When asked why furniture selection and bidding should be included in the architect/interior designers contract, I often find myself speechless. Most often, I hold back my natural response, “Why wouldn’t you?” and try not to overwhelm the person with reason after reason for why it’s the only way I would do it. You might say, “Well you’re an interior designer, of course you want us to include furniture in your contract.” Consider this, in new construction, the construction of the building is going to be your largest expense. Your second largest expense is going to be furnishing the building. Why would you want to take on this massive project and expense rather than allowing a professional handle it for you? Often times, when furniture is bid, any costs you incur in hiring a professional will be offset by the savings found through the competitive bid, and you will achieve a better result. The benefit you have in hiring someone who is intimately familiar with the project is that they know all the details for why decisions were made and the goals that were set forth early on in the project.
The importance of selections
Furniture selection and finishes are key to a holistic design for a building. After all, it is the part of the room we experience not only through sight, but also through touch. It becomes one of the most important tools for using a space. When a building is designed, each space is planned with a certain function in mind. Those functions generally have a specific requirement to fulfill its intended purpose. Doesn’t it then make sense that someone with an intimate knowledge of the design would be most capable of selecting furniture that fits the space? Not only will the furniture function better, but it will also coincide with the design of the room much more seamlessly. Furniture should not fight the building design; it should contribute. Think of it as the icing on the cake.
Furniture contributes to how people experience a building as much as, if not more than any other element in the design. Think about it this way; when you go to a fancy restaurant, would you feel comfortable sitting through a 5 course meal in a hard metal folding chair? Of course not. You would also likely not be willing to pay the same amount of money for that meal because you didn’t experience the level of luxury you were expecting. Although this may be an extreme example, furniture really does affect how a person will experience a space and will influence whether or not his or her impression of the space is positive or negative.
The process of selection
I always recommend that the client be integrally involved in the selection of the furniture and make an effort to understand the specific reasons why one option may be better for them than another. The best way to really understand the options is to take a trip to a dealer with your designer. Most times, a variety of furniture styles and quality levels can be discussed at the same place.
The durability of furniture should always be considered. When thinking about the durability, the breaking point should never be the only metric by which you assign success or failure. It is important to select products that will withstand their use and have good warranties in case they do break. However, often times, furniture will “ugly out” before it “wears out.” This affects how people perceive a building and will reflect directly on the client. If you walked into a hospital waiting room and the chairs looked dirty, you would perceive that the hospital is not clean. It may just be that they scrub the chairs so well that the finish has come off of the vinyl. It could, in fact, be very clean and you just have the perception that it’s dirty because it’s worn. This is a perfect example of why durable finishes are important. On the contrary, you may perceive that a space is very clean because the fabrics look new and the wood makes you feel like you’re at home. If the correct fabrics were not chosen, they could be harboring bacteria, dust and a whole host of other pathogens. The selections you make are extremely important in any environment and should be considered specifically for how the space is being used.
Warranty scopes and lengths should be carefully considered when selecting furniture. With as much money as you will likely be spending to furnish your building, you want to be sure that if things break, they will be fixed by the manufacturer. There are a few things to remember:
- Know the scope and length of the warranty. Most reputable manufacturers have a readily available, easy to read warranty statement that is very straightforward. If you come across a manufacturer that is reluctant to give you their warranty information, or if the information is vague, it should send up a red flag immediately.
- Check to be sure your furniture is warranted for the type of work being done. Some manufacturers will not warranty a chair that is for 24/7 multiple shift use for as long as they will an 8 hour chair. Also be sure the chair is warranted for the weight of the person who will be using it.
- Check references. When purchasing from a dealer, ask for references for the size project you are planning. When contacting the reference, ask them about any problems they have had with the furniture. If there were problems, ask how they were addressed and how quickly they were addressed.
- Know what you’re getting with used furniture. Used furniture is rarely warranted to a second owner. This may not be an issue as long as you’re getting it at a great price and know that if anything goes wrong, you will be responsible for fixing it. The key to making this work is finding a reliable dealer who is willing to help with repairs when problems arise.
