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How to Completely Furnish an Office Building on a Budget

Avatar of Autonomous Autonomous | Oct 29, 2020
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Whether you’re a fresh new startup flush with venture cash, or a business venture slowly expanding from a few home offices to a centralized location, or a major business opening a new office to expand operations, you’re going to need to furnish an office. Those things don’t come set up all ready for you to move in, at least not most of the time. You’re buying or leasing a space, not the stuff inside it. You need to think of everything – chairs, desks, cabinets, even the break room furniture – and anything you forget just makes it a worse working environment until you can rectify the situation.

What we’ve done is put together a list of everything you need to consider and some tips on how to do it all on a budget.

New Versus Used Furniture

Wholesale used furniture

The first decision you have to make is whether you’re going to go for brand new furniture, or if you’re okay with buying used.

New furniture often comes with a warranty and is going to be free of blemishes and damage. You’ll be able to order as many of any given items as you need, though depending on the supplier you may need to wait for them to fulfill large bulk orders. The downside, of course, is that brand new furniture is going to be more expensive than buying the furniture second-hand.

Used furniture is, of course, generally the more affordable option. A chair that normally costs nearly $2,000 at retail might only cost $800 used. At the same time, however, used furniture comes with a range of risks. They might be dirty or slightly damaged. Desks can have scratches and dings, chairs can have tears or dents, and so on.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s not always very easy to find used furniture in sufficient quantities from a single source. Buying furniture from an office that is closing can get you as many desks and chairs as they had, but if your office is going to be larger, you’ll need to find a second source to round out your numbers. If you’re then forced to get some new items to complete the set, you might even run the risk of office jealousy as some employees have to cope with old second-hand furniture and a select few get the nice new stuff.

If budget is your primary concern, spending the time to buy used is an option, if you can find matching furniture in a large enough quantity. You can often shop new at wholesale rates for comparable prices by looking for discount opportunities and more affordable models of common furniture pieces.

Manufacturer Wholesale Discounts

Wholesale Office Furniture Warehouse

One thing you’ll quickly discover when shopping for an office’s worth of furniture is that there are a lot of intermediary companies out there. You’ll likely find dozens of office furniture outlets selling brand name furniture at fairly decent prices, and it can be tempting to go with them.

This can be a mistake. If you find a particular piece of furniture you like, such as a chair or a desk for your office workers, it can be worthwhile to look up the actual manufacturer of the product. You can often contact those manufacturers directly.

When you do contact them, ask about bulk rates and wholesale discounts. Many of these companies have a fixed price for buying one or just a couple of items but have wholesale rates if you’re buying larger orders in bulk. A chair that costs $2,000 might only actually cost $1,700 per unit if you’re buying 30 of them, or $1,500 per unit if you’re buying 100 of them.

Of course, this isn’t always the case, and it can depend on scale. Sometimes, the outlet is the cheaper option. The outlet store might be buying 10,000 units and can get an even cheaper price than you can, so even their middleman price is cheaper than your direct price. The point is, shop around! You never know what kind of bulk discounts you can find.

Picking the Right Chairs

Quality Office Furniture

The right choice in your chairs can make or break your office environment. Cheap chairs are uncomfortable, difficult to move around in, and can fall apart quickly. High-quality chairs have a load of ergonomic benefits, are a lot more comfortable, and won’t need replacing for years or even a decade.

In the past, you might have needed to shell out a lot of money to get an ergonomically designed chair. These days, even chairs in the $200-$500 range can come with most of the important ergonomic features. Look for adjustments in height, lumbar support, and spinal curvature.

You’ll also want to make sure you’re getting chairs appropriate to the right location and situation. If you’re doing an open office plan, you don’t want huge executive leather chairs. If you’re in a hot environment, you don’t want leather at all. You may also want to look for chairs that have a variety of sizes, in case you have any employees who are extremely tall, short, or large.

We recommend buying chairs new. Other office furniture can be bought used and still have plenty of life left in them, but chairs can have many tiny and irritating little flaws built up over their time in use, and you might not want to risk having everyone dance around ‘the bad chair’ in the office.

Picking the Right Desks

Picking Quality Desks

Desks are one of the areas where you have a lot of flexibility, but they will, in part, determine the layout of your office overall. Do you want an open office plan? Then you shouldn’t have large L desks with shelves and walls. Do you want to have cubicles? Walls are built-in to the cubicle walls, so you can get flat desks with additional shelves to line one wall. Do you have individual offices? Larger desks can take up more space and be better positioned depending on the needs of the user.

Consider what the desks will normally be used for. You don’t need huge, wide desks if everyone is working on a docked laptop all day. On the other hand, if employees frequently need to spread out a handful of reference documents and paperwork, or need larger spaces for drafting, they might need larger desks.

