In Review: Vitra’s Soft Work Seating System

Known for its timeless and exquisitely designed products, Vitra has opened the door to a new system that fuses work and lounge, and could give the traditional desking world some serious competition. Hilda Impey of Hilda Impey Design Studio and David Lessard of H+A meet us at the Vitra regional office in d3 to marvel at the wonder that is the Soft Work system.

Location: Vitra Regional Office in d3

Sitting on a sofa with your laptop and a cup of coffee is a different feeling altogether. Despite all research suggesting that it may not be an optimal position, the modern worker still chooses a sofa to catch up on work at the office, despite having access to ergonomic chairs and desks. This habit does not occur in isolation – working in places that aren’t traditionally designated for work has become the hallmark of the post pandemic worker. We’re always mobile and connected, and you’ll find us working in cafes, lobbies, and even restaurants.

Vitra understands and embraces this modern need. Through a collaboration with Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby, the iconic Swiss furniture brand has created Soft Work, a new seating system that combines the best of home and office design, offering a comfortable new furniture solution to work on. ​​”The workstation is going the same way as the dining room, and it’s disappearing as an archetype,” say Barber and Osgerby. “The desk has had its day. With mobile technology, you need a place to sit occasionally, or a comfortable place to hang out. That is our belief.”

The Review Crew

Above from left: David Lessard, Design Director, H+A; Salim Khoury, Regional Business Manager Middle East, Vitra; Hilda Impey, Founder & Creative Partner, Hilda Impey Design Studio

A Sofa That Works With You And For You

Salim Khoury, Regional Business Manager, Middle East at Vitra, introduces us to this beautifully designed system at the Vitra regional office in d3. “I’ve seen unrelated users simultaneously experience this seating system in different ways,” he adds. “Some have meetings, some lounge on it, while others are happy to work ergonomically while the system charges their phone and laptop. That’s what Soft Works is, and what is so interesting about it. As work is no longer tied to a specific location, new behavioral patterns have developed, which are gradually finding their way into the office. Soft Work is a solution that was not present in the market before, or at least not in this form.”

Soft Work incorporates the best of the furniture components that are familiar to us, and consolidates them into a sleek and comfortable new design in the form of a sofa. Vitra has achieved this ideal blend of a product that was meant for a private space, but perfectly suited to a more public setting, such as a lobby or lounge. “We can provide a sense of privacy through the screens, but just as easily configure it to be a product for public use,” Salim explains. “We’ve seen it in the office and we’ve seen it in hotel lobbies. That’s the beauty of this product.”

What we find equally useful is how multiple work modes can be accommodated at the same time. Depending on the configuration, you can have a part of the sofa open, while closing off a section with screens and mounted tables to support privacy. Additionally, you can integrate tables into it to create a more casual, lounge-like seating arrangement.

Soft Work’s design is focused on blending ergonomics, functionality, and wellness without having to trade off any of those aspects. Configurations and options are aplenty, and the craftsmanship is exceptional, as is to be expected from Vitra. Furthermore, the materials are sustainably sourced, and the product can be upcycled or recycled at the end of its life.

“Soft Work is optimal for decentralised working,” says Salim. “Say I want to work on a task for about an hour and then head out, after which another person may want to use this product for another purpose completely. This mobility and agility is at the core of this system.”

David: When you think of Vitra, you think of Eames or their popular commercial products, but this is somewhere in between. It has a nice residential and hospitality feel to it but is commercially minded. I really like the hybrid design. This duality represents the ethos of Vitra – iconic but unique in its positioning. 

Ergonomics is not only about your seated position, but also about group seating positions. There is a lot of thought here, not only into the individual ergonomics, but also about how you converse and communicate. The various configurations speak well not only of the design, but the consideration for human behaviour, and how we want to communicate and socialise. I like how it’s responsive and adaptive but doesn’t dictate how you have to behave in a space. 

Hilda: This product is so Vitra in its true grace and sophistication. It’s got a strong and bold personality. I can envision myself working in this context. Looking at the more technical aspects of it, you can tell it’s a good mix of residential and commercial design. 

There’s a social component as well. Like in an airport, not everyone can get into the VIP Lounge. This can cater to that sort of setting where someone would want to sit and relax, work, or socialise. Additionally, offices are changing and the reality is that we can’t be so rigid anymore, and we can’t have traditional borders. Soft Work supports that well and helps with these new setups. 

Features and Functions

For a sofa setup, Soft Work is packed with features, made possible through its sophisticated construction and strong attention to technical detail. It comes with sleek, arm-mounted desks that are movable to enable diverse seating and working positions. To support the devices that enable mobile or remote work, power sockets are located between the seat cushions and can be pivoted upwards for comfortable use.

But what really adds dimension and enhanced functionality are the partition screens – these can be used to create quiet spaces that are zoned off from the rest of the busy environment. All of these functional elements are seamlessly and elegantly integrated into the overall aesthetic. Equipped with generously padded seat cushions and flexible backrests, the sofa offers comfortable working conditions for longer periods of time. Even the partitions come in medium and high back sizes to give you a choice of how much privacy you want.

“It’s exciting to think about how many configurations are possible,” says Salim. “With Soft Work, the possibilities are endless and as a designer, you can design your own configuration, yet they can all be made available in one cohesive unit. It’s a sofa with so many uses and purposes.” Salim demonstrates the multiple, different configurations possible. There are linear and curved components that can be mixed and matched to create interesting shapes not easily possible with similar products.

David: One aspect of this product is the flexibility it offers, and as a result, more value per square foot than other products. You’re essentially offering more with less, which means you’re buying less. That leads to less waste. So there’s much benefit with products like this. Not only is it sourced sustainably, but sustainable and smart with functionality too. 

It’s a highly engineered product that is modular, flexible, and of the highest quality. Yes, the price point is high, but also appropriate given the sheer value and quality. As an architect and a designer, you never want to be hamstrung by limitations, or limited in a product configuration. And when so much thought has gone into the modularity, with each configuration looking so natural, you’re bound to see the value in this. From that perspective, I absolutely love this product. 

Hilda: It’s clearly well thought through. I personally love the available fittings and fixtures, and how we can configure them in so many ways so easily. A lot of these design elements are clearly Vitra, meaning you can assume they will be timeless. Not to mention, super comfortable too!

I definitely like the idea that we can work on a sofa that’s built to offer the same ergonomic support as a task chair and work desk.  And you have power outlets too! The aesthetics of every single component is meticulously designed. It’s neutral but well studied in that it will not compromise your surroundings, but instead will enhance the design. I think it will fit into any environment really. However, I would like to see more colour options. Something cool and funky and not so muted or neutral. Besides that, I think it’s a phenomenal product and want to see it in more spaces. 

Our Thoughts

Soft Work provides aesthetics and functionality that is unparalleled across the industry. It is an ideal product for our current times and embraces the new paradigm of work we’re getting used to. It works in a variety of topologies, and will support the shift away from desking based workspace designs. We give it a massive thumbs up!

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Date added:

4 March, 2022

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