Back to work



September: polar opposite hashtags shoot up and down the rankings. First we had #stayingathome, then #summer or #instasummer, now #backtowork is scaling the dizzy heights of the social networks.

Whether it’s a case of smart working, remote working or actually going into the office, September is seeing a counter-exodus back to our desks. In a changed world and in changed ways, of course, but nonetheless in an office environment shared with colleagues, partners or children, depending on where we physically plug our pcs back in again.

Design is there to help us devise and create new soft spaces, adaptable to the various demands of those who live in them, “clean, healthy” spaces, positive and optimistic, to be shared with others while adhering to the safety measures, distanced and separate but nonetheless together, because we have learned that it is the connections between people and nature that make all the difference, over and above technology.

The workplace is evolving into a dynamic, open space with alternating flexible formal and informal areas conducive to individual concentration or interface with colleagues or family members, with open-air spaces, using natural materials and solutions marked out by great consideration for the environment.



Organisation and functionality are imperative, no matter where one works, plus ergonomic furnishings and accessories that must cater for their users’ needs for order and privacy. Creativity and innovation are the keywords for office design that combines the need for high tech, fluid and globally connected spaces with the human touch, the domestic feel of the spaces and a new desire for materiality and naturalness.

Atelier, a project by the Gensler studio for Fantoni, is a flexible furnishing system, devised precisely to respond to a constantly changing workplace, bringing together and organising a variety of functions associated with this particular space. This composite system is made up of four main components – a configurable workstation, a multi-purpose and equally configurable collaboration table, a set of dynamic containers that include a mobile pinboard and a shelving/storage unit systemAtelier embodies workplace configurability and, especially, multifunctionality, informality, teamwork and efficiency, because change doesn’t happen all by itself, it has to be encouraged and facilitated.

Atelier, Fantoni

Atelier, design Studio Gensler, Fantoni

Touch Down Unit by Studio Klass for UniFor offers a range of different working modes and is a perfect workstation even for the domestic environment. Because working in the right environment contributes significantly to the work experience and to productivity. Touch Down Unit is a self-contained workstation equipped with hidden castors for easy moving, and lends itself well to constant changes in the layout and configuration of spaces. It is simple and compact, with a rectangular work surface on top of a closed volume, which opens to reveal two accessorised containers. It boasts a rechargeable battery, electric sockets and USB ports.

 Touch Down Unit, UniFor

Touch Down Unit, design Studio Klass, UniFor

Bridge, by pinuccio borgonovo / paolo pampanoni for Citterio was informed by the fact that workspaces no longer consist of the stereotypical offices and desks, featuring a range of worktops, chairs, shelves and containers that can be reconfigured as desired, in the awareness that technology makes it possible for us to work from anywhere. The bench is the basic element and acts as the loadbearing structure for hanging containers, shelves, free-standing or integrated desks and acoustic screens. Electrical channels under the bench make for easy cable management for every workstation. How they are used largely depends on the heights of the worktops: 65 cm for waiting and conversation areas; 75 cm as desks and meeting-room tables; and 110 cm as benches for meeting areas or reception counters.

Bridge, Citterio

Bridge, design pinuccio borgonovo / paolo pampanoni, Citterio

Tecno has also come up with solutions for adaptable and evolutionary offices. Beta, designed by Pierandrei Associati, is not merely a simple office system but an actual environment, channelling a generative logic of space. Beta’s configurations are achieved by a combination of three components: backbone, desks and accessories. As the number of elements increases, so too do the options for configuring the system, from the largest and most distanced to the more evolutionary layouts.

Beta, Tecno

Beta, design Pierandrei Associati, Tecno

Ferruccio Laviani’s Cartesiano executive system for i4Mariani consists of two intersecting tops, which define the top and base of the desk with its pure but decisive lines – mini office architecture with tall and low cabinets that also fit seamlessly into a domestic environment.

Cartesiano, i4Mariani

Cartesiano, design Ferruccio Laviani, i4Mariani

Offecct’s system stands out for the simplicity, precision and clarity of both design and materials. Osaka by Teruhiro Yanagihara is inspired by the paths in Japanese gardens made of different-sized stones – consisting of organically-shaped elements in sound-absorbing fabric that combine to articulate the space in different ways.

Osaka, Offecct

Osaka, design Teruhiro Yanagihara, Offecct

Arper has always responded to changing workplace demands with ideas for configuring spaces with safety and organisational efficiency uppermost. One such example is the Kiik modular sofa by Ichiro Iwasaki, made up of seating, tables, pouffes and consoles, allowing for myriad different, well-distanced configurations, creating an ideal setting for work and the sharing of ideas, as well as for a relaxing break.

Kiik, Arper

Kiik, design Ichiro Iwasaki, Arper

Giovanni Levanti’s Ambit for Et al is a similar concept, a new system of customisable seats, thanks to the many modules available in different heights and sizes. Engineered to respond to different design needs, Ambit is an open, eclectic and sensory seating system that imbues the space with lightness and tranquillity.

Ambit, Et al.

Ambit, design Giovanni Levanti, Et al.

Then there are the Cabala modular sofas from Softline, which can be arranged and grouped in an endless variety of ways. Uniquely, the direction of the seat can be altered to create two seats facing each other for simultaneous use, should the need arise.

