In Review: Allsteel’s Rock by HNI International

If ever you wanted to take your bean bag to work, but it would look too frumpy, we found just the alternative for you – the Rock. This cute little rocker from HNI’s Allsteel range creates a perfect little median between casual and professional furniture. And so we decided to review it with Indu Varanasi of IRD Design and Lorenzo Zoli of M+N Architecture. Read on for our thoughts…


The Review Crew

Above from Left: Lorenzo Zoli, Managing Director of M+N Architecture, Indu Varanasi, Design Director at IRD Design, and Craig Hanson, Regional Manager EMEA, HNI International

The HNI Corporation has been serving as a cornerstone for furniture manufacturing in the US since it was founded in 1944. Today, they are a global leader in the industry, serving nearly every business and residential sector by providing entire suites of solutions.

The HNI brand may be better known as the family name for Allsteel, Gunlocke, Maxon, HBF, HBF Textiles, OFM, Inc, Lamex, and HNI India. This family can provide a solution to any and every furniture requirement. As with most early 20th century furniture brands, HNIs bread and butter has been workstations, task seating, and storage solutions. Lucrative as that may have been, staying relevant and competitive demands innovation, which leads to exploring new product lines and designs.

Enter Rock, an adorably simple seating unit from AllSteel’s Townhall™ Collection.

Designed by Rainlight Design Studio, Rock is one of several designs created to support agile micro-environments for individual and group work in an open space. The Townhall™ Collection is also the brand’s foray into resimercial design, which is very much the trend these days. Launched at NeoCon 2019, the Rock is designed to offer a residential aesthetic, but built to withstand the seating volume that comes with an office environment. 

So we congregated at HNI’s Dubai showroom to learn more about it. Craig Hanson, Regional Manager EMEA, HNI, introduced us to the Rock and where it sits in the larger Townhall family. And giving us the designers’ perspective were Indu Varanasi, Design Director at IRD Design and Lorenzo Zoli, Managing Director of M+N Architecture.

Indu: I simply love the shape. It’s so quirky and different. I picture myself sitting on it reading a good book at home. It’s got the resimercial look but it doesn’t have to be relegated to that type of setting only. Its market is definitely a home office set-up, but will work well in libraries and similar spaces. Comfortable enough to work on, but not too much to let you slouch and ruin your posture. The design is great -– simple and functional, and the wide range of fabrics open it up to so many finish options. 

Lorenzo: It’s got an interesting shape that catches my attention, and looks great from any view. It’s got that funky design going on for it. Definitely a great product for breakout areas, but I’d reckon it can be used in a re-invented majlis. It’s practical too and not simply aesthetically pleasing. The shape allows you to sit in a way that the soles of your shoes don’t keep hitting the base and making it dirty. That’s pretty clever. 

If Bean Bags Wore Suits..

An important component of the Rock’s design that distinguishes it from similar products is its mobility. “It’s movable, not mobile,” says Craig. “It doesn’t have the traditional mobile parts to enable it to move around quickly. But you can still transport it with ease. It’s a professional bean bag, and fit wells into a fun and fresh corporate design.” 

“It’s so… un-American!” exclaims Indu. “When I look at the classic portfolio of products from HNI, I can feel the change in style here. It gets the formal and casual mix just right.”

She’s right. HNI has been collaborating with European Designers to change the look and feel of their range of smaller products and accessories, making it more appealing to the wider international market. HNI isn’t necessarily ditching their core design values and revamping themselves, but rather changing certain elements of new products to fit into new interior design trends. 

Given the immensely wide range of products, it can be difficult to make a choice as well. To make it easier for designers and clients, they’re focusing on a range that stands out and is catered to specific themes and modes of working. “I often find myself telling clients that their biggest advantage when working with HNI is the sheer range of products that they have at their disposal,” says Craig. “But that’s also a disadvantage. It leads to an analysis paralysis situation.”

Between A Rock And A Soft Place  

The appeal of the Rock lies in its ability to fit well into nearly every space (leaving out formal conference rooms). It’s casual enough to sit in breakout spaces, and just formal enough to work its way into the more ‘office like’ settings, such as banks. “It looks good from nearly any angle,” says Lorenzo. “It doesn’t define the space, but it’s definitely noticeable,” says Indu.

Even though it shares a residential aesthetic, its functional purpose is to support an ergonomic and active posture while working. The inner shell is made of the same material used to build kayaks, and sports a neat little handle that can be used to drag it to another spot. Single and dual upholstery are offered for customisation, with a seriously wide range of fabrics to play with. 

There is no doubt that this whimsical looking piece of furniture is comfortable. The clever design even subtly coerces the user to occasionally rock while working, eliminating static postures and enabling focused work. Craig calls it ‘Fidget-friendly Furniture – a novel, modern hybrid of the bean bag and rocking chair’.

Indu: “It looks like a cross between a pouf and an armchair, which I find really cool. It’s most outstanding feature is its shape, feel, and durability. However, from a practical standpoint, I find the price to be on the higher side, meaning that it would be an upsell to the client. Still it’s hard to compare it to other products in the market because it’s in a niche category.”

Lorenzo: From a commercial design perspective, it’s design really takes effect when you have five or six of them clustered together, as opposed to one or two pieces. That might be a challenge given the price, but it’s doable if the point is to have movable and functional furniture, and to avoid bean bags. The price may be initially hard to justify to the client, but definitely not beyond reason.

Final Thoughts

While we all agreed that price wise, the Rock sits on the higher end of the spectrum, the product nevertheless offers a great starting point for those not yet convinced of resimercial design, or how well such products would fit into their workspace. It’s simple, funky, cleverly designed, and blends in with nearly any type of setting. You can almost guarantee it becoming a popular item in the office, particularly as it is the closest thing out there to a professional looking bean bag. And it’s supremely comfortable.

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