By Robert Marshall
Drawing elements of residential design into commercial interiors continues to impact multiple verticals, including higher education, healthcare (both acute and long-term/senior care), office and hospitality. Known simply as “resimercial design,” this wide-ranging movement places an emphasis on bringing a warm, home–like aesthetic to commercial settings.
This pursuit of functionality and comfort is reminiscent of another design movement sweeping the country—hygge. Hygge (pronounced “hoo-guh”) is a Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment. Much like hygge, resimercial design centers around creating cozy nooks, relaxed workspaces and an ambiance that facilitates connection with humans and nature.
By specifying products that maintain the level of performance necessary for commercial application without the standardized, institutional feeling commonly associated with durable furniture, fixtures and finishes, designers are able to create spaces that blend the best of both worlds. This includes residential furniture finished in commercial-grade materials, the use of warm colors and natural materials such as wood, stone and fabric.
The increasing popularity of resimercial design and its expanding impact on the commercial interior design and architecture industry indicates several important trends for material selection during the specification process. This includes the use of wood, and more specifically wood ceilings and walls, to lessen the institutional feeling and add warmth and comfort to spaces within office buildings, schools and healthcare facilities.
Increasing Demand for Resimercial Design
When well executed, resimercial design can have a positive impact on occupant comfort, wellbeing and productivity. While these benefits are applicable across all verticals, employee happiness has become a focus for commercial office design. A recent survey found 61 percent of employees believe an aesthetically pleasing, comfortable workspace is the most valuable workplace feature. This data point remains constant across genders, ages, and locations.
But this finding is part of an ongoing area of research that dates back decades. Several years ago, turnstone, a subsidiary of office furniture giant Steelcase, surveyed 500 small businesses around the country. Researchers found that office culture is often a strong indicator of workplace satisfaction. More importantly, 80 percent of respondents believed the physical workplace environment plays a role in fostering a vibrant and healthy office culture. And resimercial design tenets like the use of natural materials, multiple flexible workspaces and comfortable furniture, all play a part in creating this environment.
Much More than a Trend
“Wood is big in interior finishes right now because of resimercial design and a focus on biophilia and natural materials,” explained Zachary Donahue, product manager for Wood Ceilings and Walls at CertainTeed. “These design directions are more than trends at this point – they are driving the use of wood in floors, furniture, doors, walls and ceilings across building types. Wood and other natural materials frequently have become a go-to solution for a variety of design challenges facing commercial specifiers,” he added.
Ceilings are an optimal place for architects and designers to incorporate wood because they stay out of reach and are unaffected by high-traffic areas that might damage a natural material in other application locations.
Natural wood and veneer products can be used for wall panels, trim and accent pieces, but in these higher traffic areas, designers often opt for wood-look products that can withstand the expected abuse of a commercial setting. Wood-look products might also be appealing for certain situations, like high ceilings where occupants’ sightlines can’t tell the difference.
As designers continue to place emphasis on acoustic solutions for open-concept and mixed-use spaces, wood products can provide sound absorption properties without sacrificing the residential aesthetic component integral to resimercial design. This is often a major consideration as acoustic comfort of an office, school or healthcare environment typically has a positive effect on the wellbeing of occupants, and the lack thereof can negatively affect overall workplace satisfaction.
Grilles and open cells, two popular types of wood ceilings, feature unique textures and allow for the easy inclusion of acoustic infill for sound absorption, typically dark background acoustic panels or blankets above the installation. This adds to the acoustic performance of the ceiling system and helps designers manage noise in busy, highly populated areas.
Solid wood or veneers in cherry, beech, maple, oak and walnut, along with multiple tinted finishes and colors, provide a rich variety of options. While standard panels are often treated with a transparent finish, if a special look is required, translucent tint or opaque color finishes can be created and applied. It is also possible to vary the matching of veneer sheets creating to create a unique and interesting design aesthetic.
The inclusion of wood ceilings and other surfaces in healthcare settings also has proven benefits in worker satisfaction and patient healing times. One Canadian study linked the inclusion of wood materials to better patient recovery times, lower pain perception, a more positive disposition and lower stress levels. It also found that more use of wood in healthcare facilities often enhances the mood of the healthcare providers themselves.
Similar principles extend to schools and universities, where students, teachers and administrators require welcoming spaces that emphasize comfort and foster creativity and learning. Students are more likely to feel motivated when surrounded by functional and beautiful designs. Plus, resimercial design allows for customization and unique finishes to create spaces that are engaging, interesting and full of school spirit. This includes unique ceiling designs that provide design impact in atria, hallways, classrooms and offices.
While there are a wide variety of wood ceiling products that can help create a resimercial aesthetic, it is critical to consider which works best for the space. “If you are specifying wood for aesthetic reasons, it’s important to choose the right species or finish,” explained Donahue. “Cherry and walnut many times can make a given space feel extremely rich and luxurious, however, these same products, when paired with dark stains and opaque finishes, might transform a space into one that is perceived as somewhat unwelcoming,” he added.
And while the inherent material benefits are strong, there are still important considerations in the specification process. Understanding viewing angles and the distance between building occupants and the panel, plank or canopy will help you select between solid wood products, wood veneer applied to metal products, or simulated wood products.
It’s also it is important to order all wood products to be used for a particular installation at the same time. Ordering additional material weeks or months after the first order is placed can present challenges with matching.
An Important Tool
Wood ceilings and walls are powerful tools for addressing resimercial design needs across commercial construction verticals. Wood products can add warmth, comfort and acoustic control to built environments. And, they can also provide a desired, home-like, cozy aesthetic and feel to commercial buildings.
Robert Marshall is the senior technical manager for CertainTeed Ceilings and a lifelong participant in the commercial ceiling industry.