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MEET A MAKER - TOM SCHEPERS

A MAKER - There are people who love what they do so unconditionally that they bring depth to topics that seem flat. They strike a curiosity in people they meet that opens up an entirely new world of beauty and perspective. They list fact after fact and tell story after story of their history with their passion.

With over 40 years of wood craftsmanship and hand selecting veneers, one of the first things Tom mentioned was how much he enjoys learning what’s new in the world of veneer. When you talk with those around Tom, you will hear about how incredibly knowledgeable he is.

“I sometimes wonder how we will replace the knowledge Tom possesses. He seems to know more about the veneer business than there is information available to learn,” David Lubbehusen, Director of Design Solutions.

Tom’s humbleness and pursuit to never stop learning speaks directly to the company’s core values. He lives them through the care he takes to ensure the customer gets an exceptionally crafted piece of wood furniture.

“Often the veneer samples come to me at our Veneer Studio for review. When I know we have a project and at times in general, I still like to go to the yard and see the bundle of flitches firsthand so there are no surprises and we get the consistency the customer deserves,” adds Tom.

Tom elaborated that looking at veneers at the yard is similar to discovering that great find like “pickers” do. “During my last visit, I saw this cherry flitch with a unique figure in it. I wasn’t sure what we would create with it, but I knew I needed to buy it. It sold immediately. That customer truly received a one-of-a-kind piece of art. We won’t see that figure again in a piece of wood. That’s the beauty of natural materials.” adds Tom.

“Tom has forgotten more about veneer than most of us can learn in a lifetime. He has the eye of an artist and the hand of a creator. He has a unique ability to see the beauty of the end piece of furniture while selecting veneer in its rawest state,” comments Phil Englert, Director of Sales Operations and Training.

Tom likes to remind our tour groups that trees are exactly like humans. There are no two trees alike in the forest. It’s all Mother Nature and the environment that gives each tree its fingerprint.

“Think about someone with freckles. That’s genetic. They’re unique and add character. That’s exactly what birdseye maple is, freckles on the tree. Or the rarity and beauty of burl wood, too. This prized wood grain is the result of a tree being under stress or a malignancy. It’s simply nature doing what it does.”

Tom honestly admitted that sometimes he can’t identify the species of a tree by its leaves or bark like many people can. “My neighbors and I were discussing what type of tree we had in the backyard that needed to be removed last year. Oak, maple, hickory...we went round and round. Finally I said, ‘Let’s cut this thing down so I can tell you guys what species it is. I just need to see it from the inside.”

I would say that Tom’s perspective on trees goes right along with the adage, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Jun 23, 2016 BLOG/Design

MEET A MAKER - TOMMY OWENS

A MAKER - There are people who love what they do so unconditionally that they bring depth to topics that seem flat. They strike a curiosity in people they meet that opens up an entirely new world of beauty and perspective. They list fact after fact and tell story after story of their history with their passion.

As the door squeaks slightly when entering the seating development area, Rick Rademacher’s head pops up from his computer for a moment. Tommy Owens is over at the table with a rolling cutter, chalk lines meandering with effortless precision as he works on upholstery patterns that will ultimately be cut by a machine. But like all good things, they start by hand.

Rick is a seating engineer, and Tommy is an upholsterer: simple titles for a daily jigsaw puzzle of responsibilities. Yet the puzzle always looks like the pristine image on the front of the box. Rick and Tommy bounce ideas back and forth in the same way an engineered form of mixed materials needs foam and fabric to bring it to life.

This is the start of the game. How can Tommy make the process and patterns consistent and repeatable, so the 1,000th chair that is ordered and produced in the plant mirrors what is sitting on the table in development? That’s the thought process...below are thoughts shared while reviewing samples.
 
“I think the team is going to need an extra pull here to keep this corner taut. Rick, let’s add another Christmas tree (fastener term) along the seam to keep that line consistent.”

“That area gets a lot activity. Let’s use a double stitch for extra durability and a more tailored look. A customer may not notice, but we know...we can do better.”
 
Tommy takes out his tape measure and makes some notes. He disappears through double doors to the manufacturing floor and returns with some foam and fabric. He rolls out the fabric and gets to work with chalk, straight edges, protractors and the rolling cutter in hand. He jumps over to the sewing machine where he taps his foot like a drummer and spindles of yarn unravel like he’s trying to land a blue marlin. He’s a sewing machine (pun intended). Then he raises the spinning/lift table to ergonomic height, and the popcorn starts popping, aka the stapler gun. Pop, pop, pop, it’s taking shape. Like a great friendship, frame, foam and fabric (and few hundred staples) become something greater together than apart.
 
