West Michigan's BigThree

June 4, 2010
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It’s impossible to talk about office furniture without discussing the three companies that put West Michigan on the contract furniture map: Haworth Inc., Herman Miller Inc. and Steelcase Inc.. Below is a look at the West Michigan Big Three and a few of the products they will highlight at this year’s NeoCon.


Haworth advanced on three fronts this year, including a new task chair. The Very chair takes the ergonomics from Haworth’s Zody chair and wraps in aesthetics to match its Very line of seating.

The company’s Composed Wood systems product is also largely about aesthetics. Many systems products use a mix of metal and wood. Composed Wood brings more wood to places that used to be made of other materials, such as to exteriors, top caps and end caps.

The Frameless Glass wall does not deviate much from its straightforward name. Typically, a glass wall product has a buffer material such as aluminum that frames panes of glass. This product removes the need for frames and puts the glass panels snug against each other.

NeoCon attendants will note that Haworth has completely remodeled its showroom to be able to demonstrate more collaborative spaces. Haworth’s showroom also will feature more vibrant color patterns and a café bar.

Herman Miller

Herman Miller stepped up in three catgories this year with new solutions in lounge furniture, health care, and a new portfolio called Thrive that includes desktop work tools, seating, lighting, tables and desks.

The new lounge furniture is meant for use in a variety of settings, including office, learning environments, health care and residential. Higher education, however, may be its most logical fit.

“(This line) creates functional and comfortable spaces, which is particularly important for higher education spaces,” said Jeff Vredevoogd, director of education solutions. “Young people sit, lounge and study in a number of ways. … The contour of the seats and the mobility of the tables allow the users the freedom to sit or work in whatever way is best for them.”

Both the seating and the side tables are light and mobile to allow users to reconfigure them as needed. The side tables include power plug-ins for electronic devices such as laptops.

Herman Miller Healthcare takes a big jump with its Compass line of modular furniture, a collaboration with Continuum, a Boston-based innovation and design consultancy firm. Compass is designed to work in any patient care setting.

The wall portion of Compass begins with wall rails. Once the rails are up, components can be interchanged in minutes, including cabinets of varying depths and panels with openings to connect power and various medical devices.

Panels have a clear wrap and overlap like roof shingles to prevent liquids from seeping into the seams, which reduces the spread of infection. Finally, the product is raised off the floor for both aesthetics and easier cleaning.

The Thrive portfolio is marketed as researched-based ergonomic products that create “health-positive” solutions. The idea is that people tend to adjust themselves to conform to furniture and technology, which puts them in ergonomically subpar positions. Thrive promotes products that adjust to people. Previous Herman Miller products such as the Envelop desk and the Be Collection of desktop work tools will become part of the Thrive portfolio. New products such as Everywhere tables have been added to the line.

The new monitor arm Flo has an increased degree of movement and is a result of Herman Miller’s March acquisition of U.K.-based Colebrook Bosson Saunders.


Most of Steelcase’s efforts are research-based enhancements to current products. Its Details division has launched dash, a personal LED light. The 8-watt light can dim by 35 percent and has two arms. Because the light is wireless, the lower arm can rotate 360 degrees. The arm can extend to 32 inches.

Steelcase is also launching one of its European benching systems in North America at this year’s NeoCon. FrameOne was developed after a heavy amount of user research, which broke workers into four categories: Nomads, Project Teams, Residents and Functional Groups. The groups represent different work styles. For example, Nomads are highly mobile while Residents are more stationary.

FrameOne looks like a long table with dividers running down the center. Power and data run hidden along the underside of the table’s center. Users are able to plug in to power and data via cords that are concealed in compartments at the top of the table. Power outlets can also be plugged in and moved up and down the table to meet users’ needs.

Benching systems tend to be used in open spaces, but users have asked for increased privacy within this space. Through its research, however, Steelcase found that what users were really asking for was a defined space to let them know where one person’s area ends and theirs begins. To create designated space, Steelcase uses mountable “cradles” that hug the table and slide up depending on the user’s desire.

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