Letting the Sunshine In: Welcoming Outdoor Elements to Your Indoor Space

Letting the Sunshine In: Welcoming Outdoor Elements to Your Indoor Space

While nature-focused design is deservedly hot right now, I’ll admit that I initially dismissed it as something relevant only to the Googles and Amazons of the world. Whether “biophilic” office design would be adopted by smaller companies seemed to me more questionable. Too much expense, I thought. Too much upkeep.

I was wrong.

A few months ago, I walked into my new hair salon and was immediately struck (metaphorically, of course—or this blog post might have gone in an entirely different direction) by their gorgeous green wall.

For those of you who—like me, pre-salon visit—are not quite up on the biophilic office design trend, a “green wall” refers not so much to the color green, but the use of greenery growing directly on the face of a wall. Think less the imposing green-painted left field wall at Fenway Park and more the ivy-covered outfield walls at Wrigley.

Warm. Friendly. Relaxing.

Combined with the natural light from my salon’s huge storefront windows, the green wall—lush and lovely, a focal point right behind the reception desk—helped make the interior feel cozy and welcoming. After a stressful morning fighting traffic in a (failed) attempt to get to my hair appointment on time, I finally felt my breathing slow.

As I discovered that day, bringing the outdoors in is for more than just big companies, and doing so offers benefits well beyond the obvious aesthetic ones. Research shows that introducing natural elements to the workplace can lead to:

a reduction in stress and blood pressure,

an improvement in mood, creativity, and ability to focus,

an increase in memory and attention skills,

air quality improvement (at least when plants are introduced—and they may also serve as a noise buffer),

& finally, a decrease in boredom and absenteeism—with an accompanying increase in productivity.

A commitment to biophilic office design also demonstrates the kind of attention to detail and concern for employee wellbeing that can help employers attract top talent.

For all its many attractions, Pittsburgh is a relatively gray place to live, logging 203 cloudy days in 2016. And all those clouds means it rains a lot, too. It’s not always easy to get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

Being able to enjoy greenery and other natural elements within the workplace can help to stave off the disconnect that comes from being cooped up inside on a regular basis. To qualify as a truly biophilic design, the elements of nature should be integrated into the overall environment, working together rather than in isolation. But any effort to add direct experiences of nature to the workplace can bring benefits.

Earlier in this article, I referred to biophilic office design as a trend, but—ask any travel agent—the notion that people long to be in a sunny, outdoor environment is anything but new. Architects have worked to connect humans with nature as far back as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Even in the case of Wrigley Field, the decision to plant ivy along the walls was a conscious appeal to fans’ connectivity to the natural world: a reminder that at the end of the long, cold Chicago winter would come sunshine and baseball. And those hallowed outfield walls have been adorned with ivy since the 1930s.

Of course, in the Wrigley example, the ivy-covered facade is outdoors, not something for a business owner to worry about maintaining in a lobby or conference room. But a green wall is only one of a multitude of ways to introduce elements of nature to a building—making it easy for businesses of any size or location to embrace particular aspects of biophilic design.

Some companies incorporate garage doors that can be opened when the weather permits, letting in light and fresh air. Others provide all employees with multiple potted plants, and maintain them. Still others use water features—fountains, or aquariums—for the sound and appearance. To let in natural light, many businesses add skylights and atriums, or mimic the effect by installing circadian lighting systems. Adding fireplaces for warmth, color, and movement has also proven popular in recent years.

Notably, representations of the natural world can also help, particularly when used in conjunction with other elements. Sometimes it just isn’t feasible to add natural ventilation, vistas, or light to a building. But even incorporating natural building materials and images of nature may assist in keeping those inside better connected with the outdoor world.

Which brings me back to my salon. This article was all but finished when I returned to get my hair cut last week, and decided I might as well ask a few questions about the green wall that had inspired my research.