Another consideration is whether or not you want sit-stand desks. Standing desks are rarely convenient for a full office layout, but sit-stand desks that can convert back and forth can be a very useful setup for many offices. Standing is better than sitting for ergonomics, and transitioning between the two throughout the day can help alleviate back pain and other problems that come from long hours in the office.

For plain sitting desks, buying used is often just fine. A few scratches and dings aren’t really important, and most minor blemishes can be restored or cleaned away. For sit-stand desks, you want to buy new. The use of a motor can damage it over time, and while they are designed for a lot of long-term use, the more use you can get out of it before needing a repair, the better.

Choosing Other Furniture

Furnishing Office With Cubicles and Filing Cabinets

Don’t forget that there’s more to an office than just desks and chairs. Every good office has other forms of furniture that you use for a variety of purposes.

  • Shelving is probably the most important and versatile kind of furniture you can get. Small shelves can sit on desks up against cubicle walls to give additional storage space to the people working within. Larger shelves like bookshelves and free-standing cabinets can be both additional storage within cubicles or offices, and communal storage space at the edges of the office space.
  • Filing cabinets can be another good choice. Many offices have a filing cabinet dedicated to each employee’s space. You’ll want to decide how much security and safety you want in a filing cabinet, too. A heavy metal cabinet can protect what’s inside from fire, and a heavy-duty lock can make sure sensitive documents are never left out in an unsecured space. Conversely, plain wooden filing cabinets make great storage space that looks good but doesn’t offer much in the way of security or protection from disaster.
  • If you’re opting for cubicles in your office space, you’ll need to buy the cubicle walls as well. They don’t come free, after all. Decide on a layout, count the walls, and buy that many panels to set up.

We recommend used furniture for most of these options. How much damage is a typical bookshelf or filing cabinet going to take? You might consider replacing the locks on secure furniture, just in case the previous owners copied the keys, but that’s about it. For cubicle walls, however, new is better. Cubicles are often used to hang things and can get dirty and damaged over time. It’s much easier and much nicer to buy new for your office.

Conference Furniture

While the majority of your furniture purchases will focus on what each employee needs in their space, you will also need to think of what goes into specific task-focused rooms in your office. For example, conference rooms are an important part of every office. They’re critical for meetings, both with potential clients and with teams in your business.

For your conference room, you will (at minimum) want a conference table. You can choose a collection of smaller desks, pressed together, for the flexibility of converting it all if you want. A conference table generally looks and feels better, but desks are more flexible. Chairs for your conference room should be more of the same, though keep in mind that if some employees need accommodation in furniture, you may need additional lager or smaller-sized chairs to suit them.

Conference rooms often need additional accouterments. A podium may be useful for when you have one person leading meetings or giving presentations. A whiteboard, projector screen, or digital display is also often a great idea. A projector as well, but that’s not often considered furniture, so you’ll want that to be part of your overall IT budget instead.

Conference furniture has the same new/used dichotomy as normal office furniture. A used desk is often fine, but chairs should be new. A podium can be had used with no issues.

Break Room Furniture

Break Room Photo

Every office needs a break room, and that break room needs to be furnished appropriately.

At the very least, you need tables and chairs. Break room furniture does not need to be as fancy as office furniture, and you don’t need as much of it. A few simple round tables, a few smaller single-person tables, and a bunch of basic chairs are all you really need. All of this can be purchased used with no issues, though you do want to make sure it’s all clean.

Break rooms need storage as well. Storage for cleaning supplies, storage for coffee supplies, storage for snacks. Depending on how the room is laid out, you may want shelves, cabinets, or tall counters. Sometimes this will be built into the room when the building is built, sometimes you need to remodel it in, and sometimes you need to buy furniture to make it work.

Technology Items

Depending on your supplier, you may be able to get some technology and other items as part of your furniture purchases. Some of it might be better set into the IT budget, but some should be considered part of the furniture budget.

For example, setting up a phone system might be possible through both your tech provider and your furniture provider. Office phone systems can have a wide range of possible configurations, however, so it’s really more the realm of IT.

If you’re working on desktop PCs or if your developers, for example, need more screen real estate, you might consider monitor mounting arms. These arms are ideal for sit-stand desks and for adjusting the office environment for ergonomics. Monitor arms should always be purchased new for the best ease of use. If your office is using sit-stand desks, you might also consider anti-fatigue mats.

Another consideration is lighting. Overhead lighting is one thing, but if you give individuals warmer desk lamps, it can make for a more welcoming and more comfortable environment. Lamps can be bought new or used, depending on what aesthetics you want.

Overall, there are a lot of considerations for an office, but this should help you cover the important items for your move!

Have any tips you'd like to add? Did you relocate your business to a new office? Let us know in the comments below!

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