Look at the style of an office in any given era and you’ll get a glimpse of the defining themes in white-collar workers’ lives at the time.
In booming postwar America, for example, the profusion of GI Bill–educated office workers wore suits, and many workplaces were sleek, serious, and formal. The goal was to signal prestige, according to Louise Mozingo, a professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning at UC Berkeley and the author of Pastoral Capitalism: A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes. “White-collar was a serious distinction because your father was probably a farmer or a blue-collar laborer,” she told me.
These days, most workplaces are much more casual, but their design is no less revealing. Lately, many offices have started to look distinctly less like offices and more like homes. They are filling up with furnishings and flourishes such as comfy sofas, open shelving, framed artwork, mirrors, curtains, rugs, floor lamps, coffee tables, and materials such as wood and linen.
The office-design experts I recently interviewed kept using similar adjectives to describe how many employers want their workplace to feel: comfortable, inviting, familiar, casual. Those are welcome lodestars in an area of design that has historically been utilitarian and drab, but the incorporation of domestic touches into the workplace is a bit unnerving: Even before the coronavirus pandemic, work and home had gotten uncomfortably mushed together for office workers. And with the rise of remote work for this population over the past year and a half, they have only become more so.
The office-design industry has an ungainly made-up word for this aesthetic: resimercial. (That’s a mash-up of residential and commercial.) Natalie Engels, a design principal at the architecture firm Gensler, doesn’t like to use that word herself but explained the look to me nonetheless. “It’s not like you’re going to walk in and it’s going to look like a true living room, but at the same time, [there are] elements from it,” she said.
Those I interviewed said that resimercial design emerged as a trend in offices in the mid-2010s, and that it gained broad popularity near the end of the decade. Employers that favor it hope that a more charming and comfortable physical space might help attract talented workers and help their employees do better work. (This style of design can’t be deployed in many non-office workplaces, though some businesses, such as coffee shops and retail stores, have made spaces homier for the sake of customers.)
Engels noted that at home, for instance, people can improvisationally move furniture based on their moment-to-moment needs. She suggested that bringing this dynamic to an office setting, where furniture has typically been heavy and hard to move, can allow workers to modify their environment and better collaborate.
Domestic spaces also provide some inspiration for solo office work. “In your home, you have the comfort of choosing whatever you need—you can work from the couch, you can work from your bed, you can work by a window where you have great light,” Alejandra Albarran, the vice president of workplace strategy and design …….