Guest Post by Anthony Hansen for Manning Group

Craftsmanship runs deep in commercial interiors. The industry requires a careful orchestration of many partners with each building upon the efforts of its predecessors. And while the contributions of those near the end of the line are often overshadowed by the heavy hitters before them, the last stretch can make or break a project. It is in that spirit that we celebrate the artistry and mastery that installation teams lend to turn visions into real‐world applications.

Perfect Product for an Imperfect World

We are not envious of furniture and architectural wall manufacturers. They have this incredible task of developing products that appeal to the masses and can ‘work’ in any built environment. Their robust quality control checkpoints and efficient factories (in some cases handcrafted detailing) yield precision‐ engineered fan favorites. Yet, these perfect products leave assembly lines for a very imperfect world. Floors are never level, walls rarely plumb, and true right angles are unicorns. Further, the need for as‐ built drawings confirms that spaces rarely fully translate from CAD to construction.

The quantity of product needed to keep the industry moving and the speed at which it must be produced creates this great dichotomy. Product modularity and real‐world flexibility are not simpatico. This very gap creates need for the installation profession, a critical player in the furniture spectrum.

Left- and Right-Brain Thinking Required

Furniture/wall installation requires a balance of creative and pragmatic approaches. Installers must uphold the structural integrity and pristine condition of the product they are assembling to maintain manufacturer warranties. At the same time, they must overlay mad visualization and imaginative skills to transform parts and pieces into functional applications. Installations can often be akin to the ‘square peg in round hole’ scenario when field conditions are a far cry from install drawings. Creative problem solving while maintaining real‐world time and fiscal constraints therefore flexes left‐ and right‐brain thinking.

Aside from brainpower, we must acknowledge the strength, stamina, and motor skills required of an installer. It is a physically taxing profession of nonstop hauling, unpacking, lifting, flipping, fastening, and many other ‘‐ings.’ It is a profession that calls for teamwork to navigate tight stairwells, align weighted tops to bases, and hold steady mammoth panes of wall glass. And certainly, it is a profession that engages with a logistical web of parallel but disparate tracks: the receiving, delivering, and installing of product; and coinciding with other trades who move to the beat of their own drum. We reiterate our industry is a symphony of many partners working towards a grand finale.

There are Tools of the Trade and Tools of the Mind

When we look at the ‘tools’ needed to accomplish commercial installations, there are two major subsets: mechanical/manual and mental/mathematical.

With regards to mechanical/manual tools (e.g., mallets, screwdrivers), prowess in their capabilities and the safety protocols associated with them is a requirement for installers across the country. The notion that the product a client views in a showroom arrives to the jobsite whole is askew. You would be surprised at how many types of blades and saws are required in the field to meet application intent.

Interesting enough, shims, cow magnets, caulk, painter’s tape, and chalk are also major contributors to an installer’s toolkit. And while manual and battery‐powered tools make field cuts and customization easier, there are no do‐overs with a client’s product. Understanding how blades can become out of alignment, how surfaces can chip once altered, and how glass can crack or shatter when too much torque is applied are just a few of the cause‐and‐effect scenarios playing through an installer’s mind.

People incorrectly classify installation as a profession of pure labor. Installers ACTUALLY USE the math concepts the general population has forgotten since high school and college curricula. From algebra to trigonometry, and of course geometry, installation teams run calculations on the backs of product packaging to visualize the cause and effect of every adjustment they make. Because alterations bring great finality to fabricated furniture and walls, installers must exercise great forethought and implement a ‘measure twice, cut once’ mentality.

Interpreting Skills Rank High

The rise of ancillary products in recent years and the customization of spaces have really pushed the required skillset of industry installers. Installation scopes are not just seas of workstations anymore. Moveable walls, variations in workstation setups, data/cabling considerations, acoustical and graphic adornments, and raised flooring are all now part of the daily grind.

The fact is that the installation profession has become a hybrid of the construction and furniture delivery families. They draw their assignments and completion cadence from both construction drawings and manufacturer instructions. This bridging requires a delicate approach to the staging, installation, and in some cases, decommissioning and disposal of furniture assets. There is a constant need to interpret and interpolate provided drawings, client and end user intent, and the reality of site conditions.

The rise of intermarket work and furniture dealers with a hub and spoke model have contributed to lack‐luster installation drawings. Not through any fault of their own, but because their ability to view the site in person is severely diminished. Installers today are often the eyes and the ears of project sites and are key players in the on‐site massaging of product to meet space expectations with a pre‐determined kit‐of‐parts from the manufacturer. This juggling act is especially important when critical dimensions or code requirements are missed throughout the design and ordering process. The extensive knowledge of product lines and the great dexterity installers around the country exhibit should not be taken lightly.

The Last Line of Defense

Without question the commercial interiors industry is complex and takes all kinds of kinds to make spaces come alive. From the dealers who extrapolate designer and architect visions to the manufacturers who produce quality products, there are many players that keep the collective engine running. Lest we not forget the installer and the craftsmanship they lend to the process. They are the last line of defense in upholding the entire delivery process and the quality control measures that discerning clients rightfully expect.

Manning Group is Arizona’s largest commercial furniture services company and an active member of Facilities Services Network (FSN), an international group of independent installation firms.