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How Your Office Space Impacts Employee Well-Being

Industrial Office Area (drawing) – 3d illustrationGETTY

In the last 20 years, the modern office has gone through a number of evolutions. The early 2000s saw the death of cubicle farms and the rise of open floorplans, and 2015 brought waves of ping pong and foosball tables to offices everywhere. While office trends come and go, one thing that does not change is the impact that the office environment has on employee health and wellbeing.

A quality workspace design leads to a less stressful and more productive atmosphere. It’s essential that employers take the physical work environment of their employees into consideration. Employees need to feel comfortable and calm in their physical work settings to produce their best work.

According to the Fellowes Workplace Wellness Trend Report, employees also want to work in a healthy environment. Here are some findings from the survey:

  • An overwhelming majority (87%) of workers would like their current employer to offer healthier workspace benefits, with options ranging from wellness rooms, company fitness benefits, sit-stands, healthy lunch options and ergonomic seating.
  • Interestingly, employees of younger companies are less likely (34%) to be turned down when asking for in-office benefits like sit-stand desks, than employees at established companies (42%).
  • 93% of workers in the tech industry said they would stay longer at a company who would offer healthier workspace benefits, with options ranging from wellness rooms, company fitness benefits, sit-stands, healthy lunch options and ergonomic seating.

One company, ROOM, is addressing the growing need for privacy in the workplace with their phone booth, a sound-proofed, ventilated, powered booth that can give employees a place to take a video call or get some uninterrupted time to focus on work.

“We spend almost a third of our lives in the office, and in order to find and retain top talent, it’s essential for companies to foster an environment that empowers people with the right space to work, think and collaborate naturally. Seventy percent of offices today are open plan, and the open plan layout can be fantastic. But it really needs to be implemented correctly with employee productivity and happiness in mind. From offering private rooms to take a call and quiet spaces for meditation to fun, comfortable areas that foster collaboration, it’s imperative to think about building office spaces with different environments to maximize employee wellbeing. At ROOM, we’re setting a new standard for the workplace, and we believe that our phone booth offers the perfect starting place for teams of all sizes to create a happier, healthier, and more productive work environment,” says Morten Meisner-Jensen, Co-Founder of ROOM.

Office design is such a valuable business investment; there’s even an international organization that has established requirements to create productive and comfortable indoor environments. The WELL Building Standard™ (WELL) is the premier standard for buildings, interior spaces and communities seeking to implement, validate and measure features that support and advance human health and wellness. Administered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBITM), and certified by Green Business Certification Inc., the WELL Building Standard is the first standard that focuses on human health and wellbeing into design, construction and operations of buildings. According to the IWBITM, workplace design that considers air quality, lighting, views onto nature and the general layout of the interior can significantly impact on health, satisfaction, wellbeing and staff productivity.


The WELL Building Standard focuses on seven concepts of building performance: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort and Mind. Even if you have no immediate plans (or the budget!) to become WELL Certified, companies can still utilize the principles to help create a healthier environment. Let’s dive in deeper and see how you can bring these concepts to your company:


The quality of air within an office can have a significant impact on your employees’ health and in turn productivity. Research carried out by the World Green Building Council recorded an 11% increase in productivity as a result of increased fresh air to the workstation and a reduction in pollutants. Here are a few ways you can impact the air quality:

  • Implement a no-smoking policy
  • Develop green cleaning protocols and keep office clutter-free
  • Install air filtration systems
  • Maintain a healthy level of humidity
  • Add some office plants
  • Open windows


Our brains are 73% water, so water consumption helps improve sleep quality and energy levels, as well as our ability to focus, our clarity of mind, and our awareness and alertness. This, in turn, helps us become more productive at work. Here are a few ways you can help your employees increase their water intake:

  • Provide safe drinking water
  • Install a water cooler
  • Educate employees about the benefits of drinking water
  • Host water challenges


We’ve all heard the saying “you are what you eat,” and this saying might be especially true in the workplace. What your employees eat fuels and powers their days at the office. If you want your employees to feel energized, focused, and productive, you’ll want them eating a nutritious, balanced diet that supplies them with the nourishment their bodies need to succeed. Encourage better eating habits and food culture with these tips:

