Building a Reception Area to Own Welcoming, Wayfinding, and Wowing

The reception area is a company’s first chance to impress visitors. Before we remodeled, our lobby needed some serious help. Here’s how we tweaked it.

We’ve all been there. You step into an office for the first time for an appointment. Maybe it’s a business meeting or maybe it’s a doctor’s visit. Regardless, that same slight pit of anxiety forms in your stomach. Your mind starts asking the age old questions: “Will it be clear where I should go? Is the person at reception going to be helpful or annoyed? Will they be expecting me?”

You stumble your way to the reception desk, let them know you have arrived, and are told to sit down; “‘So and so’ will be with you shortly.” The outdated pile of magazines rests on the worn out side table as you sink into a coffee-stained, waiting room chair.

Large stock photo posters of fake families, cute animals, and nature scenes are arrayed around the beige walls. The design of the space had clearly been an afterthought when the building first opened, and the priority level for the organization to update seemed nonexistent.

Everyone has heard the adage: 

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

As an organization, your first impression starts as soon as a visitor steps out of her car in your parking lot, and, more importantly, when she steps into your space for the first time. You can learn a lot about an organization from the first 30 seconds you are inside its space, and that impression will be stored in your subconscious forever.

We began our showroom remodel with this truth weighing heavily in our minds. We had a handful of issues that were keeping our reception area from being truly great:

  • We had no wayfinding (because there are two entrances to our showroom, we often had people enter from the side farther away from the reception desk and wander around aimlessly until someone from our team was able to flag them down to help)
  • We had a lack of good seating options for visitors waiting in our “lobby”
  • We had no specific person on our team dedicated to receiving visitors into our space
  • We are a furniture dealer with a heart of Creating Culture, Building Community, and Enriching Lives, but none of that could be seen through our reception space

Visitors to our space had to aimlessly wander through a maze of furniture to find someone to talk to before our remodel.

As we explored ideas for how to remodel the reception area of our showroom, we focused on building a space that owned: 

  • Welcoming
  • Wayfinding
  • Wowing

Here’s five things we did to achieve those goals (and how you can in your space as well!):

1. Let the Experience Drive the Design

When thinking about updating a reception area, we didn’t start by looking at throw pillows online. We took a few steps back and thought about what experience we wanted someone to have when they enter our space. We asked ourselves:

  • How do we want them to feel?
  • What do we want their eyes to be drawn toward?
  • How will their time in the waiting room connect to the meeting he is having in our space?
  • What is the story we are trying to tell?

This brainstorming wasn’t something that a single person could do. We had to recruit a few key teammates to talk through some of these questions before we began redesigning the lobby area, and we let the takeaways from that conversation lead into the design of the space.

For BII, our aim is “Creating Inspired Spaces”. Because of this goal, one of the main things we want visitors of our showroom to experience is inspiration. We want them to see things they have never seen before and be wowed by the possibilities for their own space. One of the hallmark new elements of our remodeled reception area is our 3form Lightbox Front Reception Desk. This eye catching centerpiece brings a compelling example of translucency, color, pattern, texture, and light, which helps people envision something similar in their own space.

2. Envision Reception as a Greeting from Our Company

When we greet someone, we say hello, shake hands, high five, or hug (…at least we did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic). In a very real way, the reception experience is a company’s greeting to whoever visits its space. It is the inaudible “Hello, how are you?” from a company to its visitor. 

Similar to how a personal greeting should match the relationship with the person we greet, the greeting should match your company’s brand and culture and should evoke certain feelings for visitors. Another way to say it: we hug our grandma, but we don’t hug our auto mechanic. 

For BII, a way we transformed our greeting was by building the reception space around our 80+ inch Microsoft Surface Hub, which now sits in the middle of our lobby lounge area. This screen is powered by Bluescape, which provides a virtual work platform where we can upload relevant customer documents like drawings and design inspiration. For visiting customers, partners, and community groups, we add welcoming graphics specific to them to the screen. At times, we simply have meetings within this reception area in front of the Bluescape, which gives the feeling that visitors are being welcomed straight into BII’s living room rather than stuck in a holding pattern in a foyer. We think this transformed greeting is our way as a company of saying, “So glad to have you here. Grab a seat and get comfortable.” 