When purchasing furniture for US offices, buy American! American furniture manufacturers have a reputation for making high quality furniture. Typically they must go through much more intensive testing than overseas manufacturers. They are much more likely to offer better warrantees, great service and will be knowledgeable about code requirements in your area. Beware of manufacturers that only assemble their products in the US rather than manufacturing them here. They will often import parts that are low cost but also low quality and then mask them by covering them with fabric or mixing them with other higher quality parts. You want to be sure that all the ‘stuff’ you can’t see is manufactured well. Your designer should be able to help you with sorting out all the details of the furniture you are considering.
Consider bidding, but bid well
The bidding process has the potential to save clients up to 15% depending on the type of furniture, size of the project and the type of client. Much of the decision to bid is going to depend on the needs and wants of the client. Most often, I would recommend bidding but there are a few things to consider.
- There are additional benefits to being a publicly funded entity. If a client is a public entity, often times they are required to bid if the dollar amount is above a certain amount. They are able to get around this many times by purchasing through state contracts or GSA-General Services Administration contracts. There are also purchasing contracts available to non-profits and not-for-profits. These are basically pre-negotiated contracts that allow public entities to purchase without bidding because the “bidding” is done ahead of time. What is not considered in these contracts is shipping, handling, delivery and installation. I recommend bidding that portion of the project even if you will be purchasing off of state contract. In general, this is a great option for fast tracked projects and is available to any entity that receives public money.
- Timing is everything. If you are considering bidding a project 7 weeks before it needs to be installed, you are too late. You need to be ordering. In this case, your best course of action is to work directly with a trusted dealer and take your designer along with you. The bidding process needs anywhere from 10-20 weeks to go through the entire process from writing the bid document to getting the furniture installed. Within that time, your design team will do estimates, get approval for concepts, write the bid document, give you time to review the bid document, send it out to dealers to bid, assess the results of the bid and work with the dealer to make finish selections and place the order.
- Make sure your designer is specific when creating the bid document. Many times, the best description that a furniture supplier gets from a client is that they need an office chair. That would be like going to a car lot and saying, “I need a car.” There are as many options in furniture as there are in cars; think of it as the same range as from Honda Civic to Mercedes SLS. Furniture ranges from budget to designer, traditional to contemporary, large to small, hard to soft, with and without specific options. Without giving the bidding dealers an idea of where you want to be in terms of quality and cost, they have no way of bidding “apples to apples.” I like to use the “basis of design” method for bidding. In this case, I will choose something very specific and list it for a particular application (i.e. Haworth Zody Chair with mesh back, seat slide, lumbar support, height adjustment, adjustable arms, painted finish, and Grade D fabric). I will include everything from the model number to the fabric grade. By giving a very specific description of what we have based our design on, dealers are able to see what we would like in terms of style, quality, and color. Bidding dealers should be able to select something comparable from their own lines and include that in the bid. This has proven to return the best results in terms of comparable quality and cost.
- Give your designer a budget. If you aren’t sure about how much is reasonable, then work through establishing a budget with your designer. Make sure you understand what you’re getting for your money and assess whether or not those things are important to you. Your designer should be able to help you work through these things. Visiting a dealer is a great way to get a feel for what the difference is between a chair that costs $300 and a chair that costs $900.
When beginning the process of furniture procurement, be sure that you involve the appropriate professionals, assess your needs and stay involved in the process. Having worked with several clients to procure their furniture, I can tell you that the Mies van der Rohe was correct when he said, “God is in the details.” The more you understand about what you’re getting and why it costs what it does, the more satisfied you’ll be with the results.
Creating Spaces that Engage
Collaborative spaces are not just one meeting space or an open office. They embody a wide variety of spaces within the office and in order to best create collaborative spaces, the design should take into account the proximity to other spaces. The design should be visually connected to other spaces and should consider the current patterns of movement within the office. Most importantly the design should embrace flexibility and provide a variety of areas to encourage the different activities needed to promote team building.