  • Improve the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Limit access to processed foods
  • Label food clearly for food allergies
  • Improve access to good hand washing facilities
  • Make nutritional information available
  • Promote healthy food options over advertising unhealthy ones
  • Foster mindful eating – create dedicated eating spaces


study conducted by the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell showed that employees seated within 10 feet of a window reported an 84% decrease in eyestrain, headaches, and blurred vision symptoms. Here are a few ways to rethink your office lighting design:

  • Consider adding skylights
  • Control glare
  • Maximize natural lighting
  • Move big, bulky furniture that blocks sunlight 
  • Replace flickering lights
  • Layer different types of lighting in a workspace, such as ambient and task lighting


Our bodies were made to move, not sit all day. Employees who lead an active lifestyle are likely to be more productive. Because exercise increases the blood flow to the brain, employees will get a boost of energy and alertness. This can also sharpen their concentration and decision-making skill. A few ways to encourage movement at work include offering:

  • Open and accessible stairways
  • Shower facilities
  • Bicycle storage
  • Adjustable workstations
  • Space for physical activity


The office should be a place of comfort. The use of correct ergonomics can lessen muscle fatigue, increase productivity, and reduce the severity of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which are the most frequently cited causes of lost work time. A few ways to create distraction-free, comfortable environments include:

  • Ergonomically crafted work areas with the ability to alternate from sitting to standing positions
  • Provide employees with different areas to work during their day
  • Limit sound from building systems and create quiet zones
  • Create breakout areas, hot desking and informal meeting areas, and creative spaces for brainstorming


The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace study showed that people who work in spaces with natural features reported 15% higher levels of overall wellbeing. Furthermore, the respondents expressed feeling 6% more productive and 15% more creative at work. If the interior design of an office considers the occupants such as creating both breakout space and social space, improvements are found in concentration, collaboration, confidentiality and creativity. Optimize employees’ emotional health through these strategies:

  • Create collaborative spaces, as well as areas to relax and de-stress
  • Add greenery: potted plants, living walls or flower gardens
  • Design outdoor spaces (rooftop patio or staff garden)
  • Offer flexibility – give options for where and how employees want to work

The research shows how workplace design positively influences health, wellbeing, employee satisfaction, and performance. There is huge potential for improving and making a positive impact on employee wellbeing through human-centered design. By simply offering employees areas to recharge and taking their comfort into consideration, you can easily make subtle changes to improve the physical environment at your office.

Continue reading How Your Office Space Impacts Employee Well-Being

Toronto Ranked First In North America For Most Construction Cranes In The Sky


Toronto is booming, and the amount of cranes on the skyline are reflecting that. 

In the summer of 2018, it was noted that Toronto had the highest number of cranes in North America. While frustrating for those who like a view and hate construction noise, it is a good sign that Toronto is a city on the move. 

Now, a new tally by Rider Levett Bucknall’s North American Crane Index shows that the city has added another seven cranes onto that score, bringing the total to a whopping 104 cranes. 

The firm notes that 400 high-rises are set for development in the future as well.

Other cities that managed to make the list include Seattle in second place and Los Angeles in third. Some others that have a ton of cranes include Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Portland, and only one other Canadian city: Calgary. 

Residential projects make up 46 per cent of the cranes in Toronto (read: condos). 

Some Toronto councillors have expressed concern over the amount of development, citing a severe lack of sunlight and open space. 

Hopefully by the time the next report comes out, Toronto will also be topping lists for the number of new parks under development. But, probably not. 

Lead photo by Lyndsay Jobe

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Continue reading Toronto Ranked First In North America For Most Construction Cranes In The Sky


Even in the age of virtual reality, model homes are a crucial part of the new home sales process, say five industry pros.

A Miller & Smith model home in the Embrey Mill community in Stafford, Va.
Courtesy Miller & SmithA Miller & Smith model home in the Embrey Mill community in Stafford, Va.

A beautiful model home can be vital to closing a new home sale. Because most customers prefer to walk through a home before making a decision, the interactive nature of a well staged model home often seals the deal.

Nevertheless, some builders are relying less on built models in favor of virtual tours, web-based photo galleries, and videos. Does this mean that technology will eventually replace the traditional model home? Here, BUILDER asks five home building pros their views on the state of the model home.

Dennis Webb
Vice president of operations, Fulton Homes
Tempe, Ariz.

