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Competition for good employees is among factors driving interior design trends

COURTESY: SCOTT|EDWARDS ARCHITECTURE  - Scott|Edwards Architecture has found that the open design concept utilizing natural materials is still very popular for offices and creative spaces.

In order to attract and retain the best and brightest employees, companies are turning to interior designers to help create work environments that are welcoming, comfortable and even fun.

"We're hearing our clients say, 'What can we do to appeal to younger employees and be more competitive from a hiring standpoint?'" said Elizabeth Kale, director of interiors for Scott Edwards Architecture.

Kale said light, open spaces and natural materials such as wood continue to be popular, particularly in offices for creative professionals. "It seems like it's a trend that just keeps going and it certainly fits the Portland and Northwest character."

Amenities such as parking for bikes and smart cars, sit-and-stand desks, fitness centers and recreation rooms are included in the interior design plans for some companies, and many want to include some sustainable materials even if they don't necessarily want to pay for a LEED-certified or green building, she said.

"People want to tell a sustainable story, and it's almost another kind of marketing piece for them," Kale said. "Another way of adding those nicer design elements is integrating indoor and outdoor spaces. A lot of firms are wanting to see if they can put in roof decks or patios to create those outdoor spaces for people."

Kale noted that while open, collaborative spaces continue to be included in workplace interior design, the pendulum on some configurations is returning to more traditional trends, including a few private offices and quiet rooms for people to use the phone.

Amanda Clausen LEED AP, senior associate and interior designer with Bassetti Architects, said tech companies are driving several commercial office trends, including open common areas for people to gather and, in lieu of conference rooms, more casual work spaces that are wired for technology so people aren't tethered to a desk all day.

"It's all about breaking down the scale of space and providing space for group activity as well as what I like to call introverted and extroverted spaces where you can be quiet and alone or where you can have small group activities," she said.

Bassetti Architects also does education projects, and Clausen said these design concepts are filtering down to schools as well. "We're preparing children to go into the workforce so we're creating environments that will introduce them to that," she said.

As the firm designed its own office in the Ecotrust building, it wanted to create a space that made the most of the building's natural light and provided employees with access to an outdoor patio so they could be exposed to daylight throughout the workday. The firm specializes in historic preservation and wanted its office to respect the character of the building as well. There are no private offices, even for upper management, and the open environment still gives employees access to conference rooms.

"We made the conference rooms glassy so you can see the activity. One of the challenges with offices is when you have walls, it can become very stark. We wanted the conference rooms to be very transparent," she said.

COURTESY: BASETTI ARCHITECTS - In addition to business projects, Basetti Architects also does design work for education facilities. They seek to have a consistency in design elements between the two so students become accustomed to what their workplace environment might be.

"Architecture firms don't typically remodel every year or every five years like retail space, so we wanted it to be fun and represent the Portland community but not look so kitchy that it's outdated in a few years," Clausen said, adding the firm incorporated graphics that reflect Portland's character but can be changed out periodically to keep the office looking unique.

Amy Arroyo, director of interior design for Soderstrom Architects, defines current interior design trends as "flexibility, minimalism and simplicity." While it depends on the space an office is going into, such as an older building versus new construction, and the client's goals and budget, simplicity remains a driving trend.

In terms of flexibility, a conference room can become an event space by having simple but elegant interiors with easily movable furniture and walls. Storage needs, lighting and HVAC, among other systems, play a key role as well, she said.

"The idea is to transform the spaces easily and effectively for various functions," Arroyo said.

"Offices are opening their doors to facilitating different events that expose them to the market, and more engagement with the community is becoming more important to business growth."

She belongs to a few organizations in Portland that hold their monthly meetings at different offices, and the company sponsoring the event by providing the space gets to spend a few minutes telling attendees about their services. The flexible spaces are generally planned with good views and outdoor access, Arroyo noted.

"It also allows for providing amenities to their employees, like providing a yoga class at noon. This helps with employee retention," she said.

Flexible space also allows entrepreneurs who want to be in the heart of the city to rent or lease less space. "The spaces have to be planned with growth potential in mind. This is tricky but can be done with thoughtful planning," Arroyo said.

Melody Finnemore is a contract writer who regularly contributes to the Business Tribune. She can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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