Getting the seating in breakout areas wrong can rob the space of its effectiveness, says Quentin Petrykowski
02 September 2019 | Quentin Petrykowski
The WELL Building Standard advises that breakout seating should accommodate 25 per cent of the workforce at a given time. Achieving this can be difficult for offices that lack space, but clever tactics and interior solutions can maximise seating.
1 Get creative with storage
Seating is crucial in a breakout area, but it takes up the most space. So consider how seating will be stored when not in use.
We recently worked with Leeds-based ICS Media Group, which required plenty of 'collaboration stools' for the team to use throughout the office. These stools take up a considerable amount of floor space when not in use, so we turned the 18 stools into a feature wall where they could be stored on shelves. This
not only solved the issue of space, but became a great visual feature.
We have also worked on a design scheme for a client that needed flexibility to transform their office into an open events area. Our solution was storage along the office perimeter, integrating lockers, fridges, a wine rack and dishwasher storage, as well as hot-desking furniture such as desks and chairs.
2 Go modular
Modular furniture creates flexibility and units can be combined or separated to accommodate people numbers and different activities. It helps when a breakout area can be transformed into multiple spaces, moving between collaboration, private and productive.
Creating a transformable area is what we did for our client, creative agency twentysix, by installing movable and adaptable block seating. So if a large group of employees needs the breakout area, for instance, the modular seating can be joined to form a big soft-seating area.
3 Think tall and varied
Low seating close to the floor can take up a lot of space, both physical and visual. Tall seating saves space and looks appealing by creating visual space below. We often use tall seating in office kitchen areas and at raised informal collaboration tables.
Going tall saves space, but variety is best. Combinations of low and high seating, tables and other features can balance out a space and a make a breakout area feel bigger.
We recommend a ratio of 75 per cent low seating and 25 per cent high seating, but this also depends on needs. Important to consider are:
- Staff numbers;
- Staff demographics;
- What staff do during breakout hours; and
- What the work culture is like.
Considering how you want employees to use the space will guide design choices. For a casual and sociable area, soft seating is important. But if the area is mainly for eating lunch, high seating can offer a great dining space.
4 Break down physical barriers
Instead of physical barriers such as partitions and storage, consider alternative ways to separate a breakout area from the main working area. Some options include:
- Change of flooring to demarcate separate areas;
- Banquette seating to add privacy and help with acoustics; and
- Acoustic panels and biophilic design to help control the noise levels.
Indoor plants are worthy of any available floor space. In fact, the more plants the better. But make sure they fit the look of the space.
Plants are brilliant at creating an illusion of privacy, as well as helping
with noise reduction.
Placing plants on top of storage units also makes furniture look more appealing, while adding height to demarcate the breakout area.
Quentin Petrykowski is an interior designer at Absolute Commercial Interiors