This whole process can be simplified into a few sentences thanks to the meticulousness, creativity and experience that Tommy draws upon to deliver our core values to our customers through his job. There’s an inherent pride that takes shape as well that is never spoken, but is seen in the form of a finely tailored chair. And, Tommy would be the first one to tell you that it is a team effort.
 
“Tommy is our ‘go-to’ when it comes to converting high level design into shop floor productivity. It’s amazing how he has turned countless napkin sketches into functional, beautiful pieces of furniture,” said Jeff Eckert, VP of Manufacturing.
 
Tommy is definitely an artist...a maker.
 
Jun 21, 2016 BLOG/Design

OFS Brands 2016 Magazine Hits the Streets at NeoCon!

Enjoy an excerpt of a featured article - AT THE CORE - with our President and CEO, Hank Menke, talking about the important role wood has played in our history. AT THE CORE was written by Jarod Brames.

“It was a love affair,” said Hank Menke, President and CEO of OFS Brands, about his parents’ commitment to taking worn out, scrubby and eroded land and refurbishing it into thriving forestland. He went on to say, “We did a lot of planting. We did a lot of tree planting. I did more holding in and stubbing in with my foot than most would care to. It was enjoyable, though. It was rewarding to see what we did while reflecting on what it had looked like before.”

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Hank about a seemingly simple subject - wood. My goal: to show how the material is at the core of OFS Brands; to show the important role wood has played in the history of the company and how OFS Brands has championed the use of this versatile and renewable material. My result: a perspective on how this structural material was used to build the intangible framework of a culture.

“Today you can see the pines we planted and the hardwoods that are re-emerging because of those efforts. There were mistakes made, but you know what? The fact that we were out there planting, that we were managing the land, that’s why we have more today than we did 20 to 30 years ago,” he said.

Hank talks often about how OFS Brands is a relationship-driven company. “Of course, you have to have the right product at the right price, but for us it’s much more about the relationships that we create. What you make people feel is as important as what you make,” he said. I’d heard this before, but I gave it some extra thought this time. Hank continued, “When I think of wood, I think of the forests. That makes me think of family, and I’m not just talking about my family. I’m talking about this family, OFS Brands. Wood has always been what we have done. Wood is in our roots, but ultimately it is about family. It is about this group of people.”

Read this and more in the OFS Brands 2016 Magazine!
Jun 07, 2016 BLOG/Design

New Showroom, Products-not-Prototypes and You!

NeoCon 2016 is here. That 12 month period seems shorter and shorter every year. In perusing magazines and social media, there is definitely no shortage of new products showcasing in the Windy City this year. The influences of residential and all the markets we serve, including education and healthcare are melding together for an interesting context of what each day brings for an individual. You’re witnessing firsthand the proliferation of “third spaces” as organizations seek balance of focus, sharing and social interaction resulting in a slew of products that address this in varying degrees.
 
We believe that if you put people first, we all can do so much more. By actively listening and putting the needs of others before our own, true discovery will happen. In conversations with our design and distribution partners, we constantly heard their frustrations with the industry always showing prototypes and not products. Some even went so far as to say the show should move to every two years so new product launches wouldn’t seem so forced and incomplete.  
 
We saw the challenge differently and so, in 2015 all 11 collections we launched at Neocon were available to order and deliver within 8 weeks of the show.  This year will be no different.  Our 8 new collections, along with 3 significant platform enhancements, will all be ready to order and deliver in 8 weeks.
 
This is not easy to accomplish; however, it is something we felt compelled to do in response to our customers’ frustrations and needs. Our R&D product pipeline is loaded. We’re gearing up for big introductions at Healthcare Design and throughout the year. However, there is something about when a visitor in our Chicago Showroom asks us, “When is this product available to order...next year?” and we can respond with a resounding, “Right Now!” that completes our mission. This is putting people first.
 
We invite you to spend NeoCon with us. Inspiration and a hint of something new and different about OFS Brands will hit you before you even enter the space. Whitney Architects curated an elevated showroom experience befitting our focus on people and delivering a portfolio of products that solve challenges beautifully and functionally. Aptos casegoods by Brian Graham, Qove Lounge by Q Design, Preview Lighting by Tom Newhouse and Genus Seating by Roger Webb Associates are several of many collaborations bringing solutions for work, learning and well-being that address activity, culture and materiality.
 
A new showroom, new products available to order...and, most of all, our friends and family...I love Chicago in June!
 
