1 Bar 2
1 Bar 2 is a formal furniture arrangement in executive offices consisting of an executive chair that sits across a desk (a barrier) from two guest chairs. 1 Bar 2 delineates the status between the executive and those who sit on the other side of the table. more
1 Bar 2 | Workplace
1 Bar 2 is a distinct area within an executive office setting. The setting in which executives "devote their time to the special tasks of communication by written word, telephone and face-to-face conversation" is not "the factory, the laboratory or the showroom" but the office.1
In line with the "formula office for the current era", the traditional composition features a desk or table (the Bar) at which an executive sits in a swiveling, substantially-sized manager's chair. On the other side of this desk, facing the executive's seat is two typically stationary guest chairs that disallow freedom of movement for its user. While the size, quality, style and design of the desk and chairs vary, the formula in which they are arranged is inflexible in its organization and firmly established historically as an interior archetype in the corporate office.
The arrangement of chairs and desk determine that "no matter how comfortable an executive office, there is always the knowledge that herein resides a person of influence; the deeper the desk, the more formal the conversation across it will be. The higher and plusher the chair, the more throne-like it seems. Some executives put their visitors in chairs with lower seats (denoting lower status), or seats that are uncomfortable, or difficult to move or get up from, while the executive tilts and swivels and controls in comfort".2 An important aspect to this effect is that 1 Bar 2 places full control in the hands of whoever inhabits the executive chair. The arrangement communicates that guests are occupying someone else's territory and should behave accordingly. In a business setting, this is a very significant advantage for the executive, as Professor Frank Becker explains that "Power is determined by your physical surroundings, but it is also a function of who lays claim to the area. Meeting with people on your home turf makes a difference. You feel stronger, able to fight harder, and more willing to defend yourself. We do not give up all these characteristics when we cross some magical boundary from our turf to the next person's, but we tend to be less effective. A major advantage of home turf is that it gives you the ability to control what goes on in it. Generally, the more business you can conduct in your own office, at your own desk, the more effective you will be."3
For an executive whose job is to "make significant decisions for their companies and organizations",4 the establishment of power and the advantage of "home turf" enables s/he to smoothly run an organization, gain the full attention of anyone with whom they meet, and exert influence. An employee who is promoted to a 1 Bar 2 office setup signals an immediate and symbolic elevation in status.
While much has changed in past decades, the corporate world remains a male-dominated establishment in society.5 The implementation of 1 Bar 2 provides the necessary boundary that establishes the types of relationships between men and women in the workplace. It heavily influences how gender is perceived in the office, either reinforcing stereotypes of gender hierarchy or creating the impression of a more progressive work environment where the female executive takes control.
The successful balance of gender relations within an office remains a challenge but may be dramatically influenced by the arrangement of furniture, and in this case, by 1 Bar 2. "If you are a male and interact with females frequently, some type of barrier, or at least a clear boundary, in a seating arrangement is desirable, especially at first meeting or when you do not know the other person very well. A square desk is better than a round desk, and sitting behind a desk is better than sitting at a sofa. If you are a female, whether you interact mostly with men or with women, you will be seen as more powerful and authoritative if you sit behind the desk rather than at a conference table or conversational seating area. This is particularly important on first contact."6
While the relative difference in power is inherit in the formal organizational composition of 1 Bar 2, alterations to the selection of furniture tends to control the degree of contrast to meet the particular needs of executives, as the "right table shape can affect your leadership or your participation in groups".7
The bigger the table, the greater the separation between executive and guests becomes, creating the impression that the executive is more important; the executive's placement is intimidating to those sitting across the table barrier between them. The selection of a standard rectangular desk is perceived as a more impenetrable barrier than if a less substantial table were used. In some examples of 1 Bar 2, a glass table separates the executive from visitors, diminishing the perceived distance between the two sides. In other examples, an oval table replaces the traditional desk. Its curved edges are a stark contrast to the typical sharp right angles and "de-emphasizes the hierarchical structure further yet".8 The careful design and selection of elements strongly influences the quality of office environment, creating a "strong impact on how others asses you, including their impressions of your competence, credibility, and openness".9
In the late 1950 decade when furniture manufacturers like Herman Miller began marketing new concepts in office furniture design, the notion of the executive office was introduced into the design vocabulary. For the first time in workplace design history, executives worked in completely separate spaces from the rest of the staff, and with this, the nature of their work began to evolve as well. Executives spent much of their work days meeting with employees and clients or communicating with them by telephone. Operating out of their private offices, 1 Bar 2 allowed executives to complete decision making tasks of this nature, placing them in the position of power across a physical barrier from their guests.
