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How To... Choose Office Furnishings

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by Clarissa A. French

When it comes to choosing office furnishings, there's a lot more to consider than the decor.

Any decision about office furnishings begins and ends with two factors: what the businessperson wants or needs, and what he or she can afford, according to Jerry Henderson, owner of The Office Place, located at Bennett and Glenstone.

"Everybody has at least a little idea of what they want and what they want to spend," Henderson said. "A lot has to do with the budget. You always want to try and help a customer get the best product for their money."

Variables in the furniture equation include the size of the business, how long the businessperson plans to use the furniture, the type of business, how the workspace is set up and the needs of the employees who will use the furniture, Henderson said.

The length of time that the furniture will be used ties directly into the issue of quality, Henderson said. In general, "The more you spend, the better the quality and the longer the life. There's a reason top furniture costs more than budget furniture, and it's because the quality is not as good" in the budget lines.

He compared it to buying a car. "You can go in and spend $50,000" for the top-of-the-line model with all the bells and whistles, "or you can buy one that will get you there and back for $15,000. You have to determine your budget and what level of quality you want."

Another factor in choosing furniture is the office design. "Part will depend on the space you're going into is it already finished out with offices, or will they have to use modular furniture and dividers to set up workspaces?" Henderson said.

And the type of business may dictate a certain type of furniture. The furnishing needs of a manufacturing plant differ from those of a professional office, he said.

"If customers are coming into a reception area or conference area, that may have an effect on what you want. If you're providing some kind of professional service ... image has a lot to do with it," Henderson said. He added that you don't see professional offices using folding chairs. "Client areas are more important" when it comes to appearances, he said.

Also to be considered is the employee who will use the furniture. For example, in an office where workers will be sitting eight hours a day at computer terminals, "You're going to want a pretty good ergonomic chair," Henderson said.

If an employee has a physical problem, such as a tendency toward carpal tunnel syndrome, the employer may select furnishings to minimize the problem, such as a chair with a particular type of armrest, Henderson said.

When selecting a desk, an important factor is the suspension system for the drawers, Henderson said. The suspension system is essentially what the drawer slides in and out on. If the drawers will be used a lot, the suspension system must be good which is not the case with some of the cheaper desks.

And for the company looking at creating individual workspaces with partitions or dividers, there are a wide range of options and prices, Henderson said.

If you want a sound-proofing effect, plan to spend a little more for your dividers, as the cheaper ones typically have poor acoustic ratings, he said.

Another issue to look at with dividers is power. "Do you want electrical power in your panels? Depending on how the building is designed, often there are just so many electrical outlets" and a powered divider is an alternative to installing more outlets or trailing extension cords all over the office.

"Power is an option with the better, grade A panels," Henderson said. "It costs extra, but it may be well worth it."

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