Office Furniture

A Walk Through The Era of Office Furniture

A Walk through the era of office furniture

We see businesses flourish and thrive, wondering where the magic happens – the humble office. It is the place where the ideas and efforts of one united workforce put out amazing results perceived by the outside world. However, it is an understatement to call it humble, as it houses the great minds behind success. The stark transformation from its crude beginnings to the tasteful workplaces of today, the office indeed has come a long way in becoming the ideal surrounding for productivity. So without further ado, let’s take a closer look at how it all began.

The Evolution Of Office Furniture

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  • The 1700s

Before the 1700’s there was no such thing as an ‘Office’. People had to conduct their official work within their homes, while tending to their personal chores. The idea of the first ‘office’ space came about at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. The onset of the corporate business boom caused businesses to flourish and along with it, the increasing need for more workers. Companies needed to have an area to accommodate these workers where they may maintain their commercial activities. Thus, the first office came into being.
In accordance with the companies, the earliest offices were represented by rows of tables and chairs, evenly spaced and crammed into an open room, with management situated in adjacent private offices. This layout was often referred to as the ‘Taylorist Office’. The first offices solely dedicated to business activities belonged to the East India Trading Company and the Royal Navy in London. During the latter half of the century, fancy roll top desks with innovative filing systems became quite the rage and a must-have piece of furniture for any reputed company. Comfort of employees was considered a low priority compared to the output during this period.

  • The 1800s

Hundred years after the establishment of the first offices, the USA caught on and the notion of an office space was contemplated across the country. This stir in the mundane was caused by the emergence of new technologies of the time, such as the railroad for transportation, inventions such as the typewriter in the 1880s, the telegraph and the telephone in later decades. This turn of events called for better offices that required maximum efficiency and output.
The most prominent features of the office, the desk and chair, started to become a business in itself during the 19th century. In 1876, office equipment and furniture were displayed as popular exhibits at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The dynamic, curving Art Nouveau desk, which to this day is still considered an iconic classic, was launched by Henry van de Velde in 1899. Another key element of every workplace, which we noticeably overlook almost all the time, is the office chair. Ever wondered why we have wheels on our office chairs? We owe this to none other than the famous naturalist, Charles Darwin, who took the world by storm with his Theory of Evolution. Being the workaholic that he was, Darwin was frustrated that he couldn’t get to his specimens quickly enough, which was when inspiration struck. He fixed wheels on his armchair so that he could move about the room faster. In the decades that followed, businesses began to recognize the benefits of such a piece of furniture and introduced swivelling chairs with wheels to their staff. Voila! The office chair as we know it was born.
As the workload grew, so did the demand and need for more workers. This was when the biggest advancements in the 19th century occurred. Businesses began an experiment – Hiring of women for the first time. The experiment was a success and women became a huge hit in the workplace, rocketing productivity.

  • The 1900s

The 20th century was a period of rapid advancement in all fields. Many of these laid the foundation for the office as we perceive it today. Technologies such as the elevator and the steel frame, allowed buildings to be raised higher than before, allowing business owners to generate maximum income from the site. This new era, saw the emergence of the skyscraper, which was designed to accommodate many companies within one tall building. Taller buildings allowed for workforces multiple times bigger than the usual size, to work on the same square feet of land. This was considered an advantage, as the prices of land at the time were escalating due to the expansion of cities.
The furniture in the office started to change along with the layout itself. Private offices typically contained elegant desking solutions and space for visitors to meet, usually accompanied by a scenic view. Staff were provided with spacious workstations and comfort became more of a concern. Consequently, the quality of furniture improved with the launch of iconic products like Marcel Breuer’s tubular steel desk (1930s), George Nelson’s ‘Home Office Desk’ (1947) and the Eames Lounge Chair designed by the Eames (1957).
The second half of the 20th century had fashions and trends that rapidly changed with each passing decade, as did the styles and layouts of offices that people worked in. In the 60s, offices emanated a vintage, industrial look, containing large metal desks with drawers for filing paperwork, manual typewriters and industrial-style lamps. By contrast, the 1970s replaced the simple design of the 60s, with bold and bright colors to simulate the disco-esque culture of the time. Cubicles made an appearance and furniture were made of wood rather than steel or other metals. On the onset of the Technological Revolution in the 1980s, sleek and simple desk designs returned. The typewriter was replaced by the very first computers and word processors, which meant that the desks had to be bigger to make room for larger machines. With the arrival of the 90s, offices were still made up of cubicles but the height of the partitions were decreased, so that coworkers could see each other. Large computers were stored under the desks with bulky monitors and printers on top. Emphasis on comfort and proper posture were made with the launch of the Aeron chair designed by Herman Miller.

  • The 2000s

The approach of the new millennium brought with it the Third Industrial Revolution, which no longer needed workers to be bound to their desks. Cubicles were replaced by ‘pod’-style desks with better storage capabilities. With the advent of the Digital Age, communal spaces and shared desks started to emerge, as laptops and smaller mobile phones, encouraged movement within the office. In the 2010s, the office space transformed into a more laid back design, with comfort and creativity taking the lead. Inspiration for furniture are now taken from our homes, to ensure comfort and longer work hours.


We do not know what’s in store for us in the upcoming years in sense of style but what we do know is that the future of offices are far from being bleak and boring.
A creative and well-designed office is crucial for attracting the best talent to a company. A unique, relaxing environment ensures mindfulness and the ability to discern in clients. It is key to set this mood, for an office to achieve its ultimate purpose.

Are you planning to create a new workstation? Are you thinking of updating your office space?

Check out our latest, classy series of office furniture right here at Furniture Mart.

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