Since the introduction of 1 Bar 2 into executive office in the 1950s, the formula for the furniture arrangement took about a decade to establish itself. Early on, photographs from interior design trade magazines indicate that only one chair was located across the desk from a director. Sometime in the 1960 period, two chairs were added, and the practice has remained consistent since then. While the furniture selection varied dramatically by workplace culture, functionally the executive chair consistently remained unique, capable of swiveling, and set on castors for easy movement while the guest chairs are stationary.
In 1959 Lois Wagner Green claimed that "because of the tremendous amount of research" that has gone into office design in the United States, most of the examples in the Interiors Book of Offices were American.10 One instance was the spacious corner office of the chairman of the executive committee of CIT Credit Corporation that was equipped with "specially designed furniture."11 The ensemble consisted of an executive desk of Macassar ebony, a side unit topped with dark travertine, a leather executive chair with a high back and arms, and one upholstered side chair. The remainder of the large room featured a sitting area with a long credenza and two matching upholstered side chairs.
A rendered space plan of the offices of two principal executives of Life magazine featured offices separated by a conference room. Each office contained a 1 Bar 2 configuration. A rendered perspective of the publisher's office of Sports Illustrated illustrated a 1 Bar 2. "The desk may be used as a conference table for formal meetings while the sofa at the other end of the room may be used for informal discussions."12
Designers strategically utilize the "bar" to determine the desired type of interaction and communication of status. In the 1960 office of Republic Carloading and Distributing Corporation by David Wider Associates, the desk implied a more formal interaction; it had a solid base that does not allow the guests to see through the desk.13 This front panel of the desk came to be called a "modesty panel", a panel incorporated into any of various things for the purpose of concealment, especially one placed across the front of a desk to conceal the legs of the person seated at it.14 This desk type created an impenetrable barrier that was made wider by the surface of the desk that expanded much farther out than the footprint of the base. This increased distance between the two sides of the "bar" emphasized the power of the executive over his guests.
"The design of the office by gender and class continued through the 20th century. The problem of office management in the 1960s was to create an illusion of equality while preserving hierarchies. Therefore, most workplaces continued a formal setting. The 1961 print advertisement for Hille Office Desks illustrated three types of desks: "There's a Status desk for non-stop directors; for dedicated young executives and for pretty typists."15 The status desk for an executive had a solid front panel, but the young executive desk had file drawers on both sides, but an open panel so that legs could be seen. The typist desk had one file drawer and an open front panel. A female typist would have been conscious of keeping her legs together during the workday, because the open panel offered her no privacy.
Designers, however, strategically manipulated 1 Bar 2 to cater to individual needs and interactions. In contrast to the Republic Carloading and Distributing Corporation office, a private office in the Security Life & Trust Company's 1964 North Carolina headquarters featured a visibly less massive desk.16 The surface of the desk rested on two side panels. The modesty panel was removed. Also, the desk's curved top n decreased the perceived distance between executive and guests and diminished a sense of hierarchy; the resulting organization was more informal than a desk with a solid panel.
