RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Some of today's business offices barely resemble their predecessors. The days of dull, gray steel office furniture are giving way to bright colors, soft fabrics and warm lighting, just like some home décor. And that's no coincidence. Manufacturers say the trend speaks volumes about the workforce that many employers are trying to attract.
Michigan Radio's Kaomi Goetz reports.
KAOMI GOETZ: Andrea Wallace(ph) is typing on her computer keypad from a brightly lit corner at an advertising company here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The 24-year-old says the environment at Structure Interactive, with its sleek minimalist furniture clustered irregular shapes, was one of the reasons she wanted to work here.
Ms. ANDREA WALLACE (Employee, Structure Interactive): It's kind of an open environment, we don't really have like just a big cubicle. It doesn't make it seem as much like work.
GOETZ: Company vice president, Charlie McGrath, is standing in the middle of his company's ground floor in a century-old bank building with marble columns and a high ceiling. Two ketchup red walls provide a sharp contrast. And McGrath says it's all aimed at sparking inspiration.
Mr. CHARLIE MCGRATH (Vice president, Structure Interactive): We wanted something that would say this is a place where work is being done but that would also facilitate creative work, that would let a creative person walk in and say I understand this environment.
GOETZ: Manufacturers say today's white colored workplaces are undergoing drastic changes. Fading fast is the corner power office with its maze of cubicles as employees are encouraged to work more collaboratively. Technology is partly to blame for the shift. The prevalence of laptops and Blackberries means more work can now happen at home or even in a café.
Employees are getting used to the creature comforts of an espresso machine or a soft couch and want that atmosphere at the office too. Furniture industry consultant Michael Dunlap says he started noticing the trend a few years ago with bold color and homelike fabrics being offered for the workplace. He said last year's office furniture convention in Chicago iced the cake.
Mr. MICHAEL DUNLAP (Furniture Industry Consultant): When I saw a king-sized bed in an environment in the Haworth Showroom, I knew we'd broken some barriers. Some of what we're seeing, you know, plants, and flowers and, you know, designer eating utensils, and cups, and dishes, and so forth. And where 30 years ago none of that would have been - or for it was, it would have been strictly utilitarian, near military issue.
GOETZ: Chuck Saylor agrees. He started his company, IzzyDesign, here in Western Michigan five years ago because he thought that office workers were ready to embrace something new.
Mr. CHUCK SAYLOR (Owner, IzzyDesign): When we started Izzy, I started with the view that we wanted to bring the sense of residential feeling and warmth to the office environment and let product sort of seamlessly move back and forth. And we're starting to see that occur.
GOETZ: Take for example Izzy's own offices. It's conference room features a large mid-century era designer light made for residential use. The tabletop is made of recycled birdseed compressed into a composite board. The cloth-covered chairs have backs that resemble a cross to encourage constant movement. Chuck Saylor says his furniture makes an immediate impression.
Mr. SAYLOR: Lots of people who walk into the space say, boy, I could see that in my bedroom. It would - this can be really nice in my home. Yes.
GOETZ: Sales at IzzyDesign are up nearly 20 percent over last year, doubling the industry growth rate. But could replicating home at the office create too much of a diversion from work? While that maybe possible, Saylor and other say that line hasn't been crossed yet. And that means office furniture makers will continue to push creature comforts for the work place.
For NPR News, I'm Kaomi Goetz in Grand Rapids.
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