We proudly present: Showroom design made by Bene

Design Design Trends Office Trends

The first Bene Showroom, established in 1951 in Vienna’s Renngasse, immediately became a foot in the door - the door to potential customers and the European market, and to its own (sales) employees who also needed an urban reference point to complement the head office in the Lower Austrian town of Waidhofen an der Ybbs. This was where overall room concepts were shown, rather than just separate pieces of furniture.

In retrospect, it is where the world of Bene opened up, with all of its space-filling ideas, products and visions. Because it was here that the first Bene branch was turned into the first Bene "showplace": in 1964, as an idea by Manfred Bene - who had just recently joined the company - in collaboration with the Viennese architect Bruno Echerer. He had already come up with innovative new ideas for Bene in product design, such as a modern management line that included seating furniture.

Customer proximity

In other words, the idea was to show what the company had. And to show what it was capable of. To establish contact with the customer and, since there was no local dealer structure, to do so by direct distribution, through Bene’s own, attractive branches starting in Vienna, Linz, Salzburg, Graz and Klagenfurt.

"We really implemented futuristic things back then!", said Manfred Bene in conversation. "In 1978 in Graz, we rented a shop in an old town house with a U-shaped floorplan, and the owner gave us permission to dig up the courtyard, two or three levels deep, and then we built stairs going down. This meant we suddenly had a showroom of enormous proportions.

The stairs, surrounded by a huge glass wall, were the central, space-defining element - the architecture by Echerer was sensational for that time! The façade was also very attractive. And this was exactly what was special about our idea: investing a relatively large amount of money to make our branch offices extraordinary. This was incredibly important for our image and our reputation. All the architectural media reported about this."

The discovery of the "world"

Soon afterwards, in 1977, Manfred Bene began collaborating with Laurids Ortner. What happened in the following years changed everyone’s concepts of office spaces and clearly bore the mark of Bene: a plain, usually overlooked room was illuminated, analysed, its potentials were recognised and placed in a new light for all involved. It suddenly became clear that an office is more than just a collection of work spaces; that offices create identity, motivate, make the company culture visible, host a wide range of scenarios and represent a fast-paced stage for modern diversity. Finally offices were understood as what they had always been but what had never been acknowledged: as living spaces. The corollary, for Bene, was: If you want to establish international competence you have to think in comprehensive dimensions. In concrete terms: The challenge is in the room concept, not the individual pieces of furniture.

As realistic as real life

While Laurids Ortner integrated such genuine innovations as the third work level, the contact segment, the multi-level workspace and integration of the wall into the new Bene portfolio, the branches faced new challenges of how to present these products. Because if the concept becomes just as important as the individual furnishing element, traditional furniture presentation is no longer enough.

This is why Bene wanted to show its employees and customers what the ideal office world could look like from the start. The room itself became the exhibition space with a 1:1 presentation, including the atmosphere and all of the details from the carpet to the lamp, the umbrella stand to the flower pot. The topics of space efficiency, ergonomics and individuality are recurrent. And everything is carefully coordinated with the rest. The whole as the sum of its parts.

Much to tell

These ideas required a basic renovation of all branches in the 1980s, starting with Vienna. New showrooms followed in the other state capitals. At the same time Bene Zurich was opened as one of the first showrooms abroad.

With these kinds of newly staged showcases, Bene demonstrated its modern and evolved self-image. The strong axis of direct sales and in-house production meant that Bene had all the arguments in hand for the customer. Sales talks turned into consultations. The showroom was the best lab of the future. "First we shape the space, and then the space will shape us", is the memorable formula of the Bene world.

At the same time Bene’s presentations continuously received excellent responses at the legendary Viennese office trade show IFABO. And the production site in Waidhofen, newly designed by Laurids Ortner in 1988, became an impressive setting for applied product presentation with its office section and was awarded the Bauherrenpreis ("Clients’ Award") that same year.

Having arrived in the 1990s, offices at Bene had ultimately become a "hot spot". The showrooms played a major role: The visualisation of different zones and areas, macro- and micro-layout highlighted the conceptual achievement of the office and the presentation. This was complemented by "brand-tainment" as a defining part of the content.

Almost like a generation change

Then came the leap into the new millennium - and in some ways, the office industry had to reorient itself: Since real estate began to play a growing role in modern management, the perspective has become more pragmatic while the evaluation orients itself more on key figures. Those who enter the showroom today - if they actually visit - are already well-informed and have possibly already received a professional consultation. Their objectives are to find concrete solutions for their specific demands - and this on a high-quality, and particularly creative level. To satisfy a clientele with these kinds of sophisticated needs, traditional presentation concepts have long since ceased to be enough. Simply showing a model of reality is inadequate, even if it can be seen 1:1. What is much more convincing is what is being put to practice every day and actually works: a living office in real operation. This is the only way to be authentic and convincing.

For the annex to the new office and training section in Waidhofen in 2008, and especially at the new Bene showroom on Vienna’s Neutorgasse in 2010, Sigrid Mayer, architect and in charge of showroom design at Bene, has implemented precisely this concept. The "traditional" showroom still exists and serves as an exemplary exhibition space for the latest product innovations, such as the RM Room Module and Parcs. The actual showrooms, however, are the two floors above. In a 1,700 m² area, visitors can get an atmospheric feel for the office as a living space, as interpreted by Bene; they can find out details about their functions and evaluate them in direct interaction.

We are what we show

Of course, product presentations on a digital level, in virtual space or as a 3D visualisation also offer all of the other possibilities to get more information and key figures. The declared intention is to make a complex product transparent and comprehensible. Living Office for mature people.

But Manfred Bene still considers authenticity to be the real argument: "The customer will only understand what I actually am and show about myself. So we all have to live the way we sell it to the customer. And this not only as an end in itself but because we actually believe in it. You can look around here or go upstairs, go to Dusseldorf, Klagenfurt or wherever else you’d like: We are always living in this role because we believe that it’s the right one. That means: We live authentically. And we are what we create. That’s Bene."

Rendering des Orgatec Messestand 2010



Brigitte Schedl-Richter

Texterin, freie Journalistin,