In 1965 Dunbar, a contract furniture manufacturer since 1911, moved to a suburban campus with a court oriented layout. The company's reputation for elegance dated to the early 1930s when Edward J. Wormley created the design formula that pulled the company out of the depression. Wormley's executive office furniture from 1956 to 1966 was particularly successful. Roger Sprunger, Dunbar's interior designer in Berne, Indiana, coordinated with Wormley in New York City. The designers retained the 1 Bar 2 configuration for a Sale Manager's office, pairing the "magnificent #880 walnut desk with upward-curling edge & black leather semicircle inlaid into top" with the #929 chair with black leather and caning.17
Herman Miller introduced the precursor of the modern executive office in 1949. The design by George Nelson featured a table rather than a desk.18 This prototype, however, did not find its way into corporate offices until the 1970 decade. During this period an increased number of companies gravitated away from the executive desk (and certainly one with a solid front panel) in favor of a table. A table had little or no storage capacity, implying that an executive spent his or her time talking on the phone or in conversation with others. A table was intended to foster a more casual interaction between an executive and guests.
In the 1973 Koffler Stores' corporate office in Ontario, Canada, a Parsons table acted as the "bar."19 The barrier became thin and open, rather than the thick and closed desk of the early twentieth century. Late in the 1970 decade, hard right-angle tables disappeared in favor of a softer look provided by tables with rounded corners on the work surfaces. An executive office within the Swiss Banking Corporation utilized an oval worktable.20 This table is also smaller than most examples of 1 Bar 2, especially those from previous decades. Additionally, both the executive chair and guest seats were made of leather, creating a sense of similarity and, thus, equality between executive and guest.21
Beginning in 1980, the desks of 1 Bar 2 began to vary from opaque surfaces to glass. The transparency of the glass work top created very little barrier between the executive and the guests. The executive lost the sense of having his own private territory, giving him the same level of power as the guests who sit across from him.22 In the Solomon Equities office, the glass topped table with thin metal legs broke down the barrier, the bar that divided the two groups.23 In this example, the use of the Knoll Flat Bar Brno Chair gave visual weight to the visitor's side of the bar. The Brno is much more formal in character than the Pollock Executive Chair which was "scaled for comfort."24
From 1990 to 2010, 1 Bar 2 remained a popular configuration for executives and those who are in conference with him or her. Throughout this period, designers have altered the design of the barrier and the conference chairs to suit the aesthetic and functional needs of various corporate cultures. 1 Bar 2 remains a substantially defining factor. In the Baker & Botts offices of 1990, a Parsons table separated executive from guest. It was a more casual desk selection although Brno Chairs were utilized as guest chairs, denoting more formal behavior.25
In the Esquire offices by Francois de Menil (1994), not only did the class desk indicate more casual interaction, the featured guest seating swiveled.26 This gave the guests more flexibility and range of movement, indicating more informal discourse over the "bar". The same could be found in the newly renovated Lever House27 building where swiveling Eames chairs were selected.28
- 1) John Pile, Second Book of Offices (New York: Whitney Publications, 1969), 12.
- 2) Roger Yee, Corporate Design (New York: Interior Design Books, 1983), 216.
- 3) Franklin Becker, The Successful Office: How to Create a Workspace That's Right for You (Reading: Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1982), 24.
- 4) Pile, Second Book of Offices, 12.
- 5) Pile, Second Book of Offices, 12.
- 6) Becker, The Successful Office, 25.
- 7) Becker, The Successful Office, 25.
- 8) Yee, Corporate Design, 216.
- 9) Becker, The Successful Office, 25.
- 10) Lois Wagner Green, ed., Interiors Book of Offices (New York: Whitney Library of Design, 1959), 61.
- 11) Green, Interiors Book of Offices, 61.
- 12) Green, Interiors Book of Offices, Pl. IX and X, bet. 92-93.
- 13) Republic Carloading and Distributing Corporation  David Wider Associates; New York City in Anonymous, "Offices," Interior Design 31, no. 4 (Apr. 1960): 171; PhotoCrd: Ernest M. Silva.
- 14) MODESTY PANEL, a panel of metal, wood, plastic, or cane which is set at the exposed end of a pedestal or kneehole-type contemporary desk. The first published use of the term Modesty Panel was in 1967 in M. Pegler's Dictionary of Interior Design, 292.
- 15) Adrian Forty, Objects of Desire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986), 149.
