Design Solutions: Warming Up Office Spaces

By Paul Miller

Interior Designer, IDS Professional Member

Many clients describe modern commercial design as sterile, but there are many ways to warm up office designing without sacrificing a professional tone.  Much like business dress, the design in an office suite should elicit confidence from clients. This makes the typical default one that, in the world of fashion, is the equivalent of a two piece grey suit: a classic choice, but one that needs a little help from a necktie, jewelry, or a great pair of shoes. 

Our task at Winchester Oral Surgery Center was to identify fabrics, furniture, finishes, and art to help make the architect's modern design more approachable and appealing.

Statement Graphics

The use of strong graphic forms add dynamic interest to any design.  We mixed the scale of our graphics, contrasting a small triangular motif on the lobby wallpaper with a larger diagonal on the seating. I designed a custom graphic for a glass accent wall of a modern four point star in gold, charcoal, and pewter tones (seen below).  The graphic was intended to reference the local region; many believe the Native American word Shenandoah means 'daughter of the stars'.


Photo: Matthew Lofton


Avoid The Chill

Hues that offer more warmth than a standard, right-down-the-middle grey give commercial design a friendlier atmosphere.  Color was used sparingly in this project, as the client and architect had already developed a style that relied heavily on the use of white as a unifying element.  I selected textiles and furnishings in a mix of taupe-to-grey tones to compliment the flooring and take the chill off the white walls.  


Photo: Matthew Lofton


Color Punch

Through art selection, I energized the neutral design with vivid tones of yellow and green in an area of the office that had no natural light.  These pieces also provide strong graphic qualities that help draw focus and establish a visual constancy in the office. 

As color elicits different responses from people, it is important to use it with strong intention and not randomly. 

Photos: Matthew Lofton

Au Naturel

There is universal appeal in scenes of nature, but landscapes do not have to be traditional or predicable. In the conference room, I selected a massive print on acrylic of misty blue mountains and water, which offers the design trifecta: bold graphics, impactful color, and nature.  The rich blue in this element is a compliment to the espresso brown of a conference table made for our project by one of our Indiana makers.


Photo: Matthew Lofton


Offices vary, some offering a more playful aesthetic than others, but using the tools above can help to keep clients and staff feeling comfortable and welcome in even the sleekest modern design.