low voltage collection of fittings with a glass diffuser that adopts the shape of the traditional lampshade. What gives it sparkle are the two different layers of pressed glass, one etched and the other transparent. Romeo Babe can also be supplied with a coloured glass diffuser or a small plissé cloth lampshade, a fabric with a wrinkled finish.

The creative agency

A contemporary yet inexpensive interior designed to be lively, colourful and fun but dangerously bordering on kitsch. Image often wins over practicality with the low-cost, painted MDF reception desk providing little or no cable management, instead giving priority to form and colour against the natural timber floor.

For the receptionist, Vitra’s T-chair designed by Antonio Citterio with Glen Oliver Lw offers a fun and well-priced solution with its interchangeable T-shirt type covering. And ergonomics has not been forgotten. T-chair has a synchronised mechanism and forward tilt for good lumbar support and a swivel arm support which is width, height and angle adjustable so it won’t get in the way of desk tops. Particularly good for computer use.

Some of the Sottsass designs in the Eighties for Memphis would be appropriate here, although probably outside the budget. Or you could choose Italian manufacturer Edra, which produces sensual upholstered seating in unexpected shapes and unusual fabrics. Two of my favourites are the padded flower chairs by Japanese designer Masanori Umeda – the

Getsuen lily and the soft rose. But equally stunning is the dainty Fortuna by Leonardo Volpi. This takes the shape of a four-leaved clover chair made of soft polyurethane and supported on chromed metal legs. A good-luck charm available in 64 colours from Agent Provocateur.

And, finally, the ultimate accessory from Zerodisegno, the wacky Cactus umbrella stand designed by Denis Santachiara. On show at Milan in April, this amazing creation invites you to fill the planter with soil, plant the grass seed (supplied as part of the package), place your umbrella in the cactus and wait for the water to seep into the earth and make the grass grow. Brilliant – as long as it’s raining!

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