Designing for the 8-hour Workday: A conversation with Kristen Tonsager, Head of Interior Design

Designing for the 8-hour Workday: A conversation with Kristen Tonsager, Head of Interior Design

On In Construction Update

Today’s office environment shows little resemblance to the fluorescent-lit cubicles of the 1990s. Work/life balance has become a must-have in today’s business world, and office spaces are following suit.

As the architects of the new 50Fifty office tower in the Denver Tech Center, we already had an overall vision for the project. The new challenge was to create office spaces for the building’s new tenants that not only addressed the needs of a modern workforce but seamlessly tied together individual companies’ personalities with the office tower’s own unique character.


Below, Kristen Tonsager, Clutch’s Head of Interior Design, reveals her vision for executing innovative office design for the new tenants of 50Fifty.

On how the new tenant interiors compare to the overall design of 50Fifty

Where some designers might see a chance to continue design elements of 50Fifty into the individual tenant spaces, Kristen preferred to tailor the new offices to the identity of the client. “Every project has its own character, just as each business has its own culture and brand. This project was unique because we were designing for two companies moving into one shared office space.”


Sharing amenities between two investment firms makes sense on many practical levels. However, the design required a well-thought-out plan that addressed potential conflicts and different requirements. “We didn’t want to push the client into a design that didn’t work for them,” says Tonsager.


On overcoming the challenges of communal office spaces

“We begin with a contextual design meeting to understand how each company functions, who collaborates with whom, and how open they want their new space to be.”


For Kristen, understanding a client’s needs is paramount to gaining perspective on how they want their office to look, feel and function. This deep dive was especially critical in the case of these two companies occupying the same space.


A reception area for the companies posed one of the biggest challenges. 

“One side needed a full reception area for clients to sit and wait. However, the other company wanted a closed office space because walk-in clients are unlikely. As the designer, it was my job to create a solution that works for both sides.”


Kristen’s solution was to incorporate a lot of glass, giving the space a sense of transparency but balancing it with privacy.


On the 3 Biggest Factors of Designing for Modern Offices:

Kristen sees the industry leaning in when it comes to hospitality. “It’s not so much a trend as a lasting expectation for office space designers. “As designers, we are able to draw inspiration from the hospitality industry when it comes to furniture and fixtures to look beyond the standard cubicle and swivel chair,” says Tonsager. Today’s workforce spends eight to ten hours a day in an office environment. The challenge, as Kristen puts it, “is how comfortable and convenient we can make it feel.”


The top 3 things to consider when designing an office space:


Natural Sunlight

It’s as simple as this: the more daylight, the happier the inhabitants.



The way our environment sounds is one of the most underrated parts of office comfort. The vast majority of people are unhappy with the acoustics of their workspace.



No matter the office, there will always be someone who is too hot and someone who is too cold. The important thing is to create a space that caters to each side of the spectrum.


50Fifty is scheduled to open in Fall of 2018. Follow Clutch Design Studio on social media or sign up for our newsletter to follow our progress as we get ready for the grand opening of this landmark tower changing the face of the DTC.

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