Are model homes still relevant?
Of course. They are not only relevant, but essential. We have 3D tours, electronic visualizers, and interactive floor plans, but they are designed to work in harmony with model homes. Model homes give the buyer the opportunity to truly experience and understand what it would be like to live in the home.

How do you ensure that your model homes are effective?
Sales drive our decisions on which floor plans and design options to use. Based on the model experience of customers, we look at which floor plans and options are popular. We also look at popular design trends that are chosen in our 13,000-square-foot design center for inspiration. It is set up just like a retail shop, where the customer has thousands of options from floor to ceiling to pick from.
As for the trends we’re seeing, black is coming into fashion in accessory areas such as faucets and lighting. Gold will also have a place with cabinet hardware light fixtures and faucets.

What are some of your new ideas in model homes?
In our sales center that is housed in the garage of the first model, we use six computers so that sales associates can demonstrate everything electronically before anyone even enters the models.
The Design Center hosts a “Browse Night” two days a month, allowing even those not under contract for a home to visit during the mini-event and price-out options.

Renée Pratt
Chief designer, Rotelle Studio(e)
South Coventry, Pa.

Are model homes are still relevant?
Model homes are more important today than ever before! With the constant changes in design trends, buyers want to experience the feeling of a home. They want to see how these online design trends translate into real life. We love to take risks with our model homes to show our clients just how amazing their own home can be.

How do you ensure that your model homes are effective?
It is an exciting time to be in the building/design industry as trends are rapidly changing. We are constantly looking at what our clients are asking for along with incorporating current trends. And we do all of this in an affordable way. This allows our clients to take some risks with design as well as personalize their new home.

What are some of your new ideas in model homes?
We concentrate on areas that are important to buyers these days. Some examples include kitchens with large islands that seat eight to 10 people; great mud rooms with organized spaces for the whole family; larger home office spaces as more people are working from home; and of course, an amazing master bathroom with oversized showers. And because we offer these extra amenities at affordable prices, we see more and more of our clients following our trends and incorporating them into their new home.

James Miller
Regional president of Texas homebuilding division, Empire Communities

Are model homes are still relevant?
I think model homes continue to be relevant for today’s buyers because, as great as technology is, there’s nothing that can quite replace the experience of physically being in a model and touring each space. Buying a home is a big investment and commitment. It is an emotional process and has a lot to do with what the buyers feel and experience. Virtual reality and internet-based home tours are excellent tools but we are not sure technology can totally replace the tactile experience of visiting a model.

How do you ensure that your model homes are effective?
At Empire, we put a lot of thought into both the architectural and interior design of each model home to ensure that our model not only complements the overall community vision but also fits the needs of potential buyers in that area. We are now building in eight communities across Houston with pricing from the $190’s to high $600’s, but the Empire experience is the same across the board. Each of our model homes is unique but you will find a consistent look and feel.

Our team also works very hard to deliver the best customer experience both on and offline. Buyers are more knowledgeable today and spend a lot of time researching before they ever visit our model, so we invest heavily in our online experience. We provide valuable home buyer resources and content highlighting the community, area amenities, schools and all the floorplans that we offer. We also feature interactive floorplans to help buyers visualize different architectural options that they can explore. And once buyers visit our model home, we hope that the model home complements the online experience.

Kim Ambrose
Vice president of marketing, Miller & Smith
McLean, Va.

Are model homes still relevant?
While virtual/internet home tours certainly make it more convenient for buyers to learn more about our homes, we feel these tools simply help buyers narrow down the selection of which communities/models they will actually visit in person. Most buyers prefer to see and touch the details of our homes and communities before they sign a contract.

Historically, a home purchase is still usually the largest purchase a person makes and the actual onsite visits are usually what close the deal. Visiting on-site models and talking with our sales managers allows home buyers to work through all of their questions much quicker and easier than online communication. Not to say we haven’t had a buyer who has bought and only virtually visited our communities, but we find that VR and internet-based home tours are another first step towards buying their new home.

