A library with no bookcases

Modern study with a hotel lobby/Internet café vibe

Like the communal areas of any hotel, office environments are becoming more transitional in nature with the growth of mobile working. Gresham has been creating made-to-order furniture for office and commercial environments for 40 years. It’s witnessed many trends through the decades and while mobile working has been around for some time, it’s perhaps only in recent years that the culture has fully caught on.


Gresham Sales Area Manager Manda Mills said:

“I’ve been with the company for three years and I would say that when I started it was 60% desks, 40% soft seating. Now it’s 60% soft seating, 40% desks. Companies don’t want to pay for 50 desks if only a quarter of them are ever used at the same time.”

When Kirklees Council turned to Gresham to supply and install furniture for the births, marriages and deaths offices in Dewsbury Town Hall, the major feature was the wavy, soft-fabric booth seating that adorned a wall with feature arched windows. “Staff and visitors wanted something more informal, more relaxed,” Manda added. “Shirt and ties are no longer the order of the day. The work environments are more transient, more collaborative. So far in 2016 we’re seeing a lot of refurbishment work and so for many organisations it’s the first opportunity to embrace the new work culture. Businesses that don’t have that collaborative work nature are in the minority now, I believe.”

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“So far in 2016 we’re seeing a lot of refurbishment work and so for many organisations it’s the first opportunity to embrace the new work culture.”

Newcastle University recently created an all-digital library in a former office block. A library without bookcases might run the risk of appearing like an office, but Gresham built and supplied a range of furniture, from comfy sofas with built-in charging points for all mobile devices, to tub chairs and fixed ceiling-height soft seating booths. There are office-like workstation pods for students to get their heads down, and even quiet areas, but there is a heavy emphasis on social interaction and collaborative working too. The result is more contemporary hotel or smart internet café than library. Yet students are the next generation of mobile office workers – they want to flop into a sofa at lunchtime with a latte to surf online before moving on again. The culture of “Bring Your Own Device” is the order of the day.

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“What came through our consultation with our students is that they wanted USB and power points wherever they were,” Jo Geary, Head of Business and Management at Newcastle University explained. “So we made sure every single study area in the library has those things. The students love the sofas with the built in power stations. They like the colour accented buttons in the upholstery. The private booths are extremely popular too. Students are not shut away in them yet they’re really quite private and the high upholstery contains any sound – you can’t hear from one to the other.”

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The Marjorie Robinson library includes an enclosed living area and a Skype room both with chairs and sofas with patterned fabrics. Most users are expected to be working on laptops or tablets. The only exception is a boardroom but even here the “executive” seats feature fun, striking seat backs. Breakfast bar-style tables and seating encourage group interaction, again a feature of “on-the-go” working associated with today’s coffee culture.


“We wanted something different, something that would appeal to today’s students,” Jo added. “A few years ago there was this idea that people wanted bean bags in libraries but we really wanted something professional. I’m really proud of what we have created here and I don’t believe there’s anything else quite like it.”

The library’s mix of quiet, private study space and more open social, collaborative working mirrors the modern approach to office design. Desks create a focus for work, while soft furnishings seek to create an inspiring environment. Both design and function needs to be appealing for students, who are effectively customers, as well as employees.

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“Desks are a commodity but we’re moving towards an emphasis on soft seating and more informal design,” Manda added.  “This is where you can create something very different, bespoke and unique to the setting.”

About Gresham

Gresham is one of the largest independent designers and manufacturers of workspace furniture in the UK. Founded in 1976, Gresham employs more than 250 dedicated people from a 200,000sq ft facility in Bolton, Greater Manchester. Their employees are expertly skilled and committed to the business of designing, producing and installing high quality, made-to-order workspace furniture.



About Alys Bryan

Alys is a knowledgeable design editor who is focused on instigating conversations, both online and in-person, with industry experts which challenge, educate and advance the commercial interior sector. Her training and 15 years of professional experience as a furniture designer for the commercial sector makes her uniquely placed to lead Design Insider as Editor
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