My workshop gently weeps

A recent article in the Guardian lamented the saturation of what it called AirSpace – or what for a while I’ve been calling #workshopchic. I’m with the sentiment of the article entirely. The all-conquering vacuous, aesthetic that – like all fads, started as a rebellion – has solidified itself into a dominant form as dull and apathetic as everything it once opposed. The rebel has become the establishment, still thinking they’re a rebel.

It’s so contrived a look that some are even taking new space in slick city buildings, and constructing a battered and reclaimed shell within them. It’s all a bit embarrassing. Following from a comment in my previous post, it’s the inanimate equivalent of an over-40 with a top-knot – space that’s trying so hard to look like it’s not trying at all that it looks like a pillock.

Creative and Attractive Hallways Interior design of Foote Cone & Belding Worldwide Office:

The Guardian article’s brand-oriented reasoning for this stultifying homogeneity is a little too highbrow in my view. It’s simpler than that. Quite possibly the following are behind it:

  • It’s harmless – we don’t feel challenged by it, or need to form an opinion (conscious or not). We now don’t even notice it. We’re too busy to need to be challenged after all. Busy spending most of our time in most places we eat/work/talk staring into our phones.
  • The imagery is ubiquitous. We’ve been pinterested to purgatory. I challenged a designer recently to create a space without using the internet – purely from memory, inspiration and feeling. The discomfort with this idea was so tangible it ran off screaming to the nearest “co-café” (everything has “co” in front of it now, doesn’t it?) and settled itself with a skinny caramel latte. It never happened, and it’s unlikely to. Instincts that once conceptualised and created have been stunted by this ubiquity.
  • As such – it’s just too easy to design. It doesn’t take much imagination to “strip something down”. The materiality is straightforward, wood goes with metal goes with bare, flaky, stamped, warped, rusted. Old stuff always goes with other old stuff regardless, right? Just chuck it in. A mess of any degree and description can be called “eclectic”. If you say its crap, you’re just not seeing the cool. There is an element of emperor’s-new-clothes about it all. The fine line between eclectic and garbage has been crossed so many times, its dust.
  • It’s easy to create – we can go shopping on eBay, we don’t even need to look up from our phones. No need to worry about fire certificates or warranties or anything. Not that there is anything left on eBay that others with the same idea haven’t snaffled. There are only so many battered chesterfields on the planet. I recently witnessed the specification of new chairs with rips made in them to make them look old. It’s like new jeans with added rips in the knees….as if that would catch on, eh?

office space:

Design fads are hardly new. Back in the 1970’s every office was suicidal dark brown, cream and mid-grey with monstrous slab-ended wooden desks in light oak or dark oak. A little later came the genuinely horrific limed oak with its cordial grain. Through stifled screams we pleaded for something different.

And like most fads, we’ve been convinced we need it by its very ubiquity. Saturation point has been passed, but it will take time. Not everyone stopped wearing flares the moment one apparently certifiable lunatic shouted “enough!” and dared slip on a pair of drainpipes. You’ve got a few years of #workshopchic left before design re-discovers its soul.

It will have to, if it wants a future.


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