Pool Collection

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prices start at $1,015 for a stool and $1,215 for a large benchwww.brayton.com or www.designbius.com

At first glance, Pool, the breakout new seating collection from Steelcase-owned, North Carolina–based Brayton, looks nothing like office furniture. In fact, the collection doesn't even look like furniture, really, but more like a group of friendly barnyard animals. Avian-like stools and zoomorphic benches, furry upholstery and turned-maple haunches-one look and you'll want to put your boring, boxy old lounge seating out to pasture.

Designed to support casual workplace interactions by breaking from the typical office grid, Pool is a meeting area in sheep's clothing. That animal is evoked in rounded, low-slung benches made from upholstered foam stretched over plywood -ribs-; intuitively welcoming, the benches invite staffers to type away on laptops plugged into their built-in dataports or corral other co-workers for impromptu brainstorming sessions.

The idiosyncratic pieces reflect the vision of Bius, a North Haven, Connecticut-based studio run by Mary Little and Peter Wheeler. Asked, however, if animals were a reference point for the seating, Little said: "The likeness wasn't intentional. We didn't even notice it until we saw the collection in white wool." The slight splay of the bench legs contributes to the image of grazing farm creatures, although the shape and angle of the limbs were determined by stability requirements and space restrictions at the seat's junction. "The fullness at the top of each leg provides strength around its fixings, while narrowing the bottom gives it a light touch on the ground," Little explains.

It's not the first time viewers have read unintended symbolism into Little and Wheeler's work: The couple also designs limited-edition home furnishings distinguished by organic, primordial shapes. "Users will always compose their own story," Little says, blaming ergonomics for this particular mix-up. "The curved outlines of Pool relate to the human body. When we first started discussing this project with Cia Mooney, Brayton's VP of product development, she made a connection between that aspect of our work and pieces by Finn Juhl and Hans Wegner."

Pool is also informed by the dynamics of the myriad workspaces Little and Wheeler observed while researching the collection. "It struck us how ad hoc and improvisational they all are," says Little, explaining that the configuration of the benches when they're linked together—a built-in mechanism angles each junction at 35, 90, or 180 degrees"is meant to feel less programmed and more embracing. "Pool addresses the informal, nonhierarchical culture that's becoming more prevalent," she says. And hastening the end, perhaps, of herd mentality. jen renzi