Reception Couch For Office In Boise Idaho Cropped

We often put client-branded welcome graphics on our Bluescape to make a powerful first impression.

3. Aim for Hotel Lobby, Not Airport Security

Oftentimes, an unfortunate consequence of the reception area is that it creates a barrier or gate between your team and visitors. While this separation is sometimes necessary for the safety of your team, this physical separation has the power to subconsciously create feelings of “us vs. them”, immediately placing visitors in the category of “unwelcomed outsiders” rather than “honorary guests.”

For companies that don’t have to worry as much about security issues, a good model for the reception area can be found in the hospitality industry, especially in hotels. When you enter a hotel for a long-awaited vacation, you are often inundated with excitement as you walk into the lobby. You are greeted by a concierge. There are complimentary refreshments. The furniture is a fancier, comfier version of what you might find in your own living room. You feel welcomed into the space. They want you there.

We all know the feeling you get when you enter a beautiful hotel lobby, as opposed to an airport security checkpoint.

For BII, building a space that felt like a hotel lobby started with the furniture. We created three separate, but coordinated, vignettes in the reception area to provide different seating areas for visitors. In the main space, directly in front of the Bluescape, the centerpiece is a Collete Lounge from National, anchored by Wixler Side Tables, all resting on two Haworth Collection Hand Knotted Degradé rugs. The second vignette, a more formal seating area, is made up of two OFS Yelly chairs, a Haworth Jive table with a power module, and a booth built with Haworth Compose panels featuring veneer tiles and trim. The final vignette is our most living-room-esque, constantly enticing our team to just curl up and nap on the OFS Hinchada modular sofa. This social space also incorporates two Haworth Poppy Lounge chairs and a beautiful Haworth Collection Lana standing lamp by Pablo.

4. Build Around (and For) the Point Guard

In basketball, the point guard is the person who receives the inbound pass and dribbles the ball down the court. They are almost always the first person to touch the ball, and what they do with it is vitally important to whether your team will score on that possession. For those of you who aren’t familiar with basketball, the analogy explained in terms of a company’s reception is this:

  • Point Guard = Whoever On Your Team Sits in the Reception Area
  • Ball = Your Customer
  • Inbound Pass = Your Customer Entering Your Space
  • Point Guard Dribbling the Ball Down the Court = The First Interaction Between Your Team and Your Customer
  • Possession = Your Customer’s Journey with Your Team
  • Score = Achieving Success for Both Your Team and Your Customer

Alongside our remodel, we decided to create a new position that would be our starting point guard. We called it “Customer Experience Coordinator”, not receptionist, because we were looking for a lot more than just someone to answer a phone. We wanted to hire someone who could cultivate and own an experience that “Creates Wow” for every person who enters our showroom. 

Consequently, an important part for the new reception area was a workstation fitting for a person of this caliber; not secondhand furniture, but as good, if not better, than what every member of our team had: a comfortable task chair, a height adjustable table, functional monitor arms, and all the accessories to match. We wanted our Customer Experience Coordinator to be fully equipped to feel comfortable and productive, knowing that their well-being would have a direct effect on how well they would welcome customers and visitors to our showroom.

5. Don’t Neglect the Small Details

On top of these big ticket items for the new reception area of the showroom, there was a long list of small details we wanted to incorporate into the space. A few of them included: 

  • Biophilia (plants, plants, plants)
  • Textile Accents (like rugs & pillows)
  • Charging Stations and Modules

For any company wanting to transform their reception without breaking the bank, small accessories are often a great way to start. These little details can have a huge effect on your visitor’s experience in your space. Here’s a more comprehensive list of small things you can do to create a great reception area:

Small Tweaks To Transform Your Reception Area - BII: Creating Inspired Spaces

If you are a company looking to do more than just some small tweaks, we would love to help you start the process. In remodeling our own space, we learned so much about great reception areas and can be an integral partner in recreating yours. 

Want to Boost Your Reception Area?

If you are interested in starting a conversation about how you can take your company’s reception area design and furniture to the next level, please fill out the below form to let us know how we can help.