A Brief History Of The Office & Office Furniture – Part 1

Office Storage

Although there is no conclusive proof that offices were used by early humans, we do know that neolithic people were building storage shelves.

This picture taken from Skara Brae 5, Orkney, Scotland clearly shows this.


The site is thought to date from around 3100BC and in addition to the storage shelves and dresser, there is other stone furniture such as seating and preparation surfaces. Even stone shelving above the bed areas is evident, perhaps for storing more personal items and possessions.

Of course there is no specific evidence that these shelves were used for storing anything other than pots and pans. However, it does serve to highlight that early humans were more advanced and organised than we might otherwise imagine.

It is certainly true to say that people have been trading with each other since time immemorial. Therefore we can assume that those who acquired possessions from others would need a safe place to store them.

In a sense this can be viewed as ‘business’ and these acquisitions would no doubt have to be organised and stored away ready for the next transaction.

The word salary itself is thought to derive from the latin word salarium,which links employment with soldiers. In other words, early Roman soldiers were paid in salt which was considered a valuable commodity. Again, the soldiers would need a place to store this salt and it could be argued (perhaps tenuously) that this was the origin of the home office.

Office BuildingOrganizations & Government Offices

It is a fairly safe assumption that ever since people organised themselves into hierarchical structures, those who held the power base at the top would need to have a space for issuing their commands and dictates. They also needed an office of one kind or another to perform their clerical and administrative duties.

Developed nations would have had some form of office space for hundreds of years. This has evolved rapidly in recent times, especially in the 19th and 20th Centuries with the advent of modern communications and networking.

Office Technology & Communication

Office TelephoneThe use of offices and office furniture for business, both private and commercial increased exponentially with the invention of the telegraph and telephone.

During the 19th Century in the US for instance, as the rail and road networks rapidly expanded, so did the proliferation of offices. It became normal to conduct business from commercial offices, especially with the advent of electric lighting, the typewriter and calculating machines.

Wherever there were manufacturing facilities, an office would be required to handle the administrative duties.

Of course the single most important invention that has contributed to office evolution is the computer. They allow users to perform complicated administrative tasks more easily and effectively. Computers enable people to network and share files within their own office environment, and also with other users in offices all around the globe.Office Computer

Office Space Evolution From 1904 – Present Day

Circa 1904

American mechanical engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor is credited as being one of the first people to actually design an office space.

He was obsessed with trying to improve industrial efficiency.

Consequently he came up with the idea of packing his workers onto the floor with the senior staff and management in individual offices on the perimeter.

This is similar to the factory concept and is still common in countries such as China and India.

Circa 1950 – 1960

Office LandscapeEberhard and Wolfgang Schnelle created a new type of office planning called Burolandschaft – which means office landscape.

They based their layouts on the type of open plan offices that developed in the US around 1940.

These offices were a lot less formal than the type that Frederick Taylor created. In fact their office landscapes did away with office screens and often used strategic placement of plant pots and lighting to further enhance the working environment. The idea was to make it easier for people to discuss ideas with each other.

Circa 1964 – 1968

Office CubicleThe Action Officewas first designed by Robert Propst in 1964 and sold by Herman Miller.

Inspired by the Burolandschaft, it is essentially a cubicle system which is still in use today in some offices. It was the first example of modular office furniturewith flexible office desk spaces and dividing screens.

It was eventually superseded by the Action II Office Range which is still in use today and is essentially what we think of as a cubicle system.

Circa 1980

Cubicle Farms (also known as Cube Farms or Sea Of Cubicles) appeared in the 1980s and in retrospect are probably one of the most unpleasant office working environments imaginable.

The Sea Of Cubicles shown in the image almost certainly arose from a desire to maximise working office space, while offering a degree of privacy for employees. Additionally with the rise of middle management, there was a need to accommodate their office requirements and give them an illusion of importance without supplying individual offices. These were reserved for senior management only.

Circa 1994 – Present Day

Networking and the virtual office appeared with the phenomenal and exponential computing power of CPUs in the early 1990s.

There is a classic story about an Ad agency in the US whose CEO decided it would be a great idea to have an open plan virtual office with no individual desks.

Each morning, there would be a mad scramble as employees grabbed themselves a laptop and ran to claim the best available office chair and desk.

Needless to say, productivity dropped and the company became something of a laughing stock.

Nowadays of course more and more people are able to work remotely from their home office or in fact from pretty much anywhere that has an Internet connection.

For those that still work in a traditional office environment, most computers and peripherals will be networked together.

To make the most use of available space and to keep desk space clutter-free, there are many ranges of office furniturewhich are modular and can be configured in almost any way imaginable.

To read more click the following link:
A Brief History Of The Office & Office Furniture – Part 2