- Ryan Menke
May 31, 2016 BLOG/Showroom

Start Somewhere

FORESTRY PRACTICES & HABITAT RESTORATION

OFS Brands founder, Bob Menke, created a culture of environmental consciousness dating back to the 50’s, years before most people were concerned about protecting our natural resources. He and his wife Phyllis—inspired by their love for Audubon Camps, moved by the writings and lectures of Rachel Carson—are widely recognized for their contributions to preserving natural areas and encouraging multi‑purpose forestry. Bob was intrinsic in establishing Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and lectured on campus at the first Earth Day in 1970.

Throughout Bob’s life his writings on forestry management and wildlife preservation were widely published. He believed we must preserve and learn from natural systems, minimize the impact of chemicals, and consider the potential for human activity to disrupt ecosystems, all at a time when most were scared to speak these thoughts.

Bob and Phyllis’ views on land stewardship and restoration continued into the next generations. From stories of Hank recruiting college friends to plant trees on worn out agricultural lands, to donated time and resources for community and industry education on the importance of ecosystem health, we continue to see the fruits of this labor.

Click here to read more from our latest Sustainability Report.

Apr 22, 2016 BLOG/

THE EVOLUTION OF ACTIVITY BASED DESIGN

We spoke with Pam Light of HOK about how products within the workplace influence our activities and behavior. Thoughtfully designed active spaces are never truly finished: they evolve with changing workplace needs and trends. To gain insight on how furniture and space planning can support activity based design, OFS Brands interviewed Pam Light, Senior Vice President of HOK.
 
Q: What trends have you noticed in the workplace, and how do these affect space planning?
 
A: Today, the escalating cost of real estate often requires that every square foot be accounted for. Fortunately, at the same time we have seen the onset of wireless technology which untethered everyone from their workstations and allowed for greater mobility throughout a space. Now that workers have the freedom to be productive anywhere, we need to provide holistic spaces that support overall health and wellness. 
 
Q: Technology integration has certainly gone from luxury to mandatory. How do you leverage technology to enhance communication, creativity and collaboration? 
 
A: We used to design spaces in a more static way because the electrical outlets were always in the same places and the areas around those plugs were hot spots. Flat screens were found to be in conference rooms only, but today they are everywhere from workstations to private offices to collaborative areas. The globalization of business and web conferencing has partially driven that change. The technology itself brings people together: we just need to make sure the spaces we design are capable of effectively integrating various technologies and be adaptable to future changes. 
 
Q: What are some innovative ways to facilitate collaboration and interaction throughout a space?
 
A: Activity based design responds to general human needs. For example, natural sunlight has been proven to attract people to a space. Once there, if you can make them comfortable and support their technology needs, they will stay longer and attract more collaborators. So we try to place workstations and collaborative areas near these types of inviting spaces to give people a convenient spot to escape to throughout the day. Also, studies have shown that white noise is more comfortable for most people than complete silence, especially when working in a collaborative group. 
 
Q: How can furniture be tailored to balance privacy and collaboration?
 
A: That’s one of the most important issues in today’s workplace. One space does not fit all, and an organization needs to give everyone a space in which they are most comfortable. The furniture needs to support the activity functionally, but also contribute to the brand and culture of the organization. Varying worksurface heights adds dimension and visually breaks up a space to make it more appealing. Flexibility to reconfigure is also critical because it allows space planners to freshen up the environment without investing in new furniture.
 
Q: Is there an optimal way to divide up an environment among different types of workspaces?
 
A: Every space has similarities in that they need a mix of privacy and openness, but every organization is truly unique. For instance, creative agencies and banks would need totally different environments. So there really is no optimal divide because culture and individual needs drive decisions like this. However, once we get to know an organization and fully understand its culture and goals, we are able to find that perfect balance between private areas and collaborative open spaces.
 
Q: How can aesthetics and furniture have an impact on wellness?
 
A: In addition to providing access to natural light, selecting the right color palette can help create desired moods. The perfect mix of color, contrast and texture provides visual cues to users that this is a desirable space. To support proper spinal alignment and promote a healthy posture, we rely on a mix of standing-height worksurfaces and ergonomic task chairs. We have found that well-designed spaces that keep people engaged, energized and healthy have a positive influence on employee attraction and retention.
 
Feb 11, 2016 BLOG/

OFS Brands Los Angeles Showroom

Located in the PacMutual building in Downtown Los Angeles, the newest OFS Brands showroom speaks to both the history of the built environment as well as the culture and heritage of the brand. A collaboration with Pam Light; pL-D Studio and Klawiter and Associates allowed this truly refined aesthetic to be achieved through preservation of existing architectural elements and thoughtful selection of interior finishes. To schedule a tour and experience it in person, contact us at 310.453.0212.

