The New Musical Chairs

3rd spaces answer how many seats per person as the music plays.
Written by Nick Blessinger

Think about the last time you played musical chairs. Count the participants, then gather one less chair than the number of persons. The music stops, and the person standing is out. Take away a chair and do it again. In today’s world, the music never stops. Individuals just keep going, tackling their day through meetings, tasks and general interaction. When the music does pause, where are you sitting? Is that space conducive towards the activity at-hand?

Many conversations today revolve around how many seats per person are needed in today’s workplace. Is it one? Maybe three? It depends on the organization, department and the type of work needed to get done; however, when you think about primary, secondary and social spaces at minimum, what is truly needed are choices.

Technically, 1st Place is home and 2nd Place is work. 3rd Place was originally described as places outside of home and work, designations such as cafés, coffee shops and local gathering places. This approach as a community is thoroughly covered by urban sociologist, Ray Oldendburg, author of “The Great Good Place” (1991). Just like there have always been makers (i.e. blacksmiths, cobblers) but now we’re in a maker movement, there have always been third places (i.e. libraries, parks, general stores), and we’re in a third place movement. Today, similar to maker spaces, third spaces benefit in popularity from greater awareness of a connected world and a shift towards right-brained appreciation. And, even more so, the evolution of these movements simply resonates with boomers to digital natives without effort.

Starbucks and establishments of their ilk benefited greatly from the onset of third place. Then, third place, generally reserved outside of home and office, became the “3rd Space” and was planted internally among organizations to benefit from the great atmosphere and interaction these spaces generated. Casual collisions, the bump factor, all became rooted in the reasons to dedicate prime real estate to informal spaces that accommodate individuals and small-to-medium-to-large groups with various levels of public and private applications. Why are organizations doing this? Because it works.

“Clients ask me, ‘what’s this space over here you planned with nobody’s name on it?’ I respond with ‘that is where the most work will get done.’ We purposely plan in 30 to 40% of third space because the research and our experience shows how important it is to productivity and overall culture. They reply, ‘what’s third space?,’” Pam Light, Senior Vice President, HOK Los Angeles, relates.

What is 3rd space? It’s that inviting lounge chair next to a window with tablet and power and some seclusion where you can knock out 45 minutes of work before your next meeting. It’s the small round table with three chairs where your project team can meet for an impromptu meeting. It’s a highback lounge configuration that replaces four walls, yet has all the privacy four colleagues need. Now, add LinkedIn-type networking to an external third space with cool amenities and charge for access...say hello to co-working, another movement that fits the generational blend and evolution of work/home/play.

Technology, more so the untethering of it, combined with transient workforces spawned third space activity as designers recognized that individuals needed only a percent of time in the office or at a dedicated or primary space.

“We coach our clients through a deep-dive assessment of dedicated space. What’s the run-rate on daily office capacity? How mobile is your workforce? The allocation of primary, secondary and third spaces is a measurement. Then, the proximity of the third space is just as important as recognizing that it is needed,” adds Pam Light.

What’s more, just like musical chairs, third spaces create movement and flow by being a destination, just like that last open chair. Individuals remove their bodies from statue-like positions and walk to a new space to work. Movement is well-being. Interaction is well-being. Third spaces done properly will be just like the kitchen at a house’s where everyone ends up.

So, let’s play the new version of musical chairs where everyone has a couple of seats to choose from, depending on what’s playing on the day’s to-do list. The new musical chairs isn’t reserved just for the workplace. Education and healthcare environments dance right along to this tune too!
Mar 13, 2017 NEWS/Design

Another Big Night in NYC for OFS Brands

The OFS, Carolina and Highmark names were called throughout the evening in several categories as honorees with two products earning the coveted bulb award. In the 11 year history of the Best of Year competition, OFS Brands has won 12 Best of Year awards and 13 Best of Year honoree designations.
Best of Year Winners:
OFS Qove designed by Q Design

Carolina Whisper

Best of Year Honorees:
OFS Aptos designed by Brian Graham

OFS Preview designed by Tom Newhouse

Highmark Genus designed by Webb Associates 

Qualified interior designers and architects selected product design finalists during a two-week period in October via an online vote. 
All products are featured in the December issue of Interior Design, dedicated to Best of Year.


Qove by OFS                          Whisper by Carolina



Aptos by OFS                         Genus by Highmark                 Preview by OFS


Dec 15, 2016 NEWS/Awards

An Interview with Linda Porter Bishop

Changes in the landscape and confusion in today's furniture market.