How do you ensure that your model homes are effective?
We do a considerable amount of market research up front to determine the buyer’s profile in a new community. This information is then shared with our interior designers who conduct their own market research as well as visiting all of the primary competitor’s model homes to develop an on-point merchandising plan for our target market.
Our merchandising budget is also more robust when compared to many competitors, especially in comparison to large national/public builders who tend to build the same model home over and over. At Miller & Smith, we specifically work with designers who are not only well versed in the current home design trends but know how to effectively temper those trends with what’s realistic for a particular buyer profiles budget. Yes, we want to show a “dream home” in every neighborhood but we don’t want to show something that is financially unattainable. It’s an interesting balance.

What are some of your new ideas in model homes?
Outdoor spaces have become very popular and important to many home buyers. While this trend used to be primarily a West Coast focus, buyers in the mid-Atlantic want to know they can have screened porches, fire pits, and outdoor TVs/bars, even if they’re not used year round. We’ve been very successful showing multiple uses for decks, porches, and yards so much more than just a grilling deck with some white plastic furniture thrown on it.
Spaces for multi-generational families are another trend we’ve implemented in model homes over the past few years. Whether a first-floor bedroom suite or full blown studio apartment spaces built over the garage, we’ve found that about 20% of our buyers have more than one generation living in the home. From boomerang college kids to grandparents that visit for four to six months at a time, it’s important for each family member to have adequate space of their own.

Trent Hancock
Vice president of sales and marketing, Camelot Homes

Are model homes are still relevant?
Even though virtual reality and internet-based home tours are on the rise, nothing can replace seeing a model home in person. We have created virtual tours of our renderings prior to building and they just don’t do the home any justice. When potential buyers walk through a model home, the home becomes a reality and they are able to picture a creating a life in that home.

How do you ensure that your model homes are effective?
At Camelot Homes, we spend up to two years mapping out and planning every detail that goes into a model home to ensure they are most effective. We build homes that are innovative, reflecting the best elements of the past while boldly embracing the future.

What are some of your new ideas in model homes?
We have implemented a number of new ideas and concepts in our model homes over the years such as the use of pocket doors, home automation, architecturally authentic exteriors with Contemporary, Modern Mediterranean and Urban Farmhouse designs, along with ample indoor/outdoor living space.


Jennifer Goodman is Editor of BUILDER and has 18 years of experience writing about the construction industry. She lives in the walkable urban neighborhood of Silver Spring, Md. Connect with her on Twitter at @Jenn4Builder.


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1 Comment
7 days ago
Steve Ormonde
This is great commentary on the state of model homes Jennifer, thank you! One item that was overlooked is how to sell the plans when we just can’t afford to build a model. We have produced thousands of virtual model homes for builders to supplement the “unbuilt” floor plans and, like Kim Ambrose mentioned, have successfully sold these plans “virtually”.  Keep up the great work!


Latest Tile Design Trends From Spain

By the middle of last year, more than 1.5 billion square feet of tile had already been used in the United States, according to a leading industry group, and that number regularly increases. This isn’t terribly surprising. Tile is a durable, low maintenance, versatile and generally affordable building material used indoors and out.

If you’re a homeowner planning to remodel or a building professional planning a new project, chances are you have a number penciled in for tile. Chances are, you also care what it looks like, so that your space is up to date. Where are you getting your style pointers? If you answered Europe, you’re ahead of the game. Some of the most technologically advanced, trend-setting tiles come from Spain and Italy.

Cevisama, the massive annual tile expo in Valencia, Spain is the first major event each year to track European trends. Here’s what was hot at the just-wrapped show, according to Tile of Spain, the Miami-based branch of the Spanish tile manufacturers’ trade association.

Color and Pattern

Bright colors, colorful murals, botanicals and interesting textures were hot this year. Europeans use tile in ways Americans don’t, like feature walls or headboards, for example. This trend might show up here on backsplashes or fireplace surrounds for adventurous clients.

Color and pattern spark new tile styles.BESTILE/A TILE OF SPAIN MEMBER COMPANY

Cement Style

Classic hydraulic looks have made a strong comeback these past few years, and continue to trend. They’re showing up on floors and walls, in both traditional and contemporary spaces these days, especially in eclectic bathrooms.

Classic cement-look tiles are showing up in contemporary projects.PERONDA/A TILE OF SPAIN MEMBER COMPANY

Stone Cold Beauty

You don’t need to invest in natural stone to enjoy its classic beauty any longer. European tile manufacturers have expertly reproduced its dramatic veining in low maintenance porcelain. It can be used in ever-larger slabs, as well, for countertops or shower surrounds.   In addition to marble, you’ll also see more rustic, weathered stones for interior or exterior projects.

