This year Coalesse is celebrating its tenth anniversary. I count myself as being very fortunate to have been part of the founding of this brand a decade ago. That path brought me to a fantastic team of designers and thinkers that originally created Coalesse out of three Steelcase Partnership brands — Brayton, Metro and Vecta. All were esteemed companies with their own rich, independent voices, which gave the seeds to grow this new business. Their combined hundred-year history puts our ten years at Coalesse into a much longer context; it’s given us a legacy to both uphold and advance. So, this is just one milestone that follows the considerable achievements of the companies that preceded us and shaped our future.
After Coalesse launched, I went on to develop other new concepts at Steelcase. And then five years ago, I was asked to return here to serve as General Manager. This journey has led to a meaningful homecoming—rewarding to see how the brand had come to life; fulfilling to participate in what it would become.
This post and certainly this brand are not about me: and yet this is undeniably personal. So, I choose these words specifically, and symbolically, as an avid participant in new ideas developing for the workplace, just like so many of you.
“Coalesse came about as both a response to and a representation of a significant tipping point—in the changing priorities of, and at, work.”
Work is an ever-changing and fast-moving phenomenon that carries all of us to new places. Making these new places meaningful helps us make sense of work, and it gives our efforts purpose, our surroundings a soul. That’s important in a competitive and rapidly changing industry, where the nature of business is to constantly be creating what’s new. Soul is what anchors the new to the long-lasting, is immune to trends. It’s the essence that enlivens each design or insight, to make a product that’s classic, that will hold meaning well into the future—and remain a pleasure to use.
“From its inception, Coalesse has been a brand that has always had this enduring soul: to embody and create meaning in the spaces and furniture that can improve the quality of our new work lives.”
Work is hard and it matters today more than ever; the workplaces we go to need to matter and make meaning for us right alongside what we do there. Coalesse is inspired by this essential need, of how to be purposeful in bringing new life to work. We were founded on the principle that great spaces inspire great work. How do those spaces come about? How do we identify and solve for what workers need so that they experience truly meaningful work days? We charge ourselves with continually finding new methods, insights, partnerships, to apply foresight in what we do and what we make, so that a workplace is the antidote, the soulful environment, that makes all the requirements of hard work better. So that work becomes the place that we want to be in.
An odd word to use in the context of work. Not that long ago, work would have been defined by its contrast to home. It had a decidedly less appealing and far less flexible status—transitioning from rows of gray cubicles, a 9-5 obligation, a drain on our energy, but not yet arriving at spaces that could promote a more welcoming and residential sensibility. The prescient insight that set the course for Coalesse ten years ago was that, because work was beginning to blur these boundaries, people were going to need and increasingly expect a more personable, homeward spirit in their workspaces.
That instinct was so timely. Coalesse was a leader in showing that residential priorities of warmth, comfort and wellbeing had a place at work, very much in response to the shifting tides of what we now see as pillars of the modern workplace — social, collaborative, integrative, even restorative. An ecosystem of spaces that let us interact throughout the day in surroundings that are more tailor-made and beautiful.
“We set out to design furniture for this new workplace, merging the critical need for business performance with a more generous sense of social experience.”
We envisioned spaces that could draw people together, importing lounges and gathering places and more comfortable postures to reimagine and replace the old archetypes, desks and conference rooms, which were losing their relevance. We thought about the material quality of furniture that would have the aesthetic measure and the greater individuality of the kind of things we live with at home, or that we appreciate in communal 3rdplaces like cafés and green spaces. Furniture stopped being strictly utilitarian equipment and started being elegant furniture to stir our engagement, full of the design and alluring craft that allow us to form a more emotional connection to an environment.
This remains our philosophical home base, so to speak, that we return to again and again.
But this is also no longer news.
“Workers, companies, and the design community alike all expect a more residentially infused workspace today. It’s clearly the new normal.”
So, as we celebrate ten years, we are thinking ahead to our next ten—the next era and the evolving role that the workplace might or can or even should play in people’s lives. And, we’re asking new questions. How do we apply our point of view to express the many ways our connectivity to work influences home as much as the style of home influences work? Now that we have an unexpected symbiotic relationship in the blurred experiences of home and work: how does a workplace distinguish its own valued role, with decidedly separate capabilities and affordances, to avoid creating a new sea of sameness? How do we increasingly empower people to personalize the final design of our products, so that we not only invite more participation, but we can start to design the pathways that will make it easy to do so.
I’ve never been more excited about possibilities that seemed almost impossible just ten years ago. Today we are using technology and research to advance our craft; we are using our craft to create more and more customization that makes each workplace the best reflection of the people who use it. And we are growing. Our Coalesse Design Group has moved from our original home in San Francisco to a new, vibrant studio in Munich, as part of Steelcase’s impressive Learning and Innovation Center (LINC). We are more of the world through this move, with greater centrality to ideas coming not only out of the US but also from Europe, the Middle East and across Asia Pacific.
And with our partners in Munich, we’re developing our own ideas into reality, faster and with greater innovation. We’re in a dynamic chapter, but we are also part of a continuum.
“We sustain and strengthen all the previous threads of our heritage by bringing them with us when we move to new places.”
Brands thrive when they respond to change, without literally changing who they are or what they stand for in the process. Our hope is that Coalesse remains a constant and a catalyst for the friends, partners and customers who know us, a lasting community we cherish. We look forward to our next chapters together as we all address the fascinating new life and soul of work.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Coalesse, General Manager Lew Epstein, spoke with the Steelcase 360 podcast. In this episode, Epstein explores the company’s history creating furnishings for the modern workplace and offers a glimpse into the brand’s future which includes the Coalesse Design Group’s move to Munich and a deep-dive into concepts like wellbeing and customization. Listen now.
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