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Innovation isn’t easy. Older generations talk about us young’uns ‘having it easy’ today. What they often don’t say is that, almost daily, true innovation and originality becomes more difficult. Take music as an example – everything’s already been done, hasn’t it?

The same accusation has been leveled at the world of office furniture – and with the true innovation we have seen in technology over the past couple of decades, what is yet to be discovered when it comes to desks and chairs?

Well, we’re clearly not quite done yet. Now don’t get us wrong, we’re not talking about the re-invention of the wheel here – although we are talking about something that is also round and somewhat revolutionary.

We are with leading global designer and 6-times-Mixology award winner Lee Penson, founder of PENSON, whose design for this new workplace furniture concept is already causing something of a stir. His first design for HOTCAKES looks at workplace furniture from a brand new angle – without any angles!

We ask Lee about his inspiration for this new product. ‘We were working on a small project where we walked into a floor which had about 112 people on it. I’m not kidding you, this was the most densely packed space I’d ever seen in my life. One guy had so much stuff underneath his desk that he didn’t actually have any legroom and was poised in a side-saddle sitting position all day long. The place was jam-packed – with rectangular 1,600x800mm desks everywhere – and the client was saying that he needed to fit another 20 people in! I told him that I didn’t think it was achievable, but I’d have a go.

Hotcakes21‘That week we had my gran’s 80th birthday so we took her out to lunch. We sat at a really long rectangular table, with my gran at one end and me at the other. I didn’t even say a word to her – I could hardly see her! I thought to myself, every time you sit at a rectangular table it’s not as good an experience as when you sit at a round table.
It’s a totally different chemistry.

‘So I applied this – just out of interest more than anything else – to this space plan.’

Lee got his old mathematics tools out and set about doing the sums, working from a more than feasible diameter of 3.1m. ‘I plonked all these circular tables onto the plan – and I nearly fell of my chair. It comfortably accommodated 25% more people into the space. I gave it to one of the guys here to double-check, and then to someone else, just to make sure that I hadn’t got this wrong. It was one of those moments where you rubbed your eyes in disbelief.

‘What suddenly dawned on me was that, because all the rectangular tables were squashed around the edge of the building, all the walls were being used up. So not only had I got 25% more people in, this also freed up the perimeter of the space for much, much more. Add to all this that change in chemistry… I thought we really had a game-changer here and judging by the clients’ faces
when I showed them, they enthusiastically agreed.

‘What suddenly dawned on me was that, because all the rectangular tables were squashed around the edge of the building, all the walls were being used up.’

‘We worked quickly to try a few materiality and structural things, developed some prototypes and ironed out any problems. We’ve now got a brilliant product, we’ve tested it, its FIRA certified and we’re printing them off in full-blown manufacture.’ Lee has funded the EU and US design registration and patents, establishing the franchise agreements with local companies to manufacture HOTCAKES globally, so that the product can be manufactured local-to-demand to keep costs k vdown, stick within strict brand sustainability values and be delivered quickly.

It is manufactured in the UK to avoid August shutdowns with an industry-beating speedy three week lead-in from order to install, which is, of course, by HOTCAKES approved installers.

They’ve had great feedback from a number of clients, including Virgin and Jaguar Land Rover who have adopted the concept via the global design standards that PENSON has just finished writing for them.

HOTCAKES is now available in two different sizes – either five or eight people per desk. Flexibility is a massive gain as you can fill the spaces or have as few people around your table as you like.

Hotcakes33Through full-blown cable management for IT and power you can get chargers for your phone, USB and 240V plugs as well as Airchargers, all right where you need them the most – at desk level. HOTCAKES has also been designed with the ability to clamp any monitor arm or desk lamp to its continuous inner circle, wherever you like. You can even add your own twist and specify your table in any special colour or with a choice of legs. One of PENSON’s clients, none other than Jay Z, has ordered one in blinged-up glitter.

With the design of the legs set far back to the centre, it means there are no divides. This not only makes it much more comfortable, it even allows people to easily swing their chairs around together to brainstorm or huddle with colleagues from other parts of the office to share their weekends photos.

‘The slot in the centre is the clever bit.’ Lee continues. ‘Through this slot you can add anything you like anywhere on the table – whether that’s a monitor arm or an Anglepoise. You can, of course, not add anything and use it as a meeting table for 12 or more. All the cable management is housed inside the large central volume section. That area in the middle can hold everything you need, discreetly, which can then be simply accessed through a sliding lid. The genius is that eight people can all be served by a single 200mm floor grommet. So HOTCAKES can even start to simplify base build costs and programmes, especially as installation is quicker than rectangular desks, and relocation and moves are also quicker.

‘A point that has been raised to us is that the space in the middle of the table is wasted space. This isn’t wasting space because not only are you getting more people into the floor overall, the space in the middle is also doing other things. For JLR, where the concept is to bring nature indoors, we have placed planting in the centre, while you can also add lighting, shelving – whatever you want. This can also be where you personalise your table – we want people to go and play with it. So far people have requested gold fish bowls, spinning snack bars, spinning filing and even a naked sculpture. Suddenly a desk becomes fun!

‘Pricewise, this is also much more efficient from a manufacturing perspective per person, as you can split off eight seats in one process. So costs are very competitive.

‘Pricewise, this is also much more efficient from a manufacturing perspective per person, as you can split off eight seats in one process. So costs are very competitive.

‘This is just the first product for brand, Lee grins. ‘There will be more than just a round desk coming in the near future. It will eventually become very clear. It is now time that corporate desking, task chairs, filing cabinets and collaboration gets a new commercially minded, lifestyle, making life easier, efficient and more fun.’

But not today. Lips, for the time being at least, are firmly sealed. So, whose round is it?