You don’t need natural stone to get the look any longer.AZTECA/A TILE OF SPAIN MEMBER COMPANY

Wood Inspirations

Wood is another natural material that is well-rendered in tile. We’ve seen it in glossy and matte, textured and smooth. It is not a new trend, but one that continues to attract. Given its ability to look great indoors and out, including on both sides of a sliding glass wall, or in a full bathroom, it’s not surprising that wood-look tile is still a popular choice.

Wood-look tile goes places wood cannot, like into showers.PERONDA/A TILE OF SPAIN MEMBER COMPANY

Subway Tile Renewal

Here’s another oldie but goodie that still has strong appeal. You’ll see subway tile now in larger sizes or installed in non-horizontal patterns like herringbone or vertical. You’ll also see dimensional tile, darker grout colors, and mixed finishes for updated looks.

An old style learns new tricks for a new millennium.NATUCER/A TILE OF SPAIN MEMBER COMPANY

More places to see tile trends

If you didn’t make it to Spain for Cevisama, the also massive Cersaie expo in Bologna, Italy showcases global tile trends every September. Closer to home, the Spanish, Italian and North American tile industries unite in hosting Coverings every April in the United States. This year’s expo will be held in Orlando from April 9 through 12. (I’ll be attending again as part of the producer’s press trip.) If you’re not in the building trades, see if your architect, contractor or interior designer can bring you as a guest.



You can find more advice, trends and inspiration on beautiful, healthy homes in my books, New Kitchen Ideas That Work and the New Bathroom Idea Book, or on my Gold Notes design blog.

I’m a wellness design consultant, Certified Kitchen Designer, Certified Aging in Place Specialist, Mayo Clinic Trained Wellness Coach and the author of New Kitchen Ideas That Work and the New Bathroom Idea Book. I write, speak and consult on residential design, especially the profound links between your home and your health, for numerous publications, trade organizations and housing analysts. My writing has appeared on New Home Source, HuffPost,, Houzz and HouseLogic, and in the pages of the Los Angeles Times and Fine Homebuilding. I’m a regular contributor to the San Diego Union-Tribune and Kitchen & Bath Design News. I was honored to be named to the industry’s first 50 Innovators list by KBDN in 2017. When I’m not working, you can usually find me training for a road race (5Ks and half marathons are my favorite distances), volunteering, reading at Starbucks, traveling or hiking. My next huge fitness goal is summiting Kilimanjaro before I turn 60.

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Advocacy 101: Myths vs. Facts Webinar

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What is government advocacy, and why does is matter to interior designers? In this webinar, take a behind-the-scenes look at how you can shape public policy to advance the profession. Learn about the different kinds of advocacy, what goes into creating successful legislation, how grassroots lobbying works and ways that interior designers can be influential even in a partisan environment.

This course will earn you .1 CEU.

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9 Beautiful Examples of When Historic and Modern Architecture Come Together

Continue reading 9 Beautiful Examples of When Historic and Modern Architecture Come Together

WELCOME ASID MEMBERS! Are you ready to explore the world’s architecture?

In collaboration with Architectural Adventures, the official travel program of the American Institute of Architects, ASID is offering expert-led, small-group architectural tours providing travelers with distinctive and exclusive opportunities to engage with the past, present, and future of building and design in the world’s great sites and cities.


Continue reading WELCOME ASID MEMBERS! Are you ready to explore the world’s architecture?

Does ‘Good Design’ still matter today?

A new exhibition at MoMA examines how national and international efforts to manufacture modern products expressed cultural values at midcenutry. The Fiat 500f city car by Dante Giacosa is one example of Italy’s contributions to the conversation.
© 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: John Wronn

Does ‘Good Design’ still matter today?

MoMA’s new “The Value of Good Design” exhibition provokes a reassessment of how and why we buy things

A chair isn’t just a chair in the eyes of a designer—especially when it’s Eliot Noyes, the first director of industrial design at MoMA. When the museum embarked on a crusade against “horrible” design, it skewered an upholstered armchair. Its overstuffed seat, arms, and back might read as pure comfort to some, but to Noyes it was a monstrosity.

