In the past, office lobbies served as little more than a bank of elevators and a front door — a passageway between the sidewalk and your tenants’ desks. But today’s tenants want to work in a building that is both functional and attractive. In the current aggressive office market, many landlords find that designing common areas that people actually want to use can make their buildings more competitive.
How Are Tenants Currently Using the Common Areas?
The common spaces are one of the first opportunities you have to showcase your building to your potential tenant. Instead of just providing a typical elevator lobby and a couple of chairs, really create a space that sets the tone for the rest of your building. While furniture and seating areas in the lobby may be at the back of your mind — even an afterthought — when designing the building, they can be a critical part of attracting and retaining tenants.
Do some research — how many people currently use your common areas, at what times, and what are they using them for? If your building is like most, your lobby is underutilized, and your tenants barely notice it; they just walk through the space to get to their suites.
So how you can get more people using the space — at all times of the day?
1. Make It Multifunctional
To make the most of common areas, we try to create spaces that can be utilized in more than one way — not just as a waiting area or an open conference room. This goes along with what we’re seeing as the evolution of work. Today’s office workers don’t want to just be stuck in their cubicles all day. They want informal places to get together and collaborate or just escape from their desk for a change of scenery. In a well-designed lobby, people can feel free to sit and work on their laptops or have a casual meeting, extending their experience of the office environment. Your common areas can become another place for tenants to gather — the so-called “third space.”
With the right commercial interior design, you can make your lobby more of a gathering space. The idea is for people to use the space to eat lunch, or take a personal call, or have a meeting with a few co-workers. Likewise, the property manager can use these common areas to put on special events for tenants in the building or even for more formal meetings in a space that is more open than the communal conference room.
2. Make It More Useful
Usability is also a critical aspect of lunchrooms and other shared spaces. We recently worked on a self-serve café, where we redesigned the space to be more inviting and usable. Tenants were using the space to get their food, but no one was staying to eat. The building operator makes money from the self-serve concessions, so they wanted to attract people to spend more time — and more money — by making the café more smart and engaging, something that people would really want to use.
To do this, we rearranged how the self-serve shelves fit and added new booths. We also added outlets in each booth, so people can take their laptops down to work. These small changes went a long way toward making the space more usable. Finally, we added a couple of TVs to make the space that much more enticing.
3. Keep the Design Classic
Picture in your mind a typical nineties, suburban office tower. What do you see? Lots of cherry wood, mahogany, and marble, right? Maybe even some pink terrazzo, if you’re really lucky.
It looks dated, and it’s a turnoff to prospective tenants. So how do you fix it? If you’re not ready for a complete overhaul, focus on updating furniture and textiles. All that pink terrazzo? Don’t hide it with a boring brown or grey rug. Get something that will better coordinate with and enhance it. (Hint: green is a compliment of red and usually looks great).
My personal design philosophy is to create an overall classic look — not something too trendy. Choose pieces that work with the existing elements in your space and the overall design of your building. You want your building to look updated and modern, and for your new design elements to enhance the building’s architecture — not compete with it.
Likewise, don’t underestimate how important furniture is to your common areas. Having the right furniture can really transform a space, so make sure you allocate enough of your budget to it. Instead of just some small chairs and coffee table — like a waiting room — use your furniture to create mini-spaces that can be used by several different groups for different purposes. Think varying table heights, soft lounge seating, collaboration groupings and privacy chairs. And don’t forget lighting! In larger, open lobbies, natural light can be an issue during the long winter. By adding sconces, table lamps, and other lighting sources, you can help create a cozy and inviting atmosphere that your tenants will want to use all day (and year) long.
The most important thing to realize is that if you plan the right space, people will utilize it. And if people use your common areas, that makes the office interiors more attractive — and more rentable.
Elizabeth Lari, CID, is an Interior Designer at PlanForce Group.