Sitting pretty

If anyone’s going to have a great office, it should be Vitra. It would be the height of incongruity for one of Europe’s leading furniture companies to house staff in a strip-lit room of cheap plastic desks, right? Right.

On Tuesday, Vitra showed delegates around its newly redesigned office at its German headquarters in Weil am Rheim. There, architect Sevil Peach has used Vitra furniture and her imagination to create over a dozen indoor and outdoor work and relaxation areas in an area roughly the size of a football pitch.

Since completion two weeks ago, the most popular zone for group work has proved to be a raised, three-sided sofa area, with soft lighting, rug, cushions and a couple of laptop stands. For individual working, staff are particularly taken with a series of individual box-desks in bright colours. The men like burying their heads in the deep magenta-purple one, while the girls prefer the softer colours, Peach observes. A couple of workers confess that they are considering coming to work earlier to bagsy their boxes. Other areas include a library, curtained-off private desk spaces, a multimedia room and high-sided one-person sofas with laptop holders. The office is virtually paperless and staff roam freely with laptops, mobile phones and small trolleys.

Typically, managers are loath to embrace home-like offices because of expense and the fear that staff will slack off if given a sofa, a decent kitchen and a private area to retreat to. But at Vitra, the managing director has vacated his private office so that Peach can make it into a full-on living room, where laptops and phones are banned.

‘A few [female] staff members came up to me and asked if I could make somewhere for people to lie down have a little sleep, or to rest if they have a headache or stomach ache,’ says Peach. The room has been open for two days and has not had much usage. ‘We will see how it goes – if it’s not used, we’ll get rid of it, but the process is all about consulting with staff and finding out their needs,’ she says.

This is an extraordinary office in an extraordinary location. Vitra’s German headquarters is a strange mix of industrial estate and world expo, with its lorry-loads of chairs negotiating concept buildings by superstar architects like Zaha Hadid, Tadao Ando and, this year, Herzog & de Meuron. The staff there radiate an impression of being happy workers, passionate about their company and working long hours because they enjoy it. Well, if you’re sitting in a comfortable chair, you tend to want to stay in it.

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