“Weight when fully matured, 60 pounds,” Noyes wrote on 1941 exhibition label of the armchair pictured next to a gorilla. “Habitat, the American Home. Devours little children, pencils, small change, fountain pens, bracelets, clips, earrings, scissors, hairpins, and other small flora and fauna of the domestic jungle. Is far from extinct.”

What exactly is good design, then? It’s a question modern designers have dedicated their lives to answering in the form of written manifestos and objects that turn those principles into objects. Curators, too.

Since the 1930s, MoMA has tried to articulate its response to the question. Its latest attempt is “The Value of Good Design,” a new exhibition organized by curator Juliet Kinchin and curatorial assistant Andrew Gardner. On view until June 15, the installation features furniture, textiles, household items, videos, posters, and more culled from the museum’s collection. It revisits the institution’s past efforts to steer consumers toward “good design” and how that might be applicable today.

“The values that are encoded in ‘good design’ are still relevant for us to reflect on and think about today,” Kinchin tells Curbed. “We live in a global consumer culture—for better or worse—and it behooves us to think a bit about what values we’re buying into.”

Charlotte Perriand (French, 1903–1999). Low chair. Designed 1940, manufactured 1946. Bamboo, 28 1/2 × 24 1/4 × 30 3/8? (72.4 × 61.6 × 77.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Lisa Tananbaum, Susan Hayden, Alice Tisch, and Committee on Architecture and Design Funds.
Jonathan Muzikar © The Museum of Modern Art
Peter Schlumbohm (American, born Germany. 1896–1962). Chemex Coffee Maker. 1941. Pyrex glass, wood, and leather, 9 1/2 × 6 1/8? (24.2 × 15.5 cm). Manufactured by Chemex Corp. (New York, NY, est. 1941). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Lewis & Conger
Installation view, The Value of Good Design at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (February 10–June 15, 2019).
© 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: John Wronn

How design became “good”

In the 1940s and 1950s, MoMA championed a doctrine of tasteful, functional, well-made, simple, and “honest” design. The Bauhaus—a German design school active from 1919 to 1933 and known for marrying art and industrial production—originally synthesized these traits. But it was MoMA that spread the philosophy in the United States and articulated it into an American endeavor.

MoMA’s industrial design department, established in 1934, was a promotional machine. Under the leadership of Noyes, an industrial designer who studied under Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, and then Edgar Kaufmann Jr., a department store merchandiser and apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, MoMA articulated what “good design” was: a combination of “eye appeal, function, construction, and price.” Then, it persuaded Americans to embrace its design perspective through exhibitions, competitions, international expos, and partnerships with retailers, manufacturers, and media.

MoMA’s definition of good design didn’t only focus on new products. Its 1938 exhibition titled “Useful Household Objects Under $5” included commercially available tools, cookware, and more.
Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art Archives

The popular “Useful Objects” series, which ran from 1938 to 1948, championed functional, affordable, and handsome everyday products and taught consumers how to shop with more holistic considerations. The 1938 exhibition “Useful Household Objects Under $5” included 100 commercially available items—like cookware, tableware, and decorative items, many of which had no designer attached to them—and traveled to seven different venues across the country. Other iconic items to appear in this series? The Slinky, Tupperware, Corning glassware, and Edith Heath ceramics.

“It was a way of bringing a lot of ordinary objects to people’s attention and giving them the space and context of an art museum to reflect a bit on what might make a broom, the plastic pail, a bowl valuable in terms of combining functionality, eye appeal or material appeal, and affordability,” Kinchin says.

MoMA’s “Good Design” initiative, which ran from 1950 to 1955, changed the relationship between designers, manufacturers, and retailers and introduced American shoppers to modern furnishings.
Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art Archives

The “Good Design” series, which ran from 1950 to 1955, highlighted MoMA-approved home furnishings available to consumers at retail partners. The objects on view included collaborations between contemporary designers and manufacturers, like the circa 1953 Hang It All by Charles and Ray Eames for Tigret Enterprises, the circa 1947 Womb chair by Eero Saarinen for Knoll, and Ovals fabric by Joel Robinson for L. Anton Maix Fabrics. MoMA was instrumental in creating a market for what we recognize today as midcentury modernism, a term author Cara Greenberg coined in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, MoMA competitions invited contemporary designers to submit their most creative designs. Charlotte Perriand’s circa 1940 Low chair made from bamboo and exhibited during the 1941 “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” exhibition and Clara Porset’s circa 1950 chair for the “Prize Designs for Modern Furniture” international design exhibition are historic examples included in this year’s exhibition.

