Seating: A New Conversation: Coalesse's SW_1 by Scott Wilson

Several years ago, the legacy Steelcase Design Partnership companies Metro, Brayton, and Vecta merged to form Coalesse, a seemingly uneasy partnership that defied exact explanation given the broad differences in product lines, but promised to address the segment of the market where work and life intersect along blurry lines. And despite each company’s tradition for excellent design, it was clear that Coalesse needed something big of its “own” to define the brand. This past NeoCon®, it delivered on that promise with the introduction of the SW_1 Collection of conference furniture, designed by Scott Wilson of Chicago-based MINIMAL.

Wilson, an alum of design-driven companies like IDEO and Nike, and tech-driven companies like Motorola, had never designed office furniture before, but his career on the periphery of designing for the workplace provided just enough insight and just enough inexperience to give him an informed yet open-minded perspective on the assignment. Armed with a fresh eye, some Coalesse market research on the evolution of meetings in the workplace, and his own observations about what makes meetings productive (or not), Wilson flopped the relationship between the typical conference furniture pieces—tables and chairs—and thus changed their attitude from formal and hierarchical to casual, egalitarian, and collaborative. “Today there is a lot of pressure on people to deliver innovation,” notes Wilson. “We have to put them in a comfortable mind-set.”
SW_1 sketch1
Robert Arko, vice president and creative director of Coalesse, explains that from the outset, “We knew the collection would include some kind of a hybrid between a lounge chair and a conference chair, and we knew a table would be involved.” Beyond that, Arko trusted Wilson’s insights and ideas on exactly how those pieces would manifest themselves. “There is nothing more generic than a conference room, and we needed to move away from generic,” he says. “The collaboration segment is where people come together for meetings that are more strategic, more about knowledge creation. SW_1 delivers a very relevant solution. We subtly retuned the roles of the pieces so that the furniture is quite novel in the behavior it supports. It is meaningfully related to user needs.”

Technically, SW_1 is a low conference setting that represents a live/work alternative to the generic conference room. The collection consists of a work/lounge chair in medium- and high-back versions, a conventional-height conference chair available on glides or casters, a low conference table in multiple sizes, and a conventional-height conference table in varying lengths. A tablet accessory is available for the work/lounge chair, and Power Pod, a design-conscious, portable power source, addresses Coalesse’s belief that a majority of meetings now take place in wireless environments that need only support power. The chairs in the collection are defined by a casual aesthetic that combines a mesh 3-D knit back for SW_1 sketch2ergonomic support with an upholstered seat and frame. Different configurations, materials, and finishes give the user a broad range of applications. But, “The really important meetings are the creative ones, where all these connections start happening,” says Wilson. “This collection is mostly about sitting back and being conversational.”

According to Arko, Coalesse believes the future of the office is heavily weighted toward the kinds of collaborative and social spaces that SW_1 supports. “Converting that insight into a hypothesis is a particular kind of design work that is not fashion,” he says. “It’s design thinking at its finest. That conversion is where we want to be as a brand.”

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