Cabala, Softline

Cabala, Softline

Timeless tailoring and elegance sum up the appearance of Matic, the latest design Piero Lissoni for Knoll. It is a system of sofa components conceived like a platform suspended in space, a cross between an island and a piece of architecture. The low, linear seats have adjustable arm and backrests, thanks to an internal mechanism, making for a supportive and comfortable experience.

Matic,  Knoll

Matic, Knoll

Wherever it is that we have to work, it’s important to make sure that our chairs are still fit for purpose and enable us to maintain a correct posture all day long. Elinor, an executive chair designed by Claudio Bellini for Pedrali certainly fits the bill – it is a multitasking product that responds to the demands of a constantly evolving market. This swivel chair sums up the different attitudes and approaches to office life these days, dynamic, flexible and conscious of people’s wellbeing. The height of chair, with its fluid shape, can be regulated and a weight-activated synchro-tilt mechanism integrated into the upholstered seat allows the tilting to be self-regulated according to the user’s body weight, so that the back remains in a comfortable position.

Ellinor, Pedrali

Ellinor, design Claudio Bellini, Pedrali

Last but not least, Citizen, the new unconventional-looking chair designed by Konstantin Grcic for Vitra, is ideally-suited to flexible and informal work spaces but also to much more homely environments. It is part swivel chair and part chaise longue (in the Highback version) or lounge chair (Lowback version). The novelty lies in the seat, which is suspended by three steel cables affixed to a cantilevered frame. This makes for a tilting seat that that adds to the comfort of the upholstered backrest.

Citizen, Vitra

Citizen, design Konstantin Grcic, Vitra

Another crucial workplace concern is the organisation and filing of documents. Careful, efficient use of bookcases, shelving and sideboards, perhaps in bright, brilliant colours and arranged in a minimalist and intelligent layout that makes the most of the space, offers safety and privacy on one hand, and facilitates conversation and discussion on the other, conferring an open, positive look and generating a feeling of collaboration and sharing. Thus Manerba has called on Philippe Nigro, who must have played a lot with Meccano, Lego or Transformers as a child, because his Stem system is a series of interlocking pieces and variants worthy of any young builder. His main aim was to optimise the space, allowing it to be lived to the full. The frame of the system, which can be altered according to the number and heights of the uprights and shelves, can be fitted with accessories such as open or closed containers (painted in many colours or with fabric-covered doors), small desks, drawers, chests, wardrobes, benches, and dividing and sound-absorbent panels.

Stem, Manerba

Stem, design Philippe Nigro, Manerba

The shelving, drawer units and tops from USM Haller are also modular objects geared to meeting the organisational needs of large workspaces, although they also fit naturally into the home environment. With its mix of customisable colours and elements, formal rigour, flexibility and simplicity, the USM systems feature objects that respond to a need for order and privacy



Colour and customisation are fundamental elements for the Danish brand Montana, especially when it comes to the home office. Company founder Peter J. Lassen believed that the workplace should express the personality of those who work there and should be good-looking, as this is the only way creativity, efficiency and productivity can come together. There are 40 different shades and endless possibilities for customising office systems. Lassen believed that one’s space was a colouring book and that one should not worry about keeping inside the lines.



Changing work demands call for an even greater creative effort. This has informed new product types, such as Napo, designed by Raffaella Mangiarotti for IOC. Napo is a storage unit, a small table that can be raised and lowered, a charging point. A small workstation, really. Thanks to its leather handle and castors, it can easily be moved to wherever one wants to work, be it an armchair, a desk or even a chaise longue; it also serves as a simple seat, however.

 Napo, IOC

Napo, design Raffaella Mangiarotti, IOC

Viccarbe has also come up with a small table that is easy to move around thanks to a sculptural handle in metal, oak or marble. Trino by Elisa Ossino is architecturally-inspired and theatrical in spirit, with the intrinsic elegance of a design that can bring expressivity to the workplace. Ideal for holding a laptop or cup of coffee whilst adhering to social distancing.

Trino, Viccarbe

Trino, design Elisa Ossino, Viccarbe

Lastly, silence and privacy are fundamental requisites for the workspace of today. Furnishing it and shielding oneself from outside noise are crucial. The answer is to choose brightly-coloured and intelligent solutions that are also capable of “lifting” formal spaces, reinventing the domestic environment or making a green statement. To this end, Caimi has come up with Flat by Alberto and Francesco Meda, a system of sound absorption panels with an obvious architectural imprint, distinguished by their clean, minimal design. Four different shapes, with irregular outlines, allow for an endless variety of compositions, even bold ones, as well as pure geometric shapes.

 Flat, Caimi


Flat, design Alberto e Francesco Meda, Caimi

On the other hand, Oasis, designed by Idaid for Slalom, is an acoustically-efficient object, capable of converting a space into a purpose – thanks to its size and shape, it can become a liveable acoustic refuge. A metal frame with a roof of recycled PET felt leaves means that it can be configured in a variety of different ways, and can be integrated with tables and charging points for electronic devices. Ideal for marking out meeting spaces whilst maintaining correct distancing, underscoring the sense of belonging to a place, it can also be used in any kind of space, public or private, becoming a real house “under” a tree.

Oasis, design Idaid, Slalom

Oasis, design Idaid, Slalom

23 September 2020