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Three Questions to Ask When Specifying a Residential Brand for a Commercial Space


Resimercial. Respitality™. Soft Contract. There are many terms on the market today to describe the use of residentially designed furniture in commercial spaces. The design trend is hot, and many would argue is here to stay, specifically as the lines between work and home continue to blur. People are looking to replace the buttoned-up workplace environment with a more casual vibe, complete with fully stocked kitchens, relaxation spaces, and even workplace amenities like childcare centers and laundry services. There’s no denying it – the workplace is becoming more comfortable.

Perhaps this is due to the demand for a homier space, specifically as people are starting to transition to living at work and working at home. But many believe it's also due, in part, to a reduced furniture budget. Buyers aremoving to this furniture not only because it looks good, but also because - in some cases - they don't have the budget to afford contract furniture. Leases are getting shorter and the cost per square foot is rising; as a result, furniture dollars are being spent elsewhere. While some are left with little choice, others are choosing residential brands for well-intended reasons. Regardless of the reason, we have to wonder: are we paying for it in the end?

Residential furniture was designed for just that, the residence. What happens when this furniture doesn’t hold up to the durability standards of an office? What happens when there are quality or safety concerns? How does the distribution and customer service of a brand designed to service Mary and Tim, who placed an order of two armchairs, size up when a large office places an order for 50 of the same armchairs using the same channels? As we look to achieve the residential look in our commercial spaces, here are three considerations we can’t ignore.


Quality Ratings

Commercially, the Wyzenbeek Test historically has been considered the standard of measuring wear resistance for fabric in North America. The test ranks textiles based on the amount of wear and tear they show after running through a back and forth fabric rub. A newer set of guidelines, theACT Voluntary Performance Guidelines, uses a broader set of standards to test. ACT classify pieces into three categories: Low Traffic, Private Spaces, and High Traffic. Public Spaces are tested using the following parameters: wet and dry crocking, physical properties, colorfastness, surface abrasion resistance, and flammability. Brands that have undergone this testing carry the Registered Certification Marks. When specifying residential brands, look for textiles that have undergone these tests, and adhere to the needs of your space.

Researching the quality of a residential piece is important due to the variance in warranties from residential and commercial brands. Residential furniture typically is less expensive than contract - sometimes as much as one-third of the price - but that, in part, is due to the limited warranty. When damaged, residential furniture often is cheaper to replace than repair. On the other hand, contract furniture often features 10-year, 24/7 or even lifetime warranties, allowing buyers to avoid the hassle of sourcing a new piece when a piece is damaged.


Safety Concerns

Warranties are important, but so is safety. Contract furniture has standards related to indoor air quality (IAQ). Some textiles, such as glues and engineered woods, emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as gases, and according to theEPA, concentrations of many VOCs can be as much as ten times higher indoors than outdoors. While textiles are only one contributing factor to evaluating VOC emissionswhen specifying a piece for an indoor office space, residential brands often aren’t required to adhere to the same strict standards to which contract furniture must conform.

What’s more, many residential brands don’t undergo testing for weight limits. BIFMA has created several standards for seatingthat ensure that individuals don’t get hurt when sitting on furniture. Contract furniture dealers ensure that their specified products meet both those BIFMA standards, as well as ADA requirements. Simply stated, while a residential piece may be cheaper or more familiar, there are many more things to consider when specifying a piece for a commercial space.


Customer Service That Appeals to the Commercial Sector

Look for a brand that acknowledges the differences between a residential and a commercial consumer, because - let’s face it - the differences are there. Perhaps you need four additional pieces from an order you placed last year but now it’s discontinued, or maybe a button falls off of a sofa you ordered and now there’s no department to help you. If you’ve ordered from a residential brand in the past, these are just a few of the problems that you may have run into.

To combat these problems, residential brands need to create a division dedicated to commercial customers. Michael Chaney, Director of Business Sales, Crate and Barrel, shares that the key to growth in the company’s designated commercial sector, CB2, is giving commercial customers a tailored experience different from a consumer.

“We’ve experienced growth by creating efficiencies around how we sell to commercial customers and changed the mindset of what we are offering,” explains Chaney. “Previously, we were reactive to how we deal with commercial customers - we weren’t doing any outreach. Now we are building relationships and promoting services that differentiate us from competition in the commercial space. It’s been a great shift in mindset for the team and provides our customers with a customized experience appropriate for the commercial sector, including mood boards, 3D renderings, and Crate and Barrel associate installations.”

When selecting a residential brand for a commercial space, there are so many more things to consider beyond visual appeal. While the space may look casual and feel comfortable, it's equally important to ensure that it functions as a space to actually work. While we’re at it, let’s also chose pieces that will last. Commercial furniture still remains the best choice for office design, but if specifying a residential brand is requested, look for a leader in quality, safety, and customer service.


This article was originally published in The Business of Furniture, a division of Bellow Press, on October 31, 2018. It is reprinted here with permission.

About the author: Amanda Schneider, LEED AP is a researcher, blogger for the Huffington Post, and the founder of ThinkLab, a research led strategy firm serving the contract interiors market.

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