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The Keilhauer Collection
Provoking, iconic, and covetable, Keilhauer is recognized around the world for design excellence.
Furniture is a Family Business for Keilhauer
Keilhauer's Awla table is available in 10 colour wood stains and three standard laminate wood tops.
Keilhauer is Bringing Warmth and Wood into the Office
Keilhauer Elevate Collection display room
Keilhauer’s Elevate Collection Introduces Elegant Touch of Home to the Workplace
4 Ultra-Flexible Workplace Seating Systems
The Keilhauer Collection
The Keilhauer Collection

Working together since 1979, the Keilhauer brothers have evolved beyond task chairs to embrace the softer side of office furniture.

“When you are at a cocktail party, do you ever talk like this?” Mike Keilhauer asks as he stands beside me, staring straight ahead. “Hi there, how are you?” When I turn my head to respond, all I see is his left shoulder. It feels like we’re about to run a three-legged race, and, instinctively, I inch away.

“And you rarely talk like this,” he continues, now squarely facing me. “But this,” he says, shifting his feet so that he’s at a 45-degree angle, “is a much more amiable way to talk.” ​And he’s right. From awkward small talk to a productive brainstorm, no social interaction is too minor to analyze and ​optimize. As president of the contract office furniture company Keilhauer, Mike is constantly observing the way we converse and collaborate, to see if there’s something – a stripped-down task chair, a curved bench, a table with wheels – that might make our dealings with each other more productive, efficient and fun.

HANGOUT, 2016 – The name of this series captures the casual spirit of the collection, designed with millennials in mind. A collaboration with EOOS, the pieces are upholstered in wool, giving them the warmth of residential furniture.

Achieving the type of environment Keilhauer strives for is actually more difficult than one might think; in this age of disruption, even the physical landscape of work has undergone seismic shifts. Every technological advance brings drastic changes, leaving the traditional office in a permanent state of flux. Open-plan spaces meant to encourage collaboration are often silent, with employees wearing earbuds. Office hotelling has done away with cubicle decorations – tomorrow your boss might be sitting where you are today. Desks themselves are now somewhat optional, as work can happen anywhere there’s Wi-Fi. As a result, office furniture has become hard to define.

Which is why Keilhauer makes for an interesting case study of how to survive in an industry that’s constantly changing. The small-ish company (it has 232 employees at its headquarters and two factories in Toronto) has never been interested in competing with larger corporations in terms of offering complete office systems. When Mike started the company 35 years ago with his brothers Ron, Rick and Steve, it dealt in seating. They had learned the trade from their father, Ed, a master upholsterer who had run his own contract furniture company. The Keilhauers made their name with well-made, well-designed chairs. But a couple of years ago, when the options for office furniture began to blow wide open, they realized they needed to take a step back and re-evaluate the company’s aim.

SQUIG, 2006 – The company noticed that, even with all the ergonomic chairs on the market, many employees preferred to sit on exercise balls at work. With that observation, Keilhauer partnered with the University of Waterloo, Ontario, to conduct ergonomic research, which identified differences in how men and women prefer to sit. EOOS then developed a task chair with comfort for both.

“This new world of collaboration is a softer world,” says Mike. “So if people are interacting more, what does that look like? We redefined who we are – we’re still predominantly about seating, but now we’re more about what we call ‘heads up’ spaces.” Think informal areas, breakout spaces, office kitchens, small meeting rooms and even boardrooms; anywhere employees might interact with each other, Keilhauer imagines the chairs, sofas, tables, stools and benches that will help them do so.

“They do a very good job of observing and really looking at where we are going as a culture,” says Shauna Levy, CEO of the Design Exchange, a design museum in Toronto. “The pieces are very much about how we are responding and reacting and working with one another.”

DOKO, 2016 – Designed by Ayako Takase and Cutter Hutton from the Rhode Island firm Observatory Studio, Doko is a colourful line of mushroom-shaped ottomans and pouffes. The playful form is intended to impart an easy informality.