Sidling over to the office manager, who was sitting behind the welcome desk, I leaned in conspiratorially. “Does it require a lot of maintenance?” I asked in a low voice, my eyes flicking to the wall. I was so close I could almost touch it.

She considered my question a moment, then, in a voice just as quiet as my own, she responded, “Not really. It’s fake, you know.”

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Written By: Kim Pierson

for CoeoSpace

Coworking Cafés Serve Up Community with Your Caffeine

The adventure began—as so many do—with coffee.

Our old $15 machine broke. So we bought a new one, a nice big one that did pretty much everything except deliver up that steaming cup of deliciousness on a silver tray.

We brought our fancy new machine home, took it out of the box, and settled it—in all its shining glory—on the countertop.

And that’s the precise moment we realized that our circa 1980s kitchen needed a whole lot more than just a new coffee pot.

We enjoyed our next cup of coffee courtesy of our local bank, while we waited to have our home equity loan papers notarized.

The comfy chairs in the bank’s lounge area had fold-out desks. Cupholders, even. The coffee bar was right behind us.

“I could do my writing here,” I said to my spouse in a hushed voice, as I made a beeline to the coffee.

And while the manager may frown on the idea of me and a few of my writer friends showing up there every morning, laptops in hand, a number of established businesses now have locations where users are encouraged to do exactly that.

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State Farm launched Next Door, a collaborative coworking café in Chicago, back in 2011. It offers workspace—and optional financial coaching—in a space that feels more like your favorite coffee shop.

There are workshops on anything from 401k basics to launching a podcast to buying a home. Whiteboards are available, as well as conference rooms for meeting with clients. Users can reserve event spaces, browse the library, and take advantage of the reliable Wi-Fi.

And the only thing they have to pay for is the coffee.


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So where’s the catch?

Surprisingly, there doesn’t appear to be one. State Farm says it benefits from learning about customer needs and developing one-on-one connections. Users say they haven’t been pressured to make a purchase. And unlike a traditional coffee shop, where the owners are relying on a high volume of drink purchases to make a go of it, at Next Door, users can linger as long as they wish, without worrying that they should give up their table or order additional lattes.

Other companies are also using the concept of free coworking cafés to engage with their communities. Capital One now has locations from Boston to Chicago that combine a Peet’s coffee shop with life coaches—and offer communal tables, meeting rooms, WiFi—even free ATMs. The spaces are open to everyone, not just cardholders, and some even hold special events, like family game nights. Through these cafés, Capital One seeks to preserve human connections in a field that is becoming more dependent on digital tools.

Although these types of free coworking cafés are not available everywhere, similar options are springing up throughout the U.S.—the main difference being that these locations charge individuals or companies a modest fee to access some or all of the services.

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Hopewell’s Columbus, Ohio, location, for example, provides users with a mix of public and private spaces to work and collaborate. Members pay a monthly fee for flexible daily access and the ability to reserve meeting spaces at special rates. The café area, however, is open to all, member or not (although coffee is free to members only!), as are some events. The Hopewell founders compare the space to a community rec center, or a student union.

Like Capital One and State Farm, Hopewell’s purpose in offering a communal workspace is to help forge human connections. But its motivation is arguably less mixed. Hopewell has no products or services to sell its members beyond that for which they are already paying. The connections being forged are thus not so much between the members and the business providing the space. Instead, Hopewell’s focus is on fostering the connections between its members themselves.

The Hopewell founders are serious about building strong communities and helping their members obtain the benefits associated with increased social capital. As co-founder Brian Zuercher puts it, “The mission of Hopewell is to end isolation through shared experiences.”


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We can all use a little more community with our coffee.

CoeoSpace Live from ioi Pitch Battle

We were thrilled to participate in the ioi summit in Seattle, Washington in August.

CoeoSpace was selected as one of the 14 finalists for the live Pitch Battle. Check it out now…

It was a great experience for our entire team and it was truly a pleasure working with the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the Commercial Reach Accelerator program.