When beginning the process of creating collaborative spaces, we need to consider the different interactions desired, such as spontaneous conversation, relaxed informal communication, collaborative teams areas and semi-private conversation areas. All these interactions reinforce the cohesiveness of a group generating positive synergy and teamwork. The need is to promote and engage employees and develop communication and informal relationships. Think of the spontaneous conversation in the hallway as the starting point to establishing a strong informal relationship between employees. This interaction has the opportunity to establish a basis of ideas and synergy. Small sitting areas in relaxed settings like the break room or cafeteria can further this ‘connectedness’, and gathering areas near workspaces and offices can further promote more informal communication.
Location, Location, Location
If collaborative spaces are clustered near workspaces or common areas, employees will be more willing to utilise that space. Proximity is crucial. A collaborative space should be near an activity centre, along a well-travelled path or adjacent to the workspaces. Carve out a nook within the break area, so people are willing to sit or place spaces along paths and ensure the space is easily recognisable and accessible.
One example of a collaborative space was of a police station that sought to create a sense of community and support camaraderie amongst the officers. The issue to overcome was that the staff were not in the office for the entire period of their shift, leaving regularly through the day or night. The only real time for interaction was when the staff came in before and after shifts to check mail, drink coffee, file reports or to attend briefings. Since budget was crucial, additional space could not be added. Rather than create a series of small spaces that were off a hallway, spaces on a widened hallway were added to act as an active ‘street’. There was no cost increase, and the entire police station proved less expensive than a comparable building when looking at cost per square metre.
Another design consideration is to connect the spaces visually. Put simply, if the space is not seen it will not be used. Colour selection and texture of the materials are important in establishing visual identity of the spaces and through the use of colour and texture, spaces are easily recognised. The colour and texture can also designate the area as different and promote the use of these spaces.
We took this consideration in our own offices, nothing a need of our teams to spread out and think outside of their workspaces. By removing a few of the built-in workstations at the intersections of major paths and purchasing casual chairs on casters with removable writing/laptop surfaces, were able to create a collaborative space. Lastly, rather than construction walls, we defined this space through the use of different coloured carpet, and the total cost came to only 24,000 CNY.
Consider creating spaces that are visible from the outside. The use of glass or other translucent materials allows for people to observe the space while allowing some privacy for the users. This is particularly important where the team space will be louder than the adjacent areas.
On a recent office renovation that I was involved with, traditional offices along both sides of a hallway were torn down and an open office environment was created. Two of the office spaces were retained while the wall adjoin them was demolished creating a large space immediately adjacent to the new workspaces. The spaces were connected visually to the workspace through the use of interior windows and a sofa and a few moveable chairs were added. The change was enormous, but the cost wasn’t – only 45,000 CNY.
Collaborative spaces should also be flexible, and not restricted to single use or special use spaces. In your plan, anticipate a variety of activities and consider furniture that is relaxed, more casual and mobile. Allow for small projectors to cast on a variety of surfaces within the area – perhaps along the backs of chairs or different wall surfaces. This way, the spaces can take on a life of their own, being constantly modified or reorganized based on the groups using them.
Encourage the Interaction
Bringing people together is only half of the solution of collaborative spaces. The business must support the employees and the spaces through the use of resources and corporate culture. These could include network connectivity for employees either through wireless or data ports, and must support multiple users. Power outlets for laptops, portable projectors and other peripheral devices are a must, and with them, the space now has an opportunity to be utilised for small team meetings.
Give the team the tools to communicate and record their thoughts be providing flipcharts and dry erase white boards and if the budget allows for extending the thoughts shared almost immediately after they are generated via e-mail, extending the reach of the communication.
And finally, the desire for the opportunity to create synergy is much different than fostering the informal interaction. Areas that are encouraged to be collaborative should be allowed to remain flexible and agile. This same philosophy should apply to the employees. Developing synergy through the use of collaborative spaces is about creating and supporting varied opportunities. Simply put, plan for the spontaneous. A great collaborative space will cultivate the interpersonal relationships and with a supportive environment, synergy will naturally occur.
Being prepared is more than a motto, it’s an approach to successful project review by outside agencies. In almost all architectural projects, we are faced with extensive reviews by City, County, State and in some cases Federal Review agencies, committees, boards or departments. I have heard the complaints from employees and sometimes competitors on how onerous these reviews can be and what a delay they are to projects. I agree that it can be time consuming, but these reviews do not have to be project killers or delays to delivery if the right approach is taken to submitting for them.
