#WHITNEYAFTERWORK | milliken trip!

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Multidisciplinary Innovation Leadership Laboratory Ink jet technology Knit technology Ethical  Noble trees

This Fall, four Whitneyites adventured to Spartanburg, South Carolina to learn more about Milliken flooring and were pleasantly surprised to embark on a journey which would explore an innovative multidisciplinary company and the Upcountry and Blue Mountains region of South and North Carolina.

The team began the trip at the Skidmore Owings & Merrill designed headquarters (1958), which consists of 6 minimalist modern buildings, tucked into a former peach orchard.  The peach trees have long since been replaced because of their high maintenance, and now stands an arboretum home to 500 local and hybrid tree varieties.  The buildings are positioned in harmony with framed vistas, sculptures, water features and the largest US flag in South Carolina. Rectilinear fountains and ponds on the property collect recycled water and have a dual purpose of aesthetics and function for they play an integral role in the building air conditioning system.   The Whitney team was welcomed into the Innovation Center, by Mary Lou with warm coffees and a sincere welcome, which reminded us of our very own Mary D!

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Kris and his team hosted Whitney at both the Innovation Center and Design Athenaeum on the campus beginning with an introduction to the Milliken history, wellness initiatives (the headquarters is safer than your home!), multitude of patents, awards and technologies. A person will typically come into contact with 50 products per day that have ingredients developed by Milliken, including plastic shampoo bottles, washable Crayola markers, duct tape, fire retardant fabric, automobile tires, etc.  The Design Athenaeum houses the flooring design studio with a kayak suspended overhead, a motivational reminder to the team to keep moving forward.  The Whitney team was briefed on the Milliken ink jet printing, design processes and endless capabilities. Milliken has been an innovator in the commercial design industry with their carpet tiles, broadloom, luxury vinyl tile and the Whitney team was thrilled to gain more insight into the company. While exploring the studio, the team was introduced to 2018 products that are still in the works, which was exciting!   The methodology and detail oriented approach that the Milliken team takes as well as the forecasting techniques, with inspiration from around the globe and the fashion industry is evident in their innovative products.  Though the aesthetic properties of the carpet tile are the focus of design and visual impact, the performance and construction of carpet is paramount, especially when the threat of water is present in the subfloor.  Luckily Milliken has not had such damaging issues because of the carpet tile backing specific to their tiles, which is good to know for future projects.  The Whitney team also gave some industry feedback on sample, colorways and sample book layouts and format.  The first day ended with a sunset golf cart guided tour through the 600 acre arboretum with cozy blankets and some Milliken hot spiced cider.  The arboretum seems like a mad laboratory with exotic hybrids and staff has cultivated a relationship with an Oregon nursery and the local community college to foster many sustainable initiatives, including a magnolia seed archive.  We timed our trip perfectly; the forest was stunning with the fall colors.  Luckily the tornado from the previous week hadn’t wrecked too much havoc, the only remaining evidence were some lonely old growth tree stumps and an arborist cleanup crew. 

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The trip came to a close in Ashville, North Carolina, where the team was treated to a Rooftop tour at the Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate, some local flavors and live fiddling.  The Whitney team would like to thank Kris Imala and his team, Holly, Leslie, Dale, Stacey, Stewart and the rest of the Milliken family for the southern hospitality and a better understanding of the Milliken mission: Inspired, passionate engagement in Unique Insights, deep Science and Meaningful Design to Do Good, Create New Experiences and Build for the Future. 


Whitney Favorites:

"The entire campus was inspiring; from all of the products of everyday use that Milliken has helped to create, to the Arboretum that they have developed for the public to enjoy.  It was also very interesting to review upcoming products with Holly and seeing the creation rooms with inspiration and yarns." - Veronika Massie, Project Manager

"My favorite part of the trip was seeing where all of the carpet design happens and learning a little of the background on the process of how they get from inspiration to a final product! I thought it was neat to see new products that are going to be released soon and that they really wanted to hear our input and comments!" - Katie Lane, Designer

"My favorite part was the innovation gallery tour.  Learning more about all of the innovative products that Milliken has been a part of over the years, as well as their history as an ethical company." - Courtney Zastrow, Project Manager

"Selecting the male model for the City Proper EC1 collection–just kidding!  Loved touring the Design Athenaeum and the Arboretum in the beautiful fall evening. Such an inspiring and vivacious place!!" - Laura Hancock, Project Architect

Written by: Laura Hancock


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Three global corporations presented their HQ renovations: Toyota, Coca Cola, and Mazda, with personnel totals ranging from 500 to 6,600.  Corgan, Gensler, and LPA were respectively responsible for design, but only Toyota partnered with their architect/designer for the presentation. Coca Cola and Mazda were presented by their internal workplace leaders.

