5 Offices We Love From Pop Culture
As the “vibe shift” supposedly hurtles our way, there’s a lot of collective hand-wringing over what to do with the office these days. We too are daydreaming about how favored pre-’demic work spaces—open floor plans, flexible seating, et al.—may, and are already starting to, shape shift. For lack of a crystal ball (keeping up with our horoscopes is as far as we can promise the future), we’re rifling through the beige metal filing cabinets of what’s come before.
From the soulless sleek of traditional corporate HQs to the dusty charm of analog hardware, pop culture offers a stocked snack drawer of thrillingly regressive office aesthetics. In a moment when Y2K-style micro mini skirts are back in the cultural consciousness, and there’s an outcry for low-tech, “ungrammable” experiences, nostalgic workplace design satiates the same craving for comfort through familiarity. Here are a few such movie and TV offices that live commercial-rent free in our heads—even when the movie/show makes us want to walk out carrying our stapler, bobblehead, and philodendron in a cardboard box.
9 to 5
On top of the dream cast of Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin, 9 to 5 was radical (albeit in slapstick fashion) when it came out in 1980. Fed up with their sexist bigot of a boss, the trio of office workers kidnap him and implement a (still!) progressive new order. From a visual aspect, it’s the now-absurd scale of the staff’s office supplies that has us reaching to connect the solid weight of a 40-pound electric typewriter to the film’s theme of worker solidarity.
How could we not fantasize about snapping the rings of an oversized plastic binder closed, to chilling effect? If you haven’t spun your desk chair around while on the phone, thus imprisoning yourself in the springy cord, does “making it” even matter? In another scene, the mammoth, quarter-fed vending machine is an emblem of work iconography that feels surprisingly sentimental. Stop us before we romanticize needing a notebook-sized calculator to do simple math.
The real star of Netflix’s series chronicling the meteoric rise (and subsequent fall) of Roy Halston Fenwick is, of course, the designer’s late ’70s office that soared 21 floors above Fifth Avenue. Drenched in saturated vermilion, the outlandishly glamorous office centered the sofa (wall-to-wall modular sectionals, that is) long before WeWork was even a cursed seedling of an idea.
Meanwhile, the floor-to-ceiling windows are what we dreamed of in our last cubicle job, where we’d pop up like groundhogs to see if it was nighttime, or snowing. There were some hints of actual work in the 12,000 square foot space—a few chic desks dressed with orchids and pin-up boards filled with design sketches. But the walls of mirrors and lacquer furniture mostly synced vibes-wise with Halston’s off-the-clock watering hole, a cute little spot called Studio 54. (The sports bar you went to for Bill in payroll’s goodbye drinks was cool, though.)
We’re not oblivious to the other psychotically red office Netflix has implanted into our media chips lately, but with all due respect to Manhattan magazine*, we’re nominating The Thorn for best old school-leaning print-pub office. (*It has to be said that sitting in Inventing Anna’s Scriberia, where seemingly no one has their own deadlines to worry about, seems like paradise for those of us who would very much like to be left alone.)
While their boss is an egotistical has-been and they presumably make no money, Annie (Aidy Bryant) and her coworkers at the local alternative paper get to work in a sprawling, peak Portland warehouse-turned-newsroom. We’ve heard East Coast media folks are still trying to verify whether its enormity and wide-open flow is a factual possibility. Reporting does suggest that the deliciously stagnant stacks of paper, hodgepodge of sexless chairs, and requisite fluorescent lighting (an insult to the wall of stained glass windows, because workplace logic) all track. Also, our new platform is proliferating cork boards again.
To be clear, we’d rather be bypassed for that senior title and be on call for the nightmare client than consider a job at Waystar Royco. Psychological and verbal abuse aside, there’s something unsettlingly seductive about the deliberate sterility of the conglomerate’s midtown tower. It’s not exactly outdated, but it is a stalwart of the status quo—in this world, there’s a proper way to sit in power, inconspicuous furnishings that cost more than our salaries included.
The zero-nonsense décor is unsurprising given leadership’s ruthless obsession with business dominance and literally nothing else. But what is refreshing is the eff-you confidence of existing in a reality above any attention to trend or fashion. Eames rolling chairs? Too obvious, too…poor? Could we argue that in the headquarters’ calculated lack of style, the Roys have achieved the ultimate level of taste? Wealth whispers; in their stark restraint, Waystar’s glass-and-chrome angles hiss.
Honestly, we didn’t get more than 1.5 seasons into this show, and the Pied Piper team’s share-house may or may not qualify as an office. And obviously, it’s a hard no on becoming roommates with your coworkers (as therapy’s taught us: “boundaries”). But as some of us continue to work from home more than we did previously, we’ve started to grudgingly miss some in-office dynamics, like actually interacting with human life. Maybe working from home…together…is kind of genius?
If you’re already doing this with friends/coworkers, congrats on living in 2050. (Sorry, roommates and spouses don’t count; we do make the rules.) Remember studying with friends in the library in college, spending half the time stifling obnoxious laughter over absolutely nothing? Let’s figure out how to bring that energy back to coworking. Personally we’re in it for the constant stream of snacks and acceptability of wearing sweats while working, but you know, go team, too.