For instance, the optimal conversation angle Mike was demonstrating features prominently in the company’s Talk series of benches, chairs and tables. Knowing millennials would soon make up the majority of the workforce, he was curious about what they might want in an office environment. The spark of the design didn’t strike while standing at a cocktail party; it came from watching his 20-something-year-old kids. “I have never seen a generation that is so huggy,” he says. “I think because social media separates them, they need some physical contact.” But how to make office furniture that facilitates closeness?

Keilhauer reached out to Austrian firm EOOS, a frequent collaborator. They came back with a series of high-backed, V-shaped benches and chairs. Seats are pitched at that 45-degree angle for easy conversation, and the tall backs lend a sense of privacy. With tables that mirror those angles, the series can easily be configured into cozy nooks. It’s not bleeding-edge design, but the series is elegant, thoughtful and not something that will look dated in a year or two. Those same qualities pop up in all Keilhauer products, from the completely mobile Wheels series to the smartly tailored Cahoots line. This understated style means the furniture can be incorporated into wildly different workplaces.

TALK, 2012 – This seating and table series addresses the art of conversation head-on. EOOS designer Gernot Bohmann says that to maximize a sense of focus, u201cWe came up with the idea of the u2018magic angleu2019.u201d Seats are set at 45 degrees, while the high backs create privacy.

While Keilhauer doesn’t exactly wave the national flag, the brand demonstrates “a Canadian sensibility,” says Levy. “I would like to claim sensitivity as a Canadian characteristic. As a brand, Keilhauer has that sensitivity, because it’s really about observing the world around us and responding to that.”

Early on, the brothers knew that if they wanted to compete on the world stage they couldn’t go to the market as a Canadian company, but would have to be a global player. “If you start to regionalize yourself, you immediately start thinking as a smaller player,” says Mike. “To play in that global league you have to bring sophisticated product, and you have to bring a sophisticated process, where you deliver on time, your customer relies on you, and if there are warranty issues, it’s taken care of right away.”

The two manufacturing plants do run like well-oiled machines, turning out about 125,000 chairs and tables a year. The process has been streamlined so that orders move through the system together – for instance, all the chairs in an order will be cut and prepped at the same time, and will proceed on to sewing and upholstery as a group. It’s efficient and allows the company to fill orders of single chairs alongside bigger jobs – a nimbleness that many larger corporations don’t have. As Mike says, “The ones add up.”

TOM, 1997 – The company invested $2 million into the creation of this now-iconic task chair, which can easily be adapted for executives, middle management or interns. u201cIt was a leap for both of us,u201d says designer Tom Deacon. u201cI had never done a project of that complexity using large-scale moulded parts, and Keilhauer made an enormous investment.u201d The ability to customize resonated with clients: the year after the chair was released, the companyu2019s business grew by 100 per cent.

What underpins that workflow is a commitment to sustainability. The company is nearing net-zero use; it offsets its electricity use by buying energy credits, and any material waste that it can’t reuse or recycle is converted into energy. Before any product is made, its material, sourcing and potential lifespan are all evaluated. Every piece of furniture is BIFMA gold-level certified. And every employee can make suggestions as to how the company can achieve its goal of closed-loop manufacturing. For instance, the logistics manager suggested that instead of packing chairs in cardboard boxes, the chairs could be wrapped in reusable blankets. That small initiative has eliminated close to a million boxes so far, and also means the company can fit 25 to 50 per cent more product on each truck, lowering greenhouse gas emissions even further.

This anecdote speaks to the inclusive culture of Keilhauer. The chair plant is airy and bright, and when I walk through with the president, there is no ripple of fear but plenty of hellos and smiles. “You’re allowed to have a sense of humour here,” says Jackie Maze, vice-president of sales and marketing. Indeed, fun is one of the company’s corporate values (along with integrity, capability and creativity). Not surprisingly, there is very low staff turnover.