In each case the process was familiar: define goals, get leadership buy-in, hold a visioning session, carry out intense change management, establish pilots and a master plan, layer in the employees, focus on FREE space, variety, and empowering the individual to make choices about when, where and how to work.

Each company invested heavily in their FREE space; Coca Cola built their’s out before office space construction even began. No expense was spared to provide high-quality food service, in recognition that keeping people dining together was important.

The question of assigned vs. unassigned seating was more interesting than usual. Coke decided it was too difficult to even address and built 1:1, but not at the expense of FREE space.  Mazda did the same, but has already found that 50% have unassigned by choice.  Toyota also assigned desks 1:1, while acknowledging that as they grow they will gradually and organically un-assign.

 As for space allocation, Toyota pushed the boundaries. They devised a 50:50 ratio of dedicated and shared space, with each part being a mix of ME, WE, and FREE space.

The guiding principle of “Where work gets done” permeates every design consideration.  Desks are allocated 1:1 so that people feel a sense of ownership, and their locus of control comes from the permission to work where they feel most efficient.  It’s an activity- and personality-based workplace.  Toyota put it best during their change management sessions: “Design your day,—figure out what you need to do, where or whom you need to work with, and go!  We are still of course providing collaborative spaces (with significantly more technology support); enabling people to concentrate and rejuvenate allows them to make better use of that collaborative space.”

Toyota offered four workstation workstyles, and every desk is Sit Stand—the pilot program showed what a significant satisfier they were, making the data irrelevant to the decision.

The Toyota campus was designed without ‘programming’ or headcount.  That data was layered in afterwards. (Square foot p/p is not considered a relevant metric, as people work more fluidly around the entire space.)


Each of the sessions relating to areas of Open Plan office design addressed a key issue from a number of different angles, namely Designing to support concentration and rejuvenation.

The relationship between collaboration and innovation, and its value, are well understood.  Accordingly they were secondary to other session topics.

Leesman used data to drive a discussion with TD Bank and Fannie Mae, asking whether there is a workplace for everyone.  Their answer was “Yes, but we haven’t found it yet.” Their research shows a person’s ‘work profile’ is more relevant than the generation they represent, which is notable given the current obsession with Gen Z.  Understanding your company’s mix of worker profiles is key to knowing how to design space for them. Leesman’s research supports a Neighborhood approach to planning workstations in groups of about 20, with buffers in between.

T-Mobile & G.E. focused on the psychology of introverts and extroverts, arguing that design that takes into account these extremes will also benefit the people in between.  The goal here is to support everyone to do their best work—focusing on the work, not a prescribed style.

Employee engagement and productivity were shown to be directly related to the control of how and where we work.  People are most effective when they can choose where to work during different parts of the day. Not only do tasks vary throughout the day, but employees’ needs vary from 9 to 5 as well.

The GSA has stated that “you can measure anything you can define, and you can improve anything you can define,” citing research by Dr. Craig Knight on the effect space has on productivity.  The GSA has also published research and guidance on sound, with a study on light to follow.

Capitol One recently released their 2017 Work Environment Study, again finding that noise and ‘lack of privacy’ were key issues. They also found that “88% of office professionals have their best ideas when they're working in flexible space options.”

Less focus on the workPLACE and more on workHOW adds a much-needed layer of detail to the subject of open office design.


•       Neighborhood planning, 20-40 desks

•       Use buffers to define and protect open office space

•       Focus on planning concept, less on programming

•       9’-0” between desks, surface to surface

•       Give private space to recharge, relax, rejuvenate

•       Pilot, pilot, pilot, whenever possible

•       Give people control over aspects of their workspace

•       If unassigned is too extreme, plan for 1:1 and they’ll grow into un-assignment

•       Increase the amount of shared space, up to 50:50

•       More huddle rooms

•       More focus rooms

•       More outdoor space

•       More ways to work away from their desk

•       Focus on amenity spaces first, then the workspace

•       Don’t stereotype the generations

•       Design for a variety of individuals

•       Provide choices


Written by our guru of workplace design: Richard Lott

#whitneyafterwork | Cast or Blast!


The Whitney team was invited to the PG Enlighten Cast or Blast, an industry event hosted by Jim Sychta / PG Enlighten.  The McGraw Wildlife Foundation created the adventurous backdrop for the early morning outing.  Rob cast while Jessie and Laura blast…needless to say the day included a lot of busted clays, a big muskie bite, and fun!

The presentation before a gourmet lunch and beers on the patio included several lighting manufacturers.  The Whitney team was “wooed” by LITECONTROL and dado lighting, featuring aesthetic and economic pendants, suspended and recessed linear lighting.  We are excited to add these to our “go to” specification list!  

