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New Ybor office furniture store West Elm caters to the millennial generation

YBOR CITY — Cubicles? Too confining.

Corner offices? So Mad Men.

Sitting at your desk? Lethargic.

Workplaces today, at least the ones wanting to lure and retain millennials, need offices that foster collaboration and a relaxed, comfortable vibe. Employees want to join the standing revolution and avoid the weight gain and aching backs prior generations now blame on sitting at desks all day.

That's why Brooklyn-based home furnishings retailer West Elm is branching into the office furniture market with conference tables, lounge seating, desks and storage that's casual yet sleek. It has authorized a few select office furniture dealers to sell four different lines. Tampa's Commercial Design Services, or CDS, is one of the dealers.

The 28-year-old company with showrooms and warehouses in Tampa, Orlando and Tallahassee, has opened a gallery dedicated only to West Elm furniture called West Elm Workspace. The 5,000-square-foot showroom in Centro Ybor is the first in the Southeast and the fourth in the country.

"I think it really speaks to my generation as far as bringing that residential, homelike feel to the office," said Jessica Easterla, 31, manager of design and business development at CDS.

She got the idea for CDS to apply to represent West Elm's foray into the $10 billion office furniture market after reading a Wall Street Journal story about the retailer. She told Stewart Davis, CDS owner and founder — and also her father — that the company needed to represent furniture that resonated with millennials. He agreed.

"People don't really want to work alone in an office or cubicle anymore. This is a new way to work," Davis said, gesturing to the new West Elm Workspace gallery in Ybor.

With its high ceilings, exposed pipes, brick and wooden walls, the furniture gallery could easily double as a nightclub or hip restaurant. It houses minimalist chairs and small sofas grouped around marble coffee tables with sleek silver legs. A conference table is made of warm, natural wooden legs supporting a crisp, white tabletop. It's elevated so people can sit on stools or stand around it. There are several desks that can be adjusted in height for standing or sitting.

The West Elm line is priced about 30 percent below more traditional office collections, Davis said.

One of the West Elm Workspace lines offers Midcentury style desks and credenzas reminiscent of Mad Men but without the fully stocked bar and hierarchy of offices. The other three lines are called modern, industrial and contemporary. Some of the furniture resembles what's sold at West Elm's 68 retail stores, but it's not the same. Office furniture must be manufactured to higher standards than residential furniture because what's available for the home won't withstand the higher usage at a workplace, Davis explained.

CDS already caters to varied employers with other lines of furnishings, including health care and educational clients. It recently completed a $7 million renovation at Tampa General Hospital.

A workplace with comfortable seating areas, an open layout and ergonomically correct furnishings can say a lot about the employer. One without such forward-thinking components can say even more, according to Justin Bean, head of Millennium Strategic Advisors in St. Petersburg.

"Cubicles and offices that are closed off don't look that great. They don't look progressive," he said. "What's at Google and these other tech startups have set the standards. Employees want to feel like they have the opportunity to be part of something very successful."

His company has offered input on St. Petersburg's new pier design and will also be part of a group pitching a vision of the master plan to redevelop Tropicana Field. The company also gives employers advice on how to lure other millennials, who account for one in three American workers today, according to the Pew Research Center.

"(Millennials) care about work-life balance. We're not necessarily just working for a paycheck anymore. You want to be a part of something," Bean said. "In order to be a part of something, you have to communicate with people and be able to work more closely. As a result, you have spaces that are designed to be more involved and collaborative."

Millennials also have a propensity to support local businesses and artists. Welt Elm Workspace caters to that by encouraging the handful of authorized dealers to invite a few local artists to make pieces to add to the collection or showcase other talents.

"This is truly unique for the industry. We have seen that this is exciting to customers as the desire to purchase locally and support local communities grows," said Hethre Strickland, the company's business development manager. "We plan to host events showcasing artists in the Tampa Bay area and also have a few locally made pieces that complement the West Elm Workspace collection."

One artist the Ybor West Elm gallery features is Juan Pablo Parra. He paints and finishes walls with Venetian plaster from Italy so that standard drywall looks and feels like shiny marble. Davis expects customers redesigning or creating new offices with West Elm Workspace furniture will enlist Parra's talent. The walls of the furniture gallery spotlight his work.

Contact Katherine Snow Smith at kssmith@tampabay.com.

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