“Good design” was framed as a moral imperative and its ideology was inextricably linked to patriotism, both overtly and subtly. The “Useful objects in Wartime Under $10” exhibition—which prized the glass Chemex coffee maker as a patriotic purchase since metals and plastics were reserved for the war effort—framed purchasing certain products as a civic duty.

Meanwhile, there was symbolism coded into the products. Innovative American-made design could enable a better standard of living, drive the economy, and spark innovation. Against the backdrop of the Cold War, “good design” was a proxy for American values. Through State Department–funded exhibitions abroad, it became propaganda for American consumerism. Countries around the world also explored their own versions of good design, pitting nation against nation in a battle of ideology expressed through products.

Greta Von Nessen (American, born Sweden. 1898–1978). Anywhere Lamp. 1951. Aluminum and enameled steel, 14 3/4 × 14 1/4? (37.5 × 36.2 cm). Manufactured by Nessen Studio, Inc (New York, NY, est. 1927). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Architecture and Design Purchase Fund
John R. Carroll (American, 1892–1958). Presto Cheese Slicer. c. 1944. Cast aluminum and steel wire, 4 1/2 × 3 3/4? (11.4 × 9.5 cm). Manufactured by R.A. Frederick Co. (United States). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Edgar Kaufmann, Jr.
Charles Eames (American, 1907–1978), Ray Eames (American, 1912–1988). Prototype for Chaise Longue (La Chaise). 1948. Hard rubber foam, plastic, wood, and metal, 32 1/2 x 59 x 34 1/4? (82.5 x 149.8 x 87 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the designers.
Jonathan Muzikar © The Museum of Modern Art

Values for whom?

Through its design programming, MoMA invited American shoppers to reorient how and why they purchase things—and essentially buy into its perspective. This wasn’t without controversy. The museum was criticized for being too commercial, too elitist, and too concerned with tastemaking—all valid critiques today, considering the state of the design landscape.

Right now, the world is confronting a crisis of too much stuff. Oceans are clogged with plastic. We’re suffocating in clutter. Recycling is broken. Meanwhile, design trends are leaning into a more-is-more sensibility, social media is fueling consumerism, and subscription services are making it easier than ever to accumulate things we don’t really need. Brands have appropriated the language of good design into their marketing and aesthetics, but buying the “best” consumer goods doesn’t necessarily lead to a better life. The reality is most products aren’t made to last—and good luck affording the ones that are.

Kinchin hopes revisiting MoMA’s good design initiatives sparks more creative thinking in designers and more discerning consumers.

“Just this process of spending a bit of time weighing up what it is we’re buying,” she says. “Is it functionality? Is it looks? Is it fun? In what ways is it pleasurable? Is it going to last? Is it sustainable? What is is made of? How is it made? In what conditions is it made? These are all factors in evaluating good design… Kaufmann said good design should reflect the values of the age, and we don’t live in the ’50s any longer. Things that might have been valued at one time or in one place aren’t necessarily true for now.”

Historically, MoMA’s “Good Design” programming advocated replacing one kind of consumer culture with another. A 21st-century reassessment is overdue. The last time MoMA revisited its good design program was through a 2009 exhibition that asked: “What was Good Design?” Now that we know what good design was and the values that it explored, perhaps it’s time for an exhibition that looks beyond the limits of middle-class consumerism.

Continue reading Does ‘Good Design’ still matter today?

ASID Interior Design Billings Index (IDBI) – December 2018

IDBI Slips to Lowest Level in December

A key indicator of household and business spending on renovations, furnishings, and interior design services fell in December to its lowest level since the ASID Interior Design Billings Index (IDBI) was launched in November 2010, with panelists noting that construction projects are often being postponed or delayed.

The IDBI was down 9.3 points in December to a score of 43.9 and has been unsteady during 2018, indicating a softening in demand. It is important to consider seasonal factors at work, as declines from November to December have been consistently observed in the past.

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