Seven ways to add colour to your office

Is your office lacking energy? Colour is an excellent way to liven up the workplace and infuse personality into your office environment. 

Skype offices, Stockholm. By PS Arkitektur

Did you know there is such a thing as a fear of colour? It is called chromophobia and it can lead to panic attacks and different levels of anxiety. For the majority of us, however, who love colours, it is now widely known that it has a positive influence on your wellbeing at the office. But where should you use it and how can you maximize the desired effect of your greens and blues?

Painting the walls of your office a certain shade of 'productive' is only one of many other ways to add colour to your workplace. You can also choose to liven up your office with bright, colourful furniture or frame your conference room in tinted glass; flooring and ceiling are not immune to colour either.

Before you take your pick, be sure to define your goals. Do you want to highlight all semi-private meeting rooms in your open-plan office? Are you trying to define or sectionalise areas of your office? Do you think your breakout space or reception area don't stand out enough?

Whatever your goal, colour can probably help you achieve it. Here are seven ideas to add colour to your office.

1. Colourful furniture

ECOM Recruitment, Marylebone, London. By Action Workspace

Choosing colourful furniture is one of the best ways to add a splash of colour to your office without having to revamp the entire floor. Bright furniture in an otherwise neutral office can help liven up your workspace but also define and separate certain areas by using a different colour scheme.

Above, the architects have opted for vibrant furniture in the waiting area to help separate it from the open place office.

2. Vibrant floor treatment

Insurance company Medibank's office building, Melbourne Australia. By Hassel

 Chromatic floor treatment is another effective tool when looking to define certain spaces with colour. This will allow you to set clearer, albeit conceptual boundaries, without putting up partitions.

Hassel's refreshing use of colour above appears to highlight corridors and circulation areas, while the various shades add a sense of playfulness to the office.

From tinted concrete, through border stripes on wood floors, to a patterned carpet, flooring can easily be made the centrepiece of your office. If you want to keep it simple yet personalised, why not have a custom logo made or inlaid into your floor?

3. Distinctive lighting

PR agency in Dubai, by Stella + the Stars. Photography: Elizabeth Argyll

Colourful lighting can transform a dull office into a quirky one, and it is an easy upgrade too. The clusters of lamps dotted around the office above can add some warmth and character to the interior, and when it comes to office lighting, you're spoilt for choice.

Use pendants over your reception desk or hang them above the conference table. And don't forget sconces to line those long, dark corridors.

 4. Statement staircase

Vinge Law Firm, by Wingårdh Arkitektkontor AB. Photographer: Åke E:son Lindman

Nothing impresses more than a grand, curved staircase that winds up to the second floor of your office. Add colour to that, and you are bound to make a statement.

Notice how colour was used inside Swedish law firm Vinge, pictured above. Both the staircase and a small waiting area have been set apart through the use of colour – simple, elegant and above all, effective.

5. Bold artwork

Duchy of Lancaster, corporate art collection. Credit: Workplace Art

Paintings, sculptures, any form of artwork is bound to liven up your office by adding a dash of colour. Not sure where to start? Art in the workplace offers a lot of opportunities – Deutsche Bank's corporate art collection is bound to inspire.

6. Reviving plants

Large living wall inside Yoga clothing retailer Lululemon Athletica's office atrium in Vancouver, British Columbia. By Gustavson Wylie Architects

Green walls in the workplace are becoming increasingly popular – they make for a healthier environment, they can improve the acoustics in your room; they are a great way to add a punch of colour too.

Green walls in the workplace are becoming increasingly popular – they make for a healthier environment, they can improve the acoustics in your room; they are a great way to add a punch of colour too.

7. Creative murals

Facebook London's office in Regent's Place, Geo Law  

 Youth-oriented companies may consider street art murals to infuse some personality and energy into their workplace. Office murals make for great feature walls – hire an illustrator or graffiti artist and enjoy the benefits of a custom-made mural that can speak to the innovative, cutting-edge side of your business.

The secret acoustic benefits of plants at the office

Acoustic insulation in the form of lush green walls is a sound approach every landlord should consider. 

Phone chatter, obnoxiously loud conversations in adjacent cubicles (we've all been there,) printers, photocopiers, HVAC systems... all distract and make employees less efficient. There are several ways to remedy noise levels in the workplace - sound absorption and sound masking are increasingly popular strategies, but what about living plants?