 

Photography: MOD Agency

 

Feb 09, 2016 BLOG/Showroom

OFS Brands New York Showroom

We've recently refreshed our New York City showroom. Opened in 2013 and located in Midtown Manhattan, this OFS Brands showroom displays 10,000-square-feet of the latest in office furniture. The space features views of the city's architecture spanning from the Empire State Building to the Hudson River. Contact us at 212.337.9676 to schedule a tour.

 
Photography: David Christensen

 

Dec 16, 2015 BLOG/Showroom

Ten Years, Ten Best of Year Awards, Ten Best of Year Honorees

OFS Brands, a leading manufacturer of furniture for workplace, healthcare, and education environments announced today that the company's contract furniture products received an Interior Design Magazine Best of Year Award and Best of Year Honoree Designation. Held recently at Frank Gehry’s IAC Building in New York City, this year's Best of Year Awards celebration marked Interior Design’s 10th Anniversary of the preeminent design competition recognizing superior design in both products and projects.

Riff by OFS won the Best of Year Award in the contract tables category while Rein+ by Carolina was a finalist and Best of Year Honoree in the healthcare furniture category.

In the ten year history of the Best of Year competition, OFS Brands has won ten Best of Year awards and ten Best of Year honoree designations. Qualified interior designers and architects selected product design finalists during a two-week period in October via an online vote, and category winners were determined by a jury of leading architects and designers. According to Interior Design Magazine officials, there were more than 1,800 entries in 142 categories, and nearly 60,000 votes were cast for products by the A+D industry.

OFS Brands is comprised of five distinct brands – OFS, First Office, Loewenstein, Carolina and Highmark – that provide furniture to a wide range of contract interior environments. OFS and FirstOffice offer furniture and accessories for the workplace, from technology-savvy mixed-use collections to casegoods to modern lounge pieces. Loewenstein is leading the emerging third space market with stylish, innovation solutions that redefine function and purpose to allow flexibility and mobility. Healthcare market leader Carolina delivers forward-thinking solutions that positively impact the healing experience for caregivers, patients, and their families. Specializing in ergonomic task, conference, executive, guest and multipurpose seating, Highmark delivers stylish, functional solutions to all contract markets. Based in Huntingburg, IN, OFS Brands is a family-owned corporation.  

Via PitchEngine

Dec 08, 2015 BLOG/Awards

Creating a Foundation for Future Designers

In today’s world, the rate at which new information comes to us can be overwhelming and it is critical that we find new ways to capture the relevant and disregard the noise. I struggle to imagine a reality where we are worse off by knowing more, so being passionately curious and constantly learning are imperatives to connecting the tangible and intangible dots for a better tomorrow. This challenge doesn’t discriminate by age, but the tenured certainly have an advantage due to experience.
 
Simply put, we can never afford or allow ourselves to stop learning. With this notion, it is our responsibility to provide future leaders and decision-makers in our industry, today’s student designers, every opportunity to experience the persistence and understanding that it takes to be successful in the design world.
 
That’s why we are extremely excited about IIDA’s announcement that OFS Brands is the 2016 partner for their Future of Design program which includes:
 
IIDA Student Design Competition
IIDA Student of the Year
Campus Center Awards
IIDA Career Bootcamp
IIDA Student Roundtable
“We are pleased to be partnering with OFS Brands on IIDA’s student programs and competitions, and look forward to working with them to foster and support up-and-coming designers who will lead the Interior Design industry into the future,” said IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, LEED AP. “OFS Brands is known for its high quality, innovative and creative designs, as well as their commitment to sustainability, which is such an important element for the future of design. They are the ideal partner for our student events and competitions.”  
 
“This partnership is the perfect fit for OFS Brands as it goes hand-in-hand with our mission to be at the forefront of the design industry and within the community,” said Doug Shapiro, Director A+D, OFS Brands. “There is an unprecedented amount of talent and creativity in student design programs across the world, and our partnership with IIDA will allow OFS Brands to not only work with future designers, but also to increase our focus as a company on students and emerging professionals.”
 
Students can invigorate their surroundings with their energy, wide open-eyed views and spirited ambition. Last fall, we experienced this with a group of Kansas State University students on a product design project. They took full advantage of this industry experience and networking potential as they have all found promising careers in major A&D firms across the country. We both learned a great deal from one another during our time together and we look forward to more of the same with this year’s class. 
 
Let’s go forward and create learning opportunities so we can all grow together. The foundation of knowledge and experience will serve us all well as the industry blazes new trails and looks across generations to bring meaningful, human-centered design to life. We’re all students on this journey and we cannot ever stop learning.  Who knows?  It may be your idea that creates incremental change that can evolve into the big change the world needs.
 
 
All the best,
Ryan
Oct 15, 2015 BLOG/Design

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