Collaboration, it seems, is a key part of the company’s ​design process. “We meet often and have a lot of conversations. The work is deep, and the concentration is high – mixed with lots of laughs,” says Gernot Bohmann, co-founder of EOOS.

Their latest collaboration, Hangout, is a collection of chairs, ottomans, coffee tables and couches – everything a company might need for lounge and meeting areas. As Mike shows me maquettes of the collection, he playfully moves the tiny models into different configurations. “If you put a couple benches together, you can create a curve, or you could add a table there or maybe a stool here.” He’s like a friendly giant, imagining the conservations, the jokes and ideas that might happen. His attitude is a good reminder that with the right people and the right ideas, work can be more than just workable. It can actually be fun.


Keilhauer's Awla table is available in 10 colour wood stains and three standard laminate wood tops.
Keilhauer’s Awla table is available in 10 colour wood stains and three standard laminate wood tops.

In the June issue of Azure, we explored the emerging trends in the modern office – which looks neither like a stuffy grid of cubicles or an austere open-plan studio. Rather, the contemporary workplace has begun to emulate the home: it’s an environment that’s become increasingly welcoming. And that evolution is evident in the newest offerings by Keilhauer, which lean heavily on wood.

The Awla table is offered in three sizes in counter and bar height, along with six sizes at conference height.

The choice to design office furniture with natural materials, says president and creative director Mike Keilhauer, came in response to an increasingly digital workplace. The wireless office untethered workers from their desks, meaning that productivity is now happening anywhere – and meetings, once the stuff of boardrooms, have spread to lounges, collaborative spaces and wherever people gather.

Part of the Untucked collection, the Stix table, centre, comes in 10 colours in Walnut or Ash finishes.

As workplaces become more untucked, so, too, have their furniture choices. “We have seen the office change dramatically with the advent of wireless technology,” Mike says. “We watched as the workplace became less formal, less dressed-up, and wondered how space would evolve in the new casual world. We felt that the need for elements with wood detail would be required to soften space.”

The Patty Johnson-designed Turn is available in natural, oiled or half-painted finishes.

The Toronto furniture brand was among the first to respond to the relaxation of the office, and it shows, especially in their tables. Many add surprising whimsy to the workplace: Stix, a curvaceous table designed by Vienna industrial design studio EOOS, is a moveable perch for laptops, notebooks or phones. The playful Turn, conceived by , is a circular Maple, Cherry or Walnut table that can be half-painted in six bold colours.

The Sip stool, part of Keilhauer’s Hangout collection, is available in 10 different stains.

Keilhauer’s wooden range extends to its seating, too. For instance, the Ash-constructed Sip stools, which can be clustered or stand solo, add bold pops of colour, while the Oro lounge/work chair, debuted at NeoCon 2018, features oar-like wooden arms provide a surface for devices, drinks or magazines.

The Oro chair is a lounge-style seat available in Walnut or Ash in 10 colours.

Generously sized wooden arms offer a perch for devices, notebooks or snacks.

Yes, each of these items are handsome. But what separates Keilhauer’s furniture from residential fare is that they’re purpose-built for productivity. “It was important that we soften our products to give them a more casual feel but not to make them too lounge like as in the home,” says Mike. “People want to be comfortable but they are still working.”

The Geometry table, centre, is offered in solid Walnut or Ash in 10 colours; the laminate top is available in four colours.

He’s right – there’s a tactful utility to Keilhauer’s wooden offerings. The EOOS-designed Awla table, a gorgeous balance of lines and planes, is offered at bar, counter and conference heights – and maintains its unfettered aesthetic via hidden cable management. Geometry, part of Keilhauer’s breakout space-geared Untucked collection, is a versatile take on the coffee table, available in Walnut and Ash in three shapes and 10 colours.

