Presented by: Orange County Business Journal, July 16, 2018

Author: Peter J. Brennan

Vinyl flooring in a Class A building? Polished concrete floors?

Slides that allow millennials to fly from the second floor to the first, bypassing slow stairs—liability lawsuits be damned.

And what’s with all those cherry-wood doors? It might be time to say goodbye to the hallowed assigned office desk with the cute family photos atop.

Architects, consultants and tenant-improvement contractors say they’re noticing those trends in Orange County.

Above all, they agreed that costs are rising due to a combination of tight labor, high demand for contractors to do the work, and more regulations.

The trends reflect millennial employees’ preferences and employers’ desire to cut costs.


An Orange County outpatient clinic with 400 employees had a decision to make about its new facility: have employees share desks, or find space for 400 desks.

Some companies discover they’re spending a lot of money on space and furniture for each worker, only to realize many might not be at their desks much of the time, said Drew Carter, director of strategic planning at Newport Beach-based architectural and interior design firm H. Hendy Associates.

Clinic executives decided to cut its desk count to 100, thus reducing the need for square footage per employee, Carter said. Called “untethering,” the practice involves employees reserving or grabbing a desk or an office where they work only for the time needed.

“Anybody can walk up to any keyboard and take up where he or she left off,” Carter said. “The employee can connect online from any device at any desk.”

Still, “In Orange County, it’s not yet a trend. Some people are trying to figure out how to do it.”

Carter said other design developments include four-person conference rooms that use a restaurant-style booth to make employees feel more comfortable, and individual offices shrinking from 200 square feet to as small as 64 square feet.

Cherry Doors?

Cherry-wood doors, popular in the late 1980s and the 1990s, are no longer trendy, according to Daniel Walker, vice president of development at the Irvine office of JLL.

“Some companies might have them because a landlord has a thousand of the cherry doors in storage,” he joked.

Style today calls for big open spaces and “lots of glass” so employees can look outside, he said. Moss walls are coming into fashion, as are live plants in pots on terraces surfaced with fake grass to save precious water, he said.

Even vinyl flooring is getting a surprising opportunity.

“Some vinyl floors have incredible finishes. I’m seeing some vinyl floors that are passable for Class A clients.”

Tenants want to impress employees and customers with their tech savvy, so they’re placing tall vertical computer and TV monitors in surprising locations and making sure monitors aren’t clunky with wires dangling down the wall.

“They want the millennials to know they are up to speed,” Walker said.

“You cannot throw beanbags out there and give them free lunches. You have to prove you’re a competitive company. If you’re not going to keep up with technology, you’re not going to be competitive, and the kids know it.”

Fun With Slides

AutoGravity Corp., a fast-growing fintech firm in the auto industry, decided it wanted an office different from the norm. Andy Hinrichs, chief executive at the time, eschewed symmetry and pushed for adding a slide for employees to move from the second floor to the first at its new Irvine headquarters.

“They wanted a racing slide, a fast slide—it’s not like the slow, steel slide,” said Gensler Newport Beach design leader on the project, Ashley Brewer.

“What was important to them was to maintain their startup culture,” said Gensler Project Leader Christine Wang.

The facility has no private offices, and when employees need privacy, they use a conference room. A large kitchen is situated near outdoor meeting spots so employees can enjoy the Southern California weather. The office also has a game room, nap pods, and a ceiling with fiber optic points that can light up like a galaxy full of stars.

“None of it is symmetrical,” Brewer said. “It’s not conventional. It’s a free-flowing space.”

Next to the wooden slide is a wide staircase where the entire company often holds weekly meetings.

The slide, though, is the center of attention.

“Every time we are there, we see people of all demographics using that slide,” Brewer said. Hinrichs “told us the best return on investment was that slide. He said German executives wearing suits and with stern faces would use that slide and start smiling.”

Brewer expects other industries to copy the style of companies like AutoGravity, because “everyone wants to think they are a technology company.”

In fact, the king of the playground has caught on just across the street at the technology center of mortgage lender loanDepot LLC. The office, which was renovated this year, features a wooden slide leading from the second floor to the first.

No Bocci Ball Today

David Smith, president of Smith and Severson Builders of Lake Forest, agreed that “the traditional corner offices are dead.”

Executives are choosing much more open floor plans over the traditional hierarchal layouts. Still, there’s hesitation among some executives to go with open offices that include games.

“Some people don’t want to be squished together playing bocci ball,” he said.


Tenant-improvement design is leaning toward more compact work spaces while trying to keep them interesting and inviting, said Joel Stensby, co-founder and president of Brea-based KPRS Constructions Services Inc., the biggest tenant contractor working in Orange County, based on the Business Journal’s annual list.

Large breakout areas have been converted into work areas, and many recreation areas have been moved to outdoor space for employees, he said.

“The workplace environments are still open office layouts,” and there’s been a shift in the market toward more efficient use of space.

As for what’s out of style, Stensby quipped, “We haven’t seen cherry doors in a long time.”

Polished Concrete

Offices are becoming more like hotel entryways with common areas, Wi-Fi and sofa-style seating, said Bruce Asper, vice president of business development at Newport Beach-based DBaC Inc.

There’s a notable shift toward polished concrete, which at $4 a square foot, is similarly priced to carpet, he said.

“The polished concrete floor is more expensive than you’d think, because when it’s delivered, it’s very flawed with cracks, and you have to fix them.”

Wood and laminate floors are still more expensive, he pointed out.

The trend toward open space is due to employees doing much more screen time and companies wanting to encourage productivity, teamwork and community rather than an employee working alone in an office.

“Millennials don’t want to be isolated,” he said. “We’re seeing way fewer private offices. It’s less in style. Even some law firms are going to open plans.”

Tenants that haven’t renovated or moved offices in recent years may be in for a rude awakening, because electrical costs have doubled since the 2014 implementation of Title 24, a California rule that requires energy-efficient light fixtures and other limitations meant to reduce electricity use.

And it’s not just cherry-wood doors that are passe, Asper said.

“Doors in general are out of style.”