Linda has been a registered interior designer in Texas for 19 years. She is a professional member of ASID and IIDA and has her LEED-AP certification. She is one of 50 Founding Members of AAHID (2004). She has designed several furniture collections. Along with interior designer Iris Dates, Linda designed the award-winning Embrace Collection for Carolina. She has won local ASID, state IIDA and national and international design awards. She has been part of the editorial review board for HERD Journal since its beginning, one of two interior designers out of 30 worldwide reviewers.
What have you been up to since designing the Embrace collection for Carolina?
In 2008, I jumped into an amazing opportunity to live and work in Doha, Qatar. I sold my home, my car, left my grown children (who were wonderfully supportive!) and worked briefly for a U.S. firm there. Then my client, the government-owned healthcare system, hired me. I worked in The Center for Healthcare Improvement at Hamad Medical Center. It was my dream job, and I worked with a wonderful group of people from all over the world.
While in Doha, I was asked to design a healthcare product line for the Asia Pacific division of a U.S. furniture company, and I moved to Shanghai in 2012. Another dream job! My commission evolved to overseeing the product development, branding and marketing strategies for the line. As that neared completion, I started consulting with Robarts Spaces in Beijing on their hospital and senior living projects; beautiful work and beautiful people!
In 2015, I decided it was time to come home. Air pollution and daily challenges with the Internet just became too much to handle; and I missed family!
While you were working overseas, how would you describe the general state of Healthcare to be in those countries?
Qatar and the Middle East are very different from China, and both are very different from the U.S.
Qatar is an interesting study of contrasts: they’ve leapfrogged ahead with technology and are slowly developing the infrastructure to support it. It is with the very best of intentions that they build the most modern healthcare facilities. Their challenge is bringing their citizens through the systems to support the facilities without the help of expert oversight.
In China, it is another but different contrast: there’s the beautiful tradition of TCM, or Traditional Chinese Medicine, that has sustained the citizens for thousands of years. At the same time, there’s the drive to be recognized globally as a world leader, so there’s been a rush to construct these massive healthcare centers with the latest technology. But as in Qatar, the infrastructure hasn’t caught up, and often the technology is plentiful but unused.
How is (or isn’t) that different than Healthcare in the US?
Everything is different.
There are very basic things for designers, like learning to convert our Imperial dimensions into metric. The design process is also very different. In Qatar, owners wanted a final rendering at the first meeting, and there was no consideration for any user input. In China, you were required to present “inspiration photos” for your design, and there was no appreciation of creativity.
On the positive side, both countries invested in many tours to the U.S. to tour our well-known facilities. In the case of Qatar, they actively seek partnerships with leading facilities to bring their knowledge and expertise back to Qatar.
As far as healthcare furniture, there’s nothing available around the world that is similar to U.S. healthcare furniture. There’s also no appreciation for it; it is often beautiful but totally inappropriate high-end contemporary pieces. There are lots of opportunities for education regarding infection control and patient safety.
What do you see as the biggest issues facing Interior Designers in the US that are designing Healthcare spaces?
Technology and Evidence-based Design has changed everything.
It’s incumbent on each of us to keep up with the latest research and not to rely on our intuition or what we did on our last project. You have to spend time reading and understanding the implications of the data to your projects.
You have to spend time with all segments of the population and observe them in a healthcare setting: what do patients need and then solve the puzzles when designing the environment and when specifying appropriate products.
Where do you see Healthcare Interior Design in 10 years?
First, I think we need to think about our work as Health and Care Design. It addresses the unique needs of hospitals and clinics as “care” environments.

From a branding and marketing perspective, it’s only a short hop to senior living — or what I call “healthcare-lite.” That opens up a new market.
With this huge wave of retiring Baby Boomers, we have an opportunity to redefine what those environments will look like. Most of us don’t live in a Chippendale-inspired environment; I’m eagerly awaiting a senior living provider who gets this concept.
As each generation of designers enter the market, their preferences have taken over the market and the preferences of the older generation has been phased out. But we have so many people living and working longer, and we need to find a respect for each and a recognition of their individual tastes with our design solutions.

View complete interview here.
Sep 16, 2016 NEWS/Design

OFS Brands Live! - Lively Conversations from Behind the Curtain

by Doug Shapiro

At OFS Brands, we believe that when you put people first, you can do so much more. That's exactly what we did with our very talented design partners this year at NeoCon. We put them front-and-center, so our sales organization could hear first-hand the driving force and points of inspiration that were molded, reworked, scrapped, resurrected and ultimately transformed into the products you experienced in Chicago and going forward.

Through the grandeur of NeoCon, we wanted to get very real and personal so our sales team could relay the stories behind the products to you like it was coming directly from the designers. During our annual sales meeting on the Saturday before the big show, our team got so much more than anticipated and we wanted to share these inspiring, behind-the-curtain conversations with you.

Welcome to OFS Brands Live! Mark Strauss, President Emeritus of Interior Design Magazine, hosted a lively, laughter-filled talk show format where his thoughtful prodding took us down paths of "homefulness" to sneakers; yet, always coming full circle to why it matters to people. Our celebrity guests included Brian Graham, Daniel Korb, Pam Light and John Duffy, and our new VP of Design Development, John Phillips, who all welcomed us into their personalities and how the world has informed them which in turn has informed their product design.

This was the perfect way to kickoff NeoCon and now it's the perfect way to kickoff your day of designing a great space where someone will do great things. As John Phillips says, "We want to inspire forward," and hopefully these videos provide inspiration to you. Enjoy!

Watch NeoCon 2016 Live! Videos

Aug 04, 2016 NEWS/Video


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 NEWS/Design


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 NEWS/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 NEWS/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 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 NEWS/Showroom

Start Somewhere


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 NEWS/


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 NEWS/