Steelcase’s next big product is shaping up to be the Brody WorkLounge. The furniture won two high-profile awards at NeoCon, confirming the buzz generated in media coverage since Brody’s unveiling in April.

“It’s one of the most important products I’ve seen in the industry in years,” said Rob Kirkbride, a Grand Rapids-based journalist who covers the office furniture industry for the trade publication Monday Morning Quarterback. “I think in two to three years everyone will have this product. I think it is really significant.”

The inspiration for Brody came in part from observing students’ study habits at the Mary Idema Pew Library at Grand Valley State University.

Opened in 2013, the $65 million learning and information commons is named after the daughter of Walter D. Idema, a founding officer of Metal Office Furniture Co., which later became Steelcase. Her husband, Robert C. Pew II, was among Grand Valley’s founders and an early board member.

The 150,000-square-foot facility is furnished with products from the Grand Rapids office furniture giant, and a place often visited by Steelcase staff.

“We went into one of these rooms where the furniture was mobile and we were looking at what the students were doing with the furniture,” Steelcase CEO Jim Keane told MLive and The Grand Rapids Press during an interview at the company’s NeoCon showroom last week. “They were creating these settings.”

Students were shifting furniture around to be comfortable and reduce distractions. One behavior that caught Steelcase’s attention was students arranging three chairs together. One to sit in, one for their feet and a third to hold their backpack so they had easy access to books.

Photos of students in their self-made study cocoons were put on an idea wall that provided the inspiration as the Steelcase team began the two-and-half year process that created Brody.

“That was a big inspiration for Brody – it was a micro environment,” said Sean Corcorran, general manager of Education Solutions at Steelcase.

Brody is described more as a private work environment than a chair. At about 4 feet wide and 8 feet long, the office pod is smaller than a cubicle. Brody isn’t intended to be a permanent space for employees like an assigned desk. Rather, it’s a spot they can slip into when they need to focus on individual work with minimal distractions.

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