by Tina Manzer
Since its inception in 1981, Agati has been known for designing innovative furniture for public spaces. Under the direction of patriarch Joe, the family-owned company found a niche designing for libraries where Agati tables, chairs and study carrels provide long-lasting durability in an artistic way. Over the years, Agati’s client list has expanded to include colleges, universities and airports. Joe’s son Joe S. Agati has taken the helm as design director and chief operating officer along the way. His development of products like the POD and POD Jr. (see page 5) reflect his observations of the way people behave in public spaces and his subsequent solutions for improving their experience.
Our question to him was this: how on Earth do you design for the public-space challenge that is COVID?
Here is what he told us.
Joe S. Agati: This might be surprising, but the pandemic has actually just solidified the direction we were already going in with our furniture design. We have been focused on making people feel comfortable in a space for a long time, and whether we are in a pandemic or in “normal times” (whatever that means!), there are fundamental human behaviors that need to be considered when designing for public spaces. As we’ve continued to focus on designing for these behaviors, we’ve just made small changes, such as increasing panel height or including wider elements to spread people out, so that we can also help address health and safety requirements.
So “virus-safety design” hasn’t been restrictive, necessarily.
Our team is a collection of problem-solvers at heart, so any time we have a unique challenge to overcome, we get energized by coming up with new solutions. I wouldn’t say the events of the past year have restricted our designs; however, this last year has increased general awareness of the kinds of design people need to feel comfortable in a space, placing more focus on the design of the product rather than just hitting a seat or table count. This awareness has allowed us to create meaningful environments as public spaces prepare for what’s to come. When we focus on human needs in our spaces, we create a more impactful and transformative experience for our community.
Is virus-safety design here to stay?
That’s a great question! In many ways, it’s always been here, but people were just not listening. Prior to the pandemic, there was a large trend to over-pack environments. Besides current health concerns, this simply makes people feel uncomfortable. Now that we have all gone through such a challenging experience, we are more sensitive to what everyone needs in terms of comfort inside a space.
So to answer the question more specifically – there are some furniture elements that we might not see required in three-to-five years (or five to 10!), but I hope the principles for crafting intentional spaces that we’ve learned during this last year are here to stay.
Agati is a specialist in library-furniture design. What innovations will we see from you going forward?
Prior to the pandemic, we saw major trends like flexibility and versatility in public spaces, meaning the need for spaces to be able to do more than one thing. The pandemic has just accelerated these trends. As we go forward, this means we all need to be able to adapt and adapt quickly.
As our team considers new designs, we push ourselves to create things that are not only highly adaptable for today’s challenges, but will also still be great products for tomorrow. That was the mission behind our most recent innovations like FrameWork, a collection of movable walls; and some adaptations of our signature POD Study Carrel design. You can expect us to continue innovating to help improve the adaptability and flexibility of spaces.
What would you like school planners and architects to know about your company?
Agati Furniture has been designing furniture for public spaces (particularly for educational spaces) for nearly 40 years. In our experience, we have learned that there is a common 80 percent between all institutions in a given market. The last 20 percent is where we find the unique elements that set apart that institution’s community, vision, and purpose.
Here at Agati, our product designs start by addressing the 80 percent, and then we work with clients to understand their unique 20 percent so we can tailor customized solutions to serve their community effectively for years to come. When we are able to serve students and our greater community effectively, our mission as a company has succeeded.