- 16) Security Life & Trust Co.  Milton Glaser; North Carolina in Anonymous, "Offices," Interior Design 35, no. 4 (Apr. 1964): 161; PhotoCrd: Ben Schnall.
- 17) Anonymous, "Practicing What They Preach," Interiors 126, no. 1 (Jan. 1966); PhotoCrd: Wesley Pussey.
- 18) Forty, Objects of Desire, 148.
- 19) Koffler Stores  Art Shoppe Ltd.; Ontario, Canada in Anonymous, "Koffler Stores Corporate Headquarters," Interior Design 44, no. 10 (Oct. 1973): 156; PhotoCrd: Roger Jowett.
- 20) Swiss Banking Corporation  SLS Environetics; New York City in Anonymous, "Swiss Bank Corporation," Interior Design 49, no. 9 (May 2005): 207; PhotoCrd: Alexandre Georges.
- 21) Becker, The Successful Office, 54.
- 22) Becker, The Successful Office, 25.
- 23) Solomon Equities  Henry Smith-Miller; New York City in Jerry Cooper, "Solomon Equities," Interior Design 57, no. 5 (May 1986): 233; PhotoCrd: Paul Warchol.
- 24) Knoll Brno Chair: http://www.knoll.com/products/product.jsp?prod_id=556; Pollock Executive Chair: http://www.knoll.com/products/product.jsp?prod_id=410&flag=cat&cat_id=7 (Accessed July 2010).
- 25) Baker & Botts  Gensler; Dallas, TX in Monica Geran, "Offices," Interior Design 61, no. 7 (May 1990): 268; PhotoCrd: Toshi Yoshimi.
- 26) Esquire  Francois de Menil; New York City in Edie Cohen, "Francois de Menil," Interior Design 65, no. 9 (Sep. 1994): 199; PhotoCrd: Paul Warchol.
- 27) Lever House  Skidmore, Owings + Merrill; New York City in Raul Barreneche, "History in the Making," Interior Design 76, no. 11 (Sep. 2005): 271; PhotoCrd: Jimmy Cohrssen.
- 28) Evidence for the archetypical use and the chronological sequence of 1 Bar 2 in workplace design was developed from the following primary sources: 1960 Republic Carloading and Distributing Corporation  David Wider Associates; New York City in Anonymous, "Offices," Interior Design 31, no. 4 (Apr. 1960): 171; PhotoCrd: Ernest M. Silva; Security Life & Trust Co.  Milton Glaser; North Carolina in Anonymous, "Offices," Interior Design 35, no. 4 (Apr.1964): 161; PhotoCrd: Ben Schnall / 1970 Koffler Stores  Art Shoppe Ltd.; Ontario, Canada in Anonymous, "Koffler Stores Corporate Headquarters," Interior Design 44, no. 10 (Oct. 1973): 156; PhotoCrd: Roger Jowett; Swiss Banking Corporation  SLS Environetics; New York City in Anonymous, "Swiss Bank Corporation," Interior Design 49, no. 9 (May 2005): 207; PhotoCrd: Alexandre Georges / 1980 Solomon Equities  Henry Smith-Miller; New York City in Jerry Cooper, "Solomon Equities," Interior Design 57, no. 5 (May 1986): 233; PhotoCrd: Paul Warchol / 1990 Baker & Botts  Gensler; Dallas, TX in Monica Geran, "Offices," Interior Design 61, no. 7 (May 1990): 268; PhotoCrd: Toshi Yoshimi; Esquire  Francois de Menil; New York City in Edie Cohen, "Francois de Menil," Interior Design 65, no. 9 (Sep. 1994): 199; PhotoCrd: Paul Warchol / 2000 Lever House  Skidmore, Owings + Merrill; New York City in Raul Barreneche, "History in the Making," Interior Design 76, no. 11 (Sep. 2005): 271; PhotoCrd: Jimmy Cohrssen.
1) The Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, Cornell University, www.intypes.cornell.edu (accessed month & date, year).
2) Yin, Shuqing. “Theory Studies: Archetypical Workplace Practices in Contemporary Interior Design.” M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2011, 116-33.