With the abrupt shift to most consumers working and learning remotely, spaces within their homes have blended. The home office for many is also the dining room, and the kitchen is also the classroom. As a result, consumers are looking for home furnishings that marry form and function whether it be through repurposing products, incorporating color into a space, or using the latest product technology.
In 2021, consumers created home offices using a wide range of furnishings, attempting to make the most of their spaces. While home office product lines became increasingly popular, so did the use of non-office items repurposed for working — long-legged tables were used as standing desks, bar carts as organization tables and more.
Following this shift, retailers began grouping products across categories into an all-encompassing “work from home” segment.
“Not everybody has a dedicated home office room,” says Neil MacKenzie, Universal Furniture’s Vice President of Marketing. “Even if that means turning a second bedroom into a mixed space where one could work, we’ve seen several unexpected products serve the needs of things that would be more traditional.”
Universal’s work from home line includes consoles, desks, chairs and more — though not all products fall within the traditional home-office cohort. The group recently launched a vanity desk, for example, which is suited for both a both bedroom and home office situation.
“Nowadays, we’re not creating the traditional executive office,” MacKenzie says. “Since the product is a work desk and vanity hybrid, depending on your needs, it could serve as either. Some people might just need an elegant writing desk that has a little bit of storage. Others will have other needs.”
MacKenzie says he has also seen several of Universal’s etageres being used for storage.
“I think people are looking for ways to create a little bit of storage, while also having the space to spread out for a period of time,” he says, “We’ve seen customers going for vertical etageres instead of horizontal, depending on the constraints of their space. We’ve even seen small kitchen items, like bar height tables, being used in spaces they weren’t intended for — but it’s totally functional.”
Universal’s Elena Counter Table lives the double life MacKenzie has familiarized us with. Though it functions as additional seating within in a living room setting, its three bar height stools make it versatile.
“It certainly can work [as intended], but we’ve seen it also makes for a really functional workspace, almost like if you were sitting and working in an airport lounge,” MacKenzie says. “You could easily have two people sitting on either side working for a period of time too, if you wanted.”
Tech Benefits, Health Benefits
The pandemic also created seismic shifts in customer behavior. With consumers finding themselves working and studying at home, they’ve needed furniture and other supplies to keep them productive.
At Twin Star, the group is seeing increased performance particularly in electronic adjustable height desks according to Lisa Cody, the company’s Senior Vice President.
“The continued proliferation of electronic devices to support office activities has buoyed the demand for desks and tables featuring built-in outlets, cord management systems and other compatible features,” she says.
The group’s mechanically adjustable standing desk, for example, garnered wide-spanning attention during the pandemic, even going viral on TikTok.
The desk allows users to program three different height settings via a built-in control panel. To combat the increasingly sedentary work-from-home lifestyle, a built-in timer also reminds them to stand up throughout the day.
“This has benefitted customers in terms of productivity and boosting a healthier lifestyle,” Cody says.
The desk also features wireless charging and a multi-port station for additional devices. The partitioned drawer stores desk supplies to keep essentials in reach.
“The glass top is also dry erase compatible, so you can keep reminders or goals in sight at all times,” Cody says.
Hints of Color
Wildwood Furniture’s Laurie Acree, Director of Design and Visual Merchandising, focused on incorporating color and vibrancy into her home office designs during the pandemic. Her recent Bamboo Office Series has been a major success.
With the Bamboo series, customers are given the option to add touches of Benjamin Moore paint color to any piece — a pale pink inside of a drawer, or a mossy green on the back of a shelf. Wildwood’s Savannah Lamp Series also allows customers to incorporate a matching Pantone lamp. Adding these subtle sections of color offers a hint of flair in a less overt fashion.
“I wanted to leave things somewhat neutral for the work surface,” Cody says. “If you think about it from an interior designer standpoint, we need our work surface to be white or grey so it doesn’t affect any colors we’re selecting for fabrics or wallpapers, and I really wanted our customers to experience color in a neutral way. But adding a custom color to a shelf or inside of a drawer — it gives the piece more of a ‘pop.’”
The shelving units on Wildwood’s Bamboo Cabinet and Etagere were also designed to accommodate a home office printer on the largest shelf, according to Acree.
“I designed the shelf around the printer I use at our showroom,” she says. “It’s something I felt was really important because printers are so big. There is also a place for the cord to go so it’s hidden and out of the way.”
The bamboo cabinet also features two usable drawers, and a large working surface. Inside the cabinet, additional drawers are available for paper management.
“In our industry, color brings us joy,” she says. “During the pandemic, I felt it was important that we brought some happiness to our customers. I think that by incorporating color in a unique way, that went over really well.”