In 2015,  an agricultural engineer of the University of the Basque Country conducted a research on the benefits of green walls as passive acoustic insulation for buildings. Zaloa Azkorra concluded that “the green wall showed a similar or better acoustic absorption coefficient than other common building materials, and its effects on low frequencies were of particular interest.”

Despite a rising number of studies highlighting the acoustic potential of plants, biophilic design is a resource yet to be explored by acousticians, particularly in sectors like the workplace, still in dire need of fine tuning.

NB: Biophilia refers to the innate love for the natural world, in other words, for nature and the outdoors.

Segment's office reception

How do plants regulate noise in the workplace?

To understand this, we must first brave the acoustic jargon and grasp the meaning of reverberation time.

Let's get technical for just a sentence. Reverberation time refers to the time it takes for a sound wave to die away to a level 60 decibels below its original level. And now, in English: when a source creates a sound wave in a room, what you hear is not only the sound wave spreading directly from the source, but also the sound reflecting from various surfaces around you.

Let's put this in context. The average reverberation time (now that you're an expert, we can call it RT) in an open plan office should be less than 1 second. In an enclosed office, the recommended  RT is less than 0.6 seconds. In a meeting room, 0.6-0.8 seconds. What does this mean? Simply that an open plan office sporting an RT of 0.6 seconds will be significantly quieter than one with an RT of 0.9 seconds.

But how exactly can plants help reduce reverberation time, and therefore noise levels, in your office?

Partitions with integrated living walls. Climate Office Mobile Wasserwand. Manufacturer: C+P Möbelsysteme

Sound deflection

When sound hits a masonry wall, it bounces off the rigid surface and back to its source, like a solitary tennis ball between a racket and the wall. In contrast, when a sound wave hits a plant, the flexible surface will vibrate and transform sound waves into other kinds of energy. This is the same principle behind acoustic panels that absorb sound by converting sound energy into heatwaves.

Partitions with integrated living walls. Climate Office Mobile Wasserwand. Manufacturer: C+P Möbelsysteme

Sound diffusion

There is a clear correlation between the way sound behaves and the surfaces around it. Think of a home with a carpet versus a home with solid floors. Usually, a carpeted room will prevent the sound from bouncing all over and creating echoes. Much like a carpet, plants and shrubbery are naturally uneven - covering surface areas with greenery will help accomplish the same feat. Think vines on walls, lawns, green walls, moss walls, etc.

Moss Wall by Dutch designers Oasegroen

How to use plants to reduce noise?

Genzyme Center, Massachussets, USA. Architect: Behnisch Architekten, Los Angeles

Rough bark and leafy plants are particularly effective but for maximum acoustic potential, you should also consider number of plants, location, size and surface area.

Large planters

Larger planters contain more compost and provide more space for greenery. Combined, these two have a significant impact on noise reduction. As a result, your office benefits from better acoustics, and cleaner air. It's a win-win.

Tip:  For better acoustics, arrange your planters throughout the space as opposed to clustering them. It's all about that surface area - the more spread out your plants are, the more opportunites there are for sound diffusion.

Focus on corners, edges and walls

Along the same principle, plants placed in the periphery of your office - corners, edges, walls - are more likely to reflect sound than plants placed in the middle.

Woods Bagot Melbourne studio

Replace partitions with plant screens

Offices are inherently loud - open plan offices even more so. Oftentimes, this means partitions or rows of filing cabinets. What if you could use plants instead? Effective in reducing noise, and more attractive than your average office partition, plant screens are a great alternative.

If your tenants are reluctant to lose the filing cabinets, these and other surfaces can also be used to place small bushy plants in narrow containers.

Joost Bakker’s Schiavello Vertical Gardens

Biophilic design guidelines for good acoustics

If utilised strategically, biophilic design can drastically improve acoustics in the office and its common areas.

There are few studies on the relationship between plants, architecture and acoustics. In a study performed by P. Costa of the South Bank University in London (1995,) Costa tested several single potted plants and combinations of plants in various areas in a room. His conclusions amount to a certain number of guidelines covered above.

If you accidentally skipped to this last paragraph, here's a summary:

  • Plants need to be large and healthy
  • Plants should preferably be leafy
  • Arrangements with a minimum of three plants seem more efficient than single plants
  • Spread out arrangements are better than a concentrated few plants.
  • Placing plants alongside walls has a greater impact on acoustics than if they're placed in the middle of a room
Opening image: Slack office, Melbourne. Breathe Architecture