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June 20, 2022

Employers adopt resimercial office design — making workplace feel like home — to lure back workers

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Overabove CEO John Visgilio outside his company’s new Chester office building at 91 Main St.
Overabove’s new Chester office building at 91 Main St. has home-like features including a kitchen island with bar stools and a TV room.


When Chelsea Norton returned to the office in February, after an almost two-year stretch of working from home, she was blown away by her new surroundings.

“I’ve honestly never really been in an environment quite like it,” said Norton, a senior copywriter at marketing firm Overabove. The company had spent time during the pandemic securing a new space in Chester, and fitting it out to look – well, not too much like an office.

“There’s so much natural light,” Norton said. “We have a couple of outdoor spaces and we have this big kitchen island in the center of things. It’s definitely not your typical office. It’s just more comfortable. But it’s maybe a little more elevated than home.”

Overabove’s new concept as it welcomes staff back to the office is not work from home, but rather “home at work.” CEO John Visgilio said the extended period of remote work for his more than 30 employees during the height of the pandemic taught him a couple of things.

First – he didn’t need the sheer square footage he had in his old, leased building in Essex. The other realization?

“The last thing I wanted was to go back into a corporate environment,” he said.

And so the new Chester office at 91 Main St. that he bought in 2021 for $420,000 and refitted – originally “just a really ugly building,” said Visgilio, “architecturally disgusting, but a great location” – now has a makeover with plenty of soft seating, generous houseplants, hardwood floors, and yes, a kitchen island where you can pull up a barstool and open your laptop.

The trend toward home comforts in office interiors predates the pandemic. In some ways it began with the big tech campuses in Silicon Valley – Google, Facebook and the like – which wanted to differentiate their workspaces with amenities like pingpong tables, beanbag chairs, Lego play areas and even ball pits for their young, work-all-hours employees.

The more recent version of the trend is a little more grown up. And it has a name; resimercial – a combination of residential and commercial.

Debra Seay

Debra Seay, a senior project manager for Hartford architecture and interior design firm Amenta Emma, said she first noticed it on a visit to the commercial design industry showcase NeoCon in Chicago, back in 2017. Then it was something of a niche trend, but now, she said, even her most conservative clients are looking to incorporate some element of the look.

“I think it’s everybody now,” said Seay. “It really blew up because of COVID and because so many people were able to work from home.”

That means companies have to cater to employees who got pretty comfortable with remote work.

“They’ve been working from the couch at home for two years, so why don’t we bring the couch to the office?” said Laura Tremko of Hartford office design firm Infinity Group, which has incorporated the resimercial design in its own downtown Hartford offices, at 20 Church St.

Laura Tremko

Tremko said for employers it’s about changing the image of the boring cubicle farm, but also acknowledging that the trend toward hybrid work – partly remote and partly in-office – is here to stay.

“Maybe the role of the office is going to be different,” said Tremko. “So if people want to do focus work, they can go and focus at home. And the reason why they want to come to the office is to have that collaboration, to have human contact.”

That has a lot of implications for not just design, but use of space in commercial premises too, maximizing areas that promote connection and collaboration.

“It’s more of a buzz space if you will, to really get people interacting again, because so many people have been working in their own little silo,” said Amenta Emma’s Seay. “It can take some time to get people to feel comfortable to interact with their coworkers again.”

Infinity Group’s downtown Hartford office space has home-like features including a TV room, plush couches and plants.

Hybrid working and the trend toward a more residential feel in offices also seems set to cement the phenomenon of “hot desking” with fewer employees having a place that’s their own territory at work.

Seay said resimercial design incorporates elements like lockers or bookshelves to provide storage for employees who don’t have an assigned desk.

Beautiful as the new designs are, they come with a note of caution for some.

Dr. Carrie Bulger researches industrial-organizational psychology at Quinnipiac University, and specializes in work-life boundaries.

Dr. Carrie Bulger

“If we make work look more like home, well, we’ve just blurred a pretty big boundary,” she said.

“The aesthetics of it are certainly lovely – who wouldn’t want to work in a place that was beautifully designed and tastefully appointed? But the message it’s sending is – this is your home, you never have to leave. At least that’s the message that I get!”

So far there’s been little research into how the trend might affect the psychology of work, and of work-life boundaries.

“One way that we make those boundaries is to really depend upon the space,” said Bulger. “So if the space looks different, that really helps us to establish both physical and cognitive boundaries. But if work looks like home, that might make that transition just that much more difficult.”

For now, Overabove’s Visgilio said he’s happy to have tempted his employees back into a beautiful space after a long period apart.

“We’re thinkers, we’re designers, we’re writers, we’re creators,” he said. “You have to really be in the same room to do that effectively.”

He does admit the visionary makeover cost a little more than he might have anticipated.

“I think it’s well worth it, and we’re very happy about it, but I don’t dwell on the budget page,” he said with a smile. “I love when I come into the main floor and somebody is sitting at the waterfall island, just like you would in your home kitchen, and they’re working. To me, that’s what we were focused on.”

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