Our very own Jessie James took home the Best Amateur Shot award and Laura Hancock scored a bear proof (yes, you read that right) Yeti Roadie Cooler.

Written by our skilled clay shooter: Laura Hancock


Welcome back Fall! And, welcome back all the Fall favorites: colorful leaves, pumpkin lattes, cider doughnuts, new fashion and television shows, the holiday season, football and a new school year. Regardless of your age, or how many years removed you are from graduation, Fall brings with it a renewed sense of purpose and excitement. Everyone feels they are going ‘back to school.’  Personally, I cannot help but warmly reminisce about my college years and that excitement each Fall brought as I went back to campus for a new school year.

When you reminisce about College, what do you remember?  Perhaps you remember projects, coffee breaks, deadlines, laughter, lounging, focused work, sharing Ideas, feeling inspired, sounds of the marching band practicing outside your dorm window. That description (minus the marching band) isn’t too different from current Corporate Culture being embraced by many companies.

Is Workplace Design Falling for Higher Education Design?

The University Culture has always been one to embrace Choice and recognize there are a variety of work styles. The Professor provides an assignment and it is the choice of the student to determine how, where and when to produce their best outcome.  Depending on that student, he or she may choose to work on that assignment in a ‘huddle room’ to collaborate with peers, in a favorite lounge chair at a bustling coffee shop or perhaps at a desk in a quiet library to focus. Do those work style preferences change the moment a student graduates and enters the office?  Of course not! However, past attitudes expected incoming professionals to adapt – i.e. learn how to do your work at your cubicle from 8am-5pm, Monday-Friday.

The Corporate Culture has shifted. 

The current attitude has evolved and companies are instead adapting to the incoming professionals - specifically millennials. In an effort to recruit the best talent, companies recognize the need to design offices which are flexible and accommodate a variety of work styles. Technology enables the freedom to work at places beyond the desk. Regardless of technology though, it is still a company decision to embrace environmental diversity and invest in a Workplace Design which promotes choice.

At Whitney we work with our Clients to design the right combination of ‘ME, WE, FREE’ spaces. Our own office is a great example of Workplace Design which provides ample options of where to work. There is the individual desk; ME Space. There are plenty of collaborative areas from the board room to small huddle rooms; WE Space.  All other space is considered FREE Space. Free space may be standing at the break room bar or working at a coffee shop after an offsite meeting. As an employee, this environmental diversity is quite appealing. 

So is Workplace Design Falling for Higher Education Design? Perhaps, or maybe it is the other way around. Regardless, these two environments are becoming blurred and embracing a similar design vocabulary. One thing is for sure, students and professionals alike share a common desire to be provided Choice. With that in mind, let’s all raise our Pumpkin Lattes and toast to a great Fall producing our best work in the Workplace of our Choice!.

Written by Fall-loving: Nora King


5:00am: My alarm goes off. I promptly hit the snooze button (at least) twice.

5:25am: Ok, ok, I’m up. Let’s do this. It’s Friday!

6:00am: I walk out the door and am headed downtown to work remotely from our satellite office. The weather could not be more perfect…it’s 75 degrees out and I’m able to catch the tail end of the sunrise while waiting for my train to arrive at the Wilson el platform.

6:10am: I sit down on the train and catch up on work emails from my phone so that I can hit the ground running when I get to the office.

6:30am: I get off the train at the Grand stop. I’ve got a short 1-block walk to the office but first I need some caffeine.

6:32am: On my way to Starbucks I notice a column outside of Jewel-Osco with some amazing glazed tile which I can only assume is original to the building. I quickly snap a pic to stash away for future project inspiration.

6:40am: Arrival at Tree Studios.  I pass a window on my way in where I catch a glimpse of the beautiful courtyard and make my way to Studio #19.  Tree Studios was built over 20 years following the 1893 World’s Fair as a way to entice artists to return to Chicago.  For over a century the studios were workshops to some of Chicago’s great artists. Every time I am here, I can’t help but wonder who spent time in our studio and what they were creating.

6:45am: My laptop is set up for the day. I organize my email inbox a bit more and create a checklist.  I spend a few minutes catching up on timesheets and expense reports, then I get started on some space plan revisions that came out of a client meeting yesterday.

8:30am: Quick break to grab some coffee down the hall.  I admire some of the vintage flooring on my way. Designers have a thing with floors.

9:00am: Skype call to review a project schedule with one of my studio-mates.

9:20am: Time for some heads down work.  There’s only one other person at the satellite office today and we both embrace the peace and quiet.

