The Way We Live Now: Office politics
Saturday 17 May 2008
When Jimmy Savile said that thing about "office gentlemen and office ladies" in the famous 1981 British Rail ad, everyone knew exactly what he meant. It was about going to the hive and getting a buzz. Back then, more people were going to offices and fewer to factories, and the accepted view of the future of work was that it would look like Canary Wharf.
Working from home was minority and marginal. Novelists had top-floor studies in Hampstead. Mature freelance graphic designers had mini studios. But ordinary people didn't because their work wasn't self-starting, it had to be fed into the great hopper; linked to what other worker bees were doing.
But now untold millions work from home in electronic cottages of all kinds, and home-based mum-preneurs have twice the computing power of an Eighties hive in their understairs cupboard. The latest figures put homeworkers at 3.1 million and you just know it's a huge underestimate. So putting a desk, telephone and filing cabinet in an alcove won't do. There's a huge market for home officing, from fitting up the study in an Edwardian villa with lots of light-oak joinery to building the live/work unit with its Shoreditch overtones.
Friends of mine used to live next to a noted TV historian. From their windows you could see the great post-Modernist pavilion he'd built in the garden with his global royalties. It had everything, they said, eyes round with wonder. Broadband links to every neo-con centre in the world, workspaces for the interns. A mini-kitchen. A flushing lav? It was deeply state-of-the-art and rather disturbing to my trad-lit friends whose own home-office was a quill-pen library affair.
Now there are businesses to package that whole thing for you in super-sheds. And cruel women who teach you to be tidy. The pleasure that an earlier generation took in arranging pens and brushes in attractive containers got transferred to a bigger, more serious canvas. The 21st-century rule seems to be: make it modern, bland and sterile, to counter any suggestion of waywardness or amateurism in the freelance life. And you must have Eames.
This delicious home office isn't really like that. It's actually rather higgledy-piggledy. It's an architectural joke. "Playful." I normally dread architectural jokes for all their insider unfunniness, but a five-year-old could get it – light pavilion office made by peeling the walls and the roof to make a Post-Modern Honeypot Cottage gone wrong. It's elegant and simple.
And inside it's a pleasant pioneering room that doesn't star furniture must-haves, but pictures and a mobile. The interior is correct-white floor, sisal rug – but here's a room where this design vocabulary comes naturally; the owner didn't get it out of a 2002 book on Contemporariness.
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