Hard Work

The role of the office furniture trader is no longer limited to just selling chairs and desks to end-users. The rise in concerns over ergonomics, health and safety, not to mention aesthetic design has meant that where once office furniture companies merely sold a product, they are now taking on the roles of consultants, designers and work place theorists.

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By  Charlotte Butterfield Published  December 18, 2006

|~|arki-body-1.gif|~||~|The role of the office furniture trader is no longer limited to just selling chairs and desks to end-users. The rise in concerns over ergonomics, health and safety, not to mention aesthetic design has meant that where once office furniture companies merely sold a product, they are now taking on the roles of consultants, designers and work place theorists.

The showroom of Arki Group Design in Dubai provides evidence of the changing face of the office. The functional desks have hidden wire control systems, cooling devices for multiple screens, height adjustable surfaces all in a range of finishes and materials, but the real difference is the amount of space awarded to seating for breakout areas or the newly evolved social spaces in the office. Ideal for a quick brain-storming session or casual conference with a client, these areas give the opportunity to feature funky designer-style furniture that promotes the company’s creative and design-conscious side, regardless of whether the company is a young advertising agency or an established bank chain.

||**|||~|arki-body-2.gif|~||~|Hani Al Qasem, executive director, Arki Group, says that: “The ethos of modern office designers is to make the furniture and layout of the office space work for the client. The furniture is becoming much more than the functional desk and chair of standard offices. Instead, the furniture has to be an asset for the company that promotes the productivity of the employees.” Cathy Beasley, Cityspace agrees: “Ergonomic design considerations have been shown to influence employee recruitment and retention. A major incentive to purchase ergonomic equipment and to design ergonomic environments is the improved performance and well being of staff.”

Arki Group distributes around eight international companies, and focuses on contemporary rather than traditional styles. Al Qasem explains: “Too many showrooms try and encompass both styles, but we have decided to focus on one niche. The showroom is designed to serve the corporate market with modern and timeless items that serve the designers, consultants and clients.”

“We find these companies at international exhibitions, and the award-winners of design competitions, such as the iF award and the Red Dot Award are great for highlighting the companies that are making good products that we could display here.” Al Qasem’s own desk is the ‘ix’ from Nurus, an iF award winner. “We have won a lot of projects with this desk,” he says. The desk is part of a new breed of manager desks that are designed to double up as small conference desks too, large enough for four people to easily sit around, making transferring to a meeting room unnecessary.
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The Turkish office firm, Nurus, is well represented in the showroom with its coveted ‘Connect’ soft seating designed by Inci Mutlu taking prime position in the showroom. Ideal for lobbies, lounges and breakout areas, the circular configuration is much more informal and sociable than a long line of bench seating. Similarly, the ‘To’ Sofa by Nurus, bridges the boundary between purely business furniture and relaxed seating. Arki has just installed this sofa in Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank and Dubai Investment offices. “It encompasses the local concept of ‘Majlis’ where people meet for business and drink coffee — these sofas are ideal for that,” Al Qasem says.

One interesting piece of furniture that Arki displays in both Sycamore wood and a pure acrylic polymer finish, is the Techlamaken bench. The curved bench is reminiscent of the desert’s sand dunes on the silk route with undulating lines that make the seat surprisingly comfortable. “Nurus do nice timeless European designs but at good prices as they manufacture the furniture in Turkey because of currency and controllable labour costs,” Al Qasem adds.

UK-based Boss Design focuses on modern task seating in vibrant colours, ideal for adding a splash of accent colour in bright airy social spaces. The Sumo chairs provide a design twist on the conventional tub armchairs with one side higher than the other. Its Eye Chair was designed by a UK design student, then bought by Boss and is now a very popular choice for waiting rooms and breakout areas. The quirky configurations by Set 26 gained the attention of judges in the Red Dot Award as it provides an ingenious storage solution for offices or hospitality areas as even fridges can be installed inside the oversized letters and numbers.
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The most functional items in the showroom are by Swiss company, Erich Keller, who specialises in desks for traders and banks. Designed to have up to eight screens displayed, the U-Com desks are extra deep, have expandable systems, cooling systems, optimum cable management and easy height adjustment. Its sister company, Alu Office, showcases its aluminium square joint storage system which won the Red Dot Award. It has numerous configurations, colours and materials and Arki has displayed it in the form of a reception desk, bookcases and various filing storage solutions.

Arki has expanded into other areas of office fit outs such as flooring and walls. Citterio specialises in acoustic partitioning for commercial spaces and Arki is now distributing eco-friendly carpet from Bentley Prince Street in addition to carpet from German company, Dura, who supply carpet to car manufacturers, such as: Mercedes, Porsche, BMW and Bentley. The Dura Air Technology carpet transfers smoke and harmful gases that are prone to getting trapped in traditional carpets into oxygen — which is perfect for public areas.

||**|||~|Arki-body-5.gif|~||~|“It is all about improving employees productivity. It is very important for office designers to place the right product in the right place.” Al Qasem adds that the Middle East needs to catch up with Europe and the US where research and theories on work place efficiency are grabbing the attention of employers. “What clients in the Gulf region need to realise is that companies like mine need time to design, supply and fit out. In this region we are facing massive time issues. Clients want the special features and custom-finishes but then expect it to be in stock and ready there and then. They need to plan ahead. When planning an office, clients need to plan for the flexibility of expansion and to use the furniture to work for them.”

As the furniture Arki supplies is from international companies, it adheres to European standards in ergonomics where workplace efficiency is really big news. Charles Van Schalkwyk, an independent office consultant to Kinnarps office furniture manufacturer says: “The increase in health, safety and well-being due to the good ergonomic environment will positively affect productivity and efficiency. This is achieved through the decrease in absenteeism, the reduction in errors, reduction in time wastage and more lean productivity.”

Arki Group also plans to expand into a hospitality range for restaurants and hotels at the start of 2007, distributing products from companies like Italian furniture company, Arper. ||**||

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