Keilhauer's Ruben seating collection features side and lounge chairs, bar and counter stools and a sofa.
Keilhauer’s Ruben seating collection features side and lounge chairs, bar and counter stools and a sofa.

These design choices were highly intentional. Keilhauer’s finishes can soften workspaces, while tables offered in different heights transition spaces from formal to informal. With their wooden options, the company says, it hopes to foster environments that simultaneously promote comfort and productivity – or, in other words, reflect how we work now.

“We ask ourselves questions: what are our clients asking for? What are the trends that are evolving? How is technology changing the way the people work and interact?” says Mike. “The best products satisfy a need.”

This content was published by Azure in partnership with Keilhauer.

Keilhauer Elevate Collection display room

“We wanted to offer new designs that would foster human-centric workspaces, where every individual has the autonomy to structure their workday in a way that is most inspirational and productive for them individually,” says Keilhauer President Mike Keilhauer, introducing the company’s Elevate collection. Exuding a sense of comfort and warmth, the versatile new seating series supports the flexible – and welcoming – nature of the best contemporary workplaces while retaining a distinctly professional aesthetic.

Keilhauer Elevate Collection, soft contract

Elevate combines six distinct seating options to suit each context – and personality. From soft, comfortable lounging furniture to more private, task-focused solutions, each piece allows the individual to choose the way they want to work and the best option for them.

Keilhauer Elevate Collection, soft contract

Designed with an emphasis on wellbeing, the furniture’s versatility gives employees the ability to tailor their work environments – and this creates professional settings that people will seek out rather than avoid. “The Elevate collection was inspired by a desire to equip organizations with the right furniture solutions to empower their employees,” Keilhauer says, stressing that harmonious and comfortable office environments are ones that also inspire, motivate and engage their team members, and are therefore happier and more productive.

Keilhauer Elevate Collection, soft contract

As the market continues to evolve toward more comfortable “soft-contract” office interiors, Keilhauer is leading the trend with an appealingly holistic approach. The Elevate collection’s soft-contract aesthetic, which works well in furniture and meeting rooms, is also carefully reflected in the colour and textile options the company now offers. A direction toward richer colours, and softer fabrics and textures, helps to create a cohesive and pleasantly unified style that defines its setting.

Keilhauer Elevate Collection, soft contract

Supplementing its growing portfolio of soft-contract furniture, Keilhauer has launched a fresh new collection of textiles that finds inspiration in contemporary design trends. Allegra, Lavoro, Merkat and Town feature a sleek modern style, while subtly drawing on the intimate atmosphere of homes. Their rich colourways and textures further this appearance of a softer and welcoming environment that still holds up to the rigours of the modern office – and to its ongoing evolution.

Keilhauer Elevate Collection, soft contract

This content was published by Azure on behalf of Keilhauer.

Nienkämper, Dauphin, Allsteel and Keilhauer have got you covered:

Heartbeat by Nienkämper

Reconfigurable, scalable and somewhat otherworldly, Karim Rashid’s design combines straight, convex and concave forms in wave-like arrangements that encourage engagement and conversation. nienkamper.com

Reefs by Dauphin

Named for the underwater ecosystem, this collection of sofas and benches – straight or curved – adapts and expands to fit any environment. Tall screens can be added for visual and acoustic privacy, while optional under-mount power modules transform it into a comfortable charging station. dauphin.com

Two-Thirds by Allsteel

This Tetris-like series comprises pouffes, benches and tables that vary in length and width by seven-inch increments, allowing the assorted modules to neatly cluster together. Designed by Joey Ruiter, the lightweight volumes can be finished in multiple fabrics and laminates. allsteeloffice.com

Garner by Keilhauer

Part of the six-piece Elevate series of collaborative furniture, this modular sofa (by EOOS) includes seats with or without backs and tables topped with wood, laminate or Cambria stone surfacing – all of which appear to float on slender polished aluminum platforms. The elements can be configured to suit any space or scale and can incorporate power sources. keilhauer.com