New Potrero415 from Coalesse Gives Control to Designers

Potrero415, the latest table system from Coalesse Design Group, started out its life as a conference room table. And then the design team started looking into what makes a conference in today’s workplace.

Few conferences actually happen in a traditional conference room. So rather than making another conference room table that would go into a staid room, Coalesse’s designers shifted their thinking and made a conference room table for where conferences actually happen: Everywhere.

Instead of focusing on shapes, sizes and finishes they thought designers might like, Coalesse handed decisions on how it would look to the interior designers who would actually specify the products. Instead of specifying, designers would be encouraged to participate in the design process.

Coalesse gave designers an extensive group of table shapes, sizes, heights and finish options for customization. The portfolio of round, square, rectangular and boat-shaped tabletops accommodates a variety of environments, including private work rooms, small group meeting spaces, and, yes, conference rooms. The tops can be fabricated in a broad range of materials with different levels of technology integration depending on the intended use of the space.

“With all the problems that we work on, we always start in the same place: What’s the insight? What are we trying to solve here?” said Design Director John Hamilton. “What are people doing at work that changes the ideas about the table we have? Potrero415 started as a conference room table. But we started looking at conference rooms and realized these were places that were not just for meetings; that people were bringing things to the meeting that they didn’t in the past. And we found a lot of meetings weren’t happening in conference rooms. So we said: ‘Let’s design a table for meetings, not just conference rooms.’”

The table collection — really a variation on a theme, a starting point for designers’ creativity — is based on a modern California design aesthetic supported by throughly modern engineering. It is a clean, minimalist collection that is unique because of the way it supports technology.

The name itself was born in California, partially to represent how the product looks and as part of Coalesse’s new naming system. Potrero is the name of a San Francisco neighborhood and 415 is the area code there. Hamilton said Coalesse has started to name products based on neighborhoods close to where they were designed along with the area code. It is an easy way to get past the legal and creative quagmire of picking a product name, he said.

Potrero415’s bases are designed with hollow leg cavities to provide an easy pathway to guide cables down to the floor. The patented design combines structural integrity with minimal mass, allowing table lengths to span long distances without interposing legs or a bulky appearance. The frames are fully paintable in standard or custom colors.

“Now it is very clear we are about work.”

Each of the legs can carry wires. No matter where the table is positioned, the user can get power into the center trough area. Once the power gets up the table leg to the trough, the designer can decide how to penetrate the surface of the table by using power pods or modular or flip-up doors.

“So where are people meeting? We found that meetings are happening in places like cafes and open spaces in the office,” Hamilton said, “but the table had to be more versatile than just an open space table. We found people are using things not associated with traditional contract furniture for meetings. There is this different sensibility when it comes to aesthetics, and we saw them buying residential furniture for conference rooms and other spaces. Yet none of those things are designed for work.

“So we started to think about how to blend work with residential, but do it in a way that doesn’t look like a traditional conference room table. I think we were trying to think more like a Danish master would — to create a beautifully crafted table that would still be functional to (connect technology) that would have all the (contract furniture) attributes that you would want for a meeting table.”

With the Potrero415 table, Coalesse’s designers (it was created by the in-house design team) tried to hide, or at least quiet down the technology aspects so it would look more like a traditional dining table. The entire design idea behind Potrero415 can be boiled down to two defining goals: Create a table that looked “softer” than a traditional conference piece and add functionality people weren’t getting from residential products entering the office.

Hamilton said Coalesse is finding companies are trying to save money on desks and spend more on social spaces. These collaborative spaces are getting much more attention than in the past, which makes sense. “You can work by yourself anywhere now,” he said, noting good organizations see good furniture as an asset. “So why come to work? To be with others. Working with others can help you solve problems that you can’t solve by yourself.”

Hamilton described Potrero415 like a Volkswagen. A driver can order a base Volkswagen for $20,000 or add things like leather, a high end sound system and performance packages that increase the price. The same is true for Potrero415. Designers can specify a base table or add as many bells and whistles as they would like. Still, he said, “It is not a fashion show.” Coalesse’s parent company Steelcase is known for using insights to design its furniture. The same is true for Coalesse.

“We shifted focus away from what you might in the past call ‘home’ pieces,” Hamilton said. “Now it is very clear we are about work. But we want to bring that feeling of home to the workplace — to make it inspiring and welcoming.”

For interior designers, it is all about choice. They can pick materials as diverse as laminates, veneers, solid wood or glass. Hamilton said the design encourages dialog between Coalesse and the specifier.” BoF

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