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Introducing Sound-Absorbing Furniture Into Open Office Environments


By Naomi Millán Ceilings, Furniture & Walls
Lounge seating arrangement in the Herman Miller showroom at NeoCon

Layered and rich textures in the commercial and institutional environment are a design trend that has continued over the last few years, as evidenced by all the felted wool, nubby upholstery, and handsome textiles on display at NeoCon this past week in Chicago.

The trend is driven by a need to introduce sound-absorbing material into unforgiving open office acoustic environments, as well as the continued blending of residential, hospitality, and commercial design. However, in high-use commercial environments, beauty is not the most important attribute. Hard-wearing, resilient fabrics that are easy to maintain are critical.

At the Herman Miller showroom, Joseph White, director of workplace strategy, design, and management, explained some of the key attributes to consider to get both a high look and high performance out of upholstery and other fabric selections.

First, wool is a workhorse.  Nylon was designed to mimic the performance attributes of wool, White says. So while wool is beautiful to look at and touch, it also is very durable. However, natural fibers like wools and cottons benefit from the additional strength of being blended with a nylon or other synthetic.

Next look for abrasion resistance. Fabrics are subjected to a double-rub test (formally Wyzenbeek test) where a machine rubs a sample of the fabric until wear is detected. White says a fabric that can withstand 5,000 rubs will be a pretty solid performer in an office setting, but for ultimate confidence go for at least 10,000 rub fabrics. Heavy-duty commercial use falls between 15 to 30,000 double rubs. Extra heavy duty spaces, such as 24-hour use spaces, require even more durable materials that can withstand 30,000 rubs or more. Nobody is putting boucle on a banquette in a hospital waiting room anyway, but even extra-heavy duty fabrics can have a handsome hand and look. For example, the fabrics White was exhibiting measure out in the 50 to 100,000 double rub range, he says, and they certainly did not look utilitarian.

In addition to a good fiber, look to complex color to hide visible dirt. This does not have to mean a busy pattern. White held up a cushion where the weave created subtleties in tone that would help to camouflage spills or other dirt. Of course, the fabric was also a brown tone, which naturally helps.

When selecting accent or lounge furniture pieces for your next office renovation, consider the hardworking options available in bringing a luxe touch to your space.

Naomi Millán is senior editor of Building Operating Management. 

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