We need to talk about contract furniture with low, deep seats

We need to talk about contract furniture with low, deep seats

By: Lindsay Braun

This past June at NeoCon in Chicago, I spent two entire days studying lounge furniture. I marveled at difficult-to-achieve curves and perfectly proportioned angled arms. I fawned over raw-edge seams and contrast stitching and felted pastel upholstery.

But there was one menacing furniture trend that surfaced in countless showrooms at NeoCon that has negative impact across the entire contract furniture industry. In contract furniture, we need to be accountable to the consequences of the low, deep seat.

This is not the posture of someone accomplishing their best work.

When talking to business owners and designers about the differences between residential furniture and contract furniture, I’m quick to point out that it’s not just about construction and materials. Contract furniture is designed to be used in commercial environments, which means it needs to accommodate a variety of body types, including those with mobility issues.

Contract furniture also needs to support the sit or posture that people naturally adapt when in a commercial space. At the office, you may be sitting on a sofa to have a business conversation with a colleague or you may doing some work on your laptop. Sitting in a lobby, you’re  likely waiting for a business appointment to commence. In a public space, you’re sitting down to take a quick break or make a phone call.

There are very few commercial spaces where the central activity is napping and binging on Netflix.

A sofa with a deep, low seat is admittedly, inviting. That’s because this kind of seating design triggers “relaxation mode” in your body. Upon sitting in a low, deep sofa or chair, you are forced to collapse and “fall” into it, making it difficult to get back up. The deep seat encourages a more horizontal sitting position. The low seat height means that, while sitting, your legs are either bent and awkwardly splayed or extended straight in front of you, almost like you’re lying in bed.

These two are practically sitting on the floor. 

Historically, contract furniture has seat heights that are 17”-19” and seat depths that are 23". These dimensions are important, because they support a more upright sit, which is conducive to meetings, working, and well….thinking rather than sleeping.

The design of commercial spaces is becoming more and more residential. This is a welcome change to the austere office environments of the past, but that doesn’t mean the dimensions of furniture should be residential.

I have a habit of saying “you had one job to do,” whenever I get frustrated by a product that is failing me. This happens a lot when my computer printer malfunctions (“You had one job to do!”).

In the case of contract lounge furniture, it has one job to do that should surpass aesthetics. That job is to provide seating for people within a commercial environment. Commercial environments contain a variety of people of all different sizes and abilities. Commercial environments contain people at work and in meetings. And yes, commercial environments contain women in pencil skirts and high heels. If none of these people can sit comfortably in your furniture, then it is not doing it’s job.

If contract furniture is only designed for a narrow population, then the design is ultimately unsuccessful, no matter how pretty it is.

At Emblem, I'm proud to say that not one piece of our furniture is designed for Neflix binges. We proudly design our furniture to help people sit, chat, write, brainstorm, and work comfortably in commercial spaces. 

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