Lunz Prebor Fowler Architects has a very specific approach to preparation of submittals. Our first task is to find out exactly what reviews and submissions are going to be involved in order to negotiate a fair contract with our client and consultants. The next step is verification that the consultants that will be involved are aware of the requirements of each submittal, time frames for review and anticipated outcomes from previous submissions. With this data in hand we then assemble a schedule that is realistic, relevant and informative to all parties as to roles, missions and deliverables. Informing the client at all times lets them know that you are organized, thorough and fully aware of the task at hand. Additionally it lets our client know that we are placing their interests first and foremost.
On a recently completed Municipal project that had a very tight time frame for construction, we took a very unique approach. Our project team first met with the Building Department who was issuing the permits and preliminarily reviewed the project in depth and explained the dilemma of the tight time frame. In one to one meetings we were able to thoroughly explain the project parameters and make them a part of the “team” that would be critical to success. Knowing their position and their contribution to our success made them extremely responsive to our needs. We received permits in a very timely manner, inspections as needed and a certificate of occupancy in time to meet the time frame of the Municipal client.
Determination of the review schedule and the delivery of the right documents go hand in hand. As a member of the City’s Planning and Zoning Board I cannot tell you the number of times that an applicant submits minimal information and then comes to the meeting unprepared expecting a Board to just gloss over his application and grant an approval. The success of gaining approvals the first time is embedded in preparation of the application and the presentation before the Board.
As an applicant, Lunz Prebor Fowler Architects prepares a well written formal submission with adequate back-up in either writing or graphic format to fully inform those that are reviewing the request. In cases when we know that the issues coming to a public meeting may be controversial or somewhat inflammatory we go the extra mile. Our firm will hold preliminary meetings with the concerned parties whether it be a neighborhood association, government agency or activist group in order to fully explain our proposal, how we have addressed their concerns and what agreements we can make to change our proposal for the good of both them and our client. Our proactive approach makes the public meetings easier and in most cases has those who may have been against the proposed development get up and speak for the development. Being proactive alleviates the contentious public meetings that become the next day’s headlines and often lead to delays.
Renovating a commercial building can yield significant tax credits if that property will be used for business or rental housing. The biggest benefit is a dollar for dollar reduction in the amount of taxes owed equaling 20%. Trying to understand the Tax Incentives for Preserving Historic Properties can often be mind boggling. Before diving into the finer details, three simple steps can be used to determine if the project is Eligible for these tax incentives.
The first is does the building contribute to a historic district recognized by the National Park Service. With five districts recognized by the NPS in Lakeland, the city has performed a contributing structure survey as part of this recognition. A phone call to the City of Lakeland Community Development office would quickly answer this question.
The second step is will the rehabilitation be “substantial”. The way to satisfy this criteria involves a little bit of math. The project must exceed the greater of $5,000 or the building’s adjusted basis. The formula to determine the adjusted basis requires four pieces of information; A – the purchase price, B – the part of the purchase price attributed to the land cost, C – depreciation for an income-producing property and D – the cost of any capital improvements made since purchase. The adjusted basis equals the purchase price subtracting the land cost and the depreciation and adding back and cost of imporvements. (A-B-C+D). For instance assume a building owned for a number of years was purchased for $100,000 and of that $30,000 is attributed to land. The building has since depreciated by $20,000. A new roof was added since purchase that cost $5,000. The adjusted basis would be $100,000 – $30,000 – $20,000 + $5,000 or $55,000. In order to qualify for this second criteria the project would need to exceed $55,000 in order to receive the tax incentive.
The final step is the completion of a 3 part application. The application will be used by the State Historic Preservation Officer and the National Park service as a record to ensure that the project was completed using the widely accepted standards of practice for historic preservation. The first part is information used to help the National Park Service determine if your building qualifies as a “Certified historic structure”. The second is documenting the condition and the planned work for the building. The final part is the certification that the completed project complied with the Standards and is a “certified rehabilitation”.
The final thing to note even though a project is currently underway, it is never too late to apply for this credit. Although it is better to have the rehabilitation plans submitted prior to construction to ensure that any required changes are identified early and minimize costs.