The ongoing debate of how different, yet remarkably alike, millennials and baby boomers are continuing to intrigue everyone. What can folks in their fifties and sixties possibly have in common with twenty-somethings?
There is common ground to be found between the two generations in many ways, such as caring about the community, wanting to be respected, and looking for ways to save money. But other trends are emerging as well: similarities in the world of interior design.
Let’s take a look at a few design trends currently blowing up the workplace and home office redesign markets, and see how the different generations compare.
Is Smaller Better?
Generally speaking, millennials don’t want to waste space or energy. They prefer sustainable, smartly-designed, and functional urban and downtown offices over a huge warehouse or strip mall-based office buildings in the suburbs.
Working from home is a popular option among millennials, as well, so we won’t discount the home office, here.
Meanwhile, boomers have already owned the huge real estate office buildings popular in the good-old-days of the eighties and nineties when everything bigger was considered better. They’ve already been-there-done-that.
It makes more sense now to downsize to smaller office workspaces that are often shared and designed with an open floor plan because they enjoy collaborating and frequent conversation. However, it’s important to note that open floor plans don’t jive with everyone (more on that later).
While millennials grew up seeing their parents struggle through a recession, boomers were also directly impacted when the market went belly up, losing life savings and 401ks. Even though boomers had more to directly lose financially, the impact of 2008 was still felt on both sides.
The two generations could be neighbors and even friends in today’s minimal lifestyle neighborhoods. No matter each person’s taste, a comfortable and functional space with plenty of options, including quiet areas, open design, and natural light, is always desirable.
Everyone appreciates more square footage dedicated to combined work areas and break rooms. When it comes to simplicity, less could be more for both parties.
Born in the 50s, baby boomers know all about the ranch-style mid-century home. That’s just the way homes were built back then. Open design, hardwood floors, and sleek, less bulky furniture was in style.
This open design has carried over into the workplace, with mixed results. Although more open space encourages collaboration and a shared sense of urgency and transparency, more introverted people and those used to having their own office space often find open office plans to be oppressive and disruptive of their workflow.
Therefore, it’s considered best practice to provide plenty of quiet workspace for employees more easily distracted by noise who might appreciate the change of scenery.
As mid-century has gained popularity over the years, these spaces are better described as modern or contemporary with large glass windows and stainless steel railings, but still with that mid-century feel. Buildings from the fifties are known for being livable.
“Especially in the multifamily market and among millennials, there’s a big demand for a design that’s simple, unpretentious and, above all, functional,” according to the National Association of Home Builders blog. Part of the reason for this is simple economics, and part of it is form and function.
The “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” motto carries a lot of weight when it comes to mid-century furnishings as well, since it’s easier to find retro styles from the fifties and sixties in usable shape than vintage forties desks and chairs.
Maybe baby boomers were ahead of their time. Or maybe what was once cool is now cool again — with a twist.
Numerous contemporary workplace designers are creating throwback mid-century-style furniture designs and wall hangings. As Coco Chanel said in 1965, “fashion passes, style remains.” In other words, fashion comes and goes, style goes on forever.
Age-in-Place Movement & Millennials
Retirees would much rather live in the residence of their choice for as long as possible, which is the heart of the term “age in place.”
Meanwhile, a growing number of millennials are choosing to move back in with their parents, who are probably young boomers. The percentage of millennials age 18-34 living with their parents has increased every year since 2005, according to a survey by Goldman Sachs.
At one point in our history, it was considered embarrassing to move back in with mom and dad. That’s not the case anymore, with one in nine boomer parents saying their kids returned to the nest in the past year.
Millennials are also finding ways to help older baby boomers in their places of work and are even starting businesses based on boomer needs in a peer-to-peer type of relationship.
College students will live in an older adult’s age-in-place-equipped smart home for free in exchange for helping them with household chores, doctor’s appointments, and technology, for example. (By the way, does this remind you of anything? Unpaid internships, perhaps?)
Multigenerational Work Spaces
Rather than encourage unpaid labor, how can older and more seasoned professionals support younger workers, rather than take advantage of their inexperience? How can we design workspaces for a range of generations, personality types, and work styles?
We can start by learning from and listening to each other, rather than assuming that our way is the best.
Multigenerational workspaces can become the norm, rather than the exception when we take a step back and try to see situations from other people’s points of view. Empathy is important, then, not only when it comes to marketing to our customers, but also when it comes to relating to our colleagues.
The bottom line is that more workers, regardless of which generation they supposedly belong to, are seeking out meaningful workplace cultures and flexible work schedules. This includes the ability to work from home and socially responsible company cultures.
All generations, including Generations X, Y, and Z, should factor into our discussions. At the end of the proverbial day, we should attempt to understand our similarities, rather than seeking out our differences.
For decades, older adults were known as big-time consumers, but that sort of lifestyle has given way to streamlined, simple, and practical interior design— the same characteristics that entry-level workers value.
The positive influence of the latest workplace designs, coupled with a burgeoning awareness of different employee needs in the workplace, is a win-win for all generations.