11:40am: Lunchtime.  I walk over to one of our favorite lunch spots, Sweetgreen, which is only about 75 feet from the front door of our building.  The place is bright and sunny, and I spot some more beautiful tile. Starting to realize I’m easily distracted by pretty finishes.

12:00pm: Back at it.  I spend the afternoon working through some more space plans, updating a project budget, and returning a few phone calls. Killing the checklist I put together earlier!

2:30pm: I made it through my list for the day.  Thanks to Whitney’s Friday flex hours, I pack up my bag and head towards the train.

3:00pm: Home sweet home. I throw some laundry in the washing machine, tidy up my apartment, and get dressed for the gym.  Before I’m out the door, I sit down to answer a few last work emails and Skype chat about next week’s task list with some co-workers.

6:00pm: Back from the gym and I switch into weekend mode.  The weather is still beautiful outside so I spend some time on our back porch before grabbing dinner with some friends.

9:30pm: Bedtime after watching a little TV.  Yep, in bed before 10 on a Friday.  Judge away!  It was a busy week.  Zzzzz


Written by our downtown native: Courtney Zastrow

#NeoCon2017 Recap

As a Chicago area design firm, we have the added bonus of having the Merchandise Mart in our backyard that we can visit and take clients to whenever we want.  Even though we are right here, we still enjoy going to NEOCON to check out the latest and greatest from our favorite manufacturers.  Some wow us, some disappoint, and others surprise us.  Each of us at Whitney spends a day hitting well over 10,000 steps on our FitBit or Apple Watch wandering through the Mart.  We avoid the elevator lines and take the stairs only to regret that decision half way up to floor 11.  Along the way, we found some things that we liked.  Here are some of the trends and associated products we saw this year: 

Pink and Gold Accents

This trend started last year, but was even more present this time.  The Scandinavian influence is becoming more and more present in fashion as well as our interior product offerings and details.  Manufacturers are now introducing other metals, not just your standard stainless or aluminum, and allowing designers to be a little more creative with those finishing touches.  This means lighter wood options, more texture, softer edges, and warmer metal finishes like bronze, gold, and brass are all available.  We’re loving it! 

ways to personalize

We have been getting more requests over the last few years for throw pillows, task lights, area rugs, and planters.  Clients want to make their offices feel ‘home like’ or more residential, and we have struggled to find a variety of items that aren’t custom.  We are happy to report that now there are a few manufacturers that provide these as a part of their standard product line.  Haworth can outfit your entire office not only with their workstations, Collection pieces, private office casegoods, seating, etc.,  but now with their beautiful Patricia Urquiola rugs (I want one for my apartment!), occasional tables & throw pillows that come in a plethora of colors.  Both Steelcase and Teknion had a nice offering of desk accessories in fun colors to provide that pop.  Allermuir also has a new great offering of varying sizes and patterns to choose from.  Lastly, did you see J&J Invision’s installation of their new collection?  We absolutely loved the colorway and the installation.  Carpet tile looking like a beautiful rug?  Yes please. 

work lounge 2.0

The trend has been to lean away from private offices and increase the open office.  In recent years, there have been many studies published that argue against the open office and its effectiveness for concentration and heads down work.  The furniture industry has responded with solutions like Steelcase’s Brody Work Lounge and multiple other iterations in years past including OFS Qove, Allsteel’s Clubhouse, Teknion Zones, and the list goes on.  We are continuing to see a need for privacy in the open office and a chance for people to retreat to a comfortable and quiet place to work away from their desk.  This year saw new introductions from Steelcase Umami, West Elm Haus, OFS Heya and others.

innovations in technology

This is becoming a larger portion of project budgets as clients move to impress their own clients with their state of the art audio visual design.  This year, there were a couple of products our office unanimously captured as a favorite.  One was DesignTex’s Casper cloaking film.  It allows you to keep your presentation content material private from outside the room while still allowing some light and visual connection to people in the room.  They now offer a ton of patterns to combine with the cloaking material to add to your design.  Another standout was at the DIRTT showroom.  DIRTT continues to push the boundaries for design.  They showcased an operable partition with an embedded TV.  This allows for maximum flexibility in our multi-purpose rooms.

most unique installation

DIRTT really is a showstopper in every sense of the word at their showroom.  From the ice cream, homemade sushi, really passionate and friendly people, and of course amazing design, they really hit the mark year after year.  This year they installed an entire mezzanine and staircase out of timber frame construction.  They included curves, spirals, angles, and any kind of detail you could imagine into this installation.  You can literally dream it and they will build it.  In case you missed the showroom, they played a looped video of the installation and it was incredible to watch the installers put this structure together.  There is no visible hardware from any viewing point.  It’s beautifully carved wood from Europe that has a wonderful texture and hand to it. 

Written by our NeoCon guru: Kate Logan