Interview with real estate expert Barbara Knoflach

Barbara Knoflach

“Spaces shape people, I’m convinced of that.”

People shape progress and spawn innovation. They set up companies, create brands, construct buildings – sometimes even entire worlds – and fit them out. But what connects all this? How do ideas, attitudes and values become things of value? Barbara Knoflach, Global Head of Investment Management at BNP Paribas Real Estate, on office furniture that is fun and stimulates thought.

Ms. Knoflach, what matters more to you: furnishings or views?

(laughing) Spaces shape people, I’m convinced of that. So I believe that good furnishings matter most of all. They have an impact on our quality of life. And if you have a heavenly view like we do here from the thirty-third floor, well, that’s an added bonus. Then again, I also like our lobby where you can see outside from almost anywhere – and there is lots of greenery. The entire building is massive and minimal at the same time. A mix of clear assertiveness and restraint.

It sounds like the building has a character. Is that what a property needs?

I am essentially an asset manager. If I invest my client’s money in a property, I always consider three factors: quality, infrastructure and flexibility.

How do these factors increase the value of a building?

When you buy quality, you are sparing yourself future expenses.

Which is to say: you buy cheap, you buy twice?

In most cases, yes. Quality can be seen above all in the workmanship and architecture. When I talk about infrastructure, I am talking about a building’s proximity to public transportation or parking spaces for cars as well as bike stands. But that still isn’t enough. The people who live or work in the building also want restaurants, bars and culture nearby; and if they get hungry, they should be able to go around the corner and buy a sandwich.

And flexibility?

Flexibility is becoming increasingly important because the needs of tenants are changing more dramatically and more rapidly than ever before. Companies no longer want to be bound to ten-year leases. And if they do, they want to be able to divide and sublet their spaces. Many users at some point will want flexible rooms, open spaces or community working spaces rather than individual offices. If a building can do all that, then its resale value goes up.

Interestingly enough, quality and flexibility are also key values for furniture design.

A building and its furnishings are complementary: one begets the other and vice versa. The better both work with one another, the higher the value.

Why did you decide on furniture by Walter Knoll?

When I started to look for a desk during the move, I saw a model that I could move up and down: the Exec-V. I unexpectedly fell in love. Minimal design with an ingenious function – this table is just delightful.

Do you ever move it up and down just for the fun of it?

At the beginning, yes! It’s so incredibly quiet. And now I see that it’s good for both my back and my brain when I alternate between sitting down and standing up while working. Now I even have a second Exec-V in my office in Paris.

How often, approximately, do you adjust the height of the table?

Every day! I write while I’m sitting and I like to stand while on conference calls or for short meetings. And the Exec-V is well suited for people to gather around.

How did your Leadchair Executive come into your life?

I wanted a chair with a high back rest that supported my head but was still elegant. And I wanted the seating depth to suit me down to the ground. Most executive chairs are simply too deep for an average woman – only taller women can sit comfortably in them. My interior designer recommended me the Leadchair Executive and I ordered it.

You didn’t even try sitting in it first?

Nope. And it has been extremely comfortable since day one. For years I suffered from back and neck pains and now they have gotten significantly better. It feels like the Leadchair Executive was designed for the sole purpose of doing my body good.

That’s what you meant when you said that spaces influence our quality of life.

Harmonious surroundings are incredibly important. It shouldn’t be too perfect, but livable. When I walk into a room, I want to feel comfortable there.

What do you feel when you walk into your office?

I look forward to my furniture and my view every single morning. The two things together inspire me.


Barbara Knoflach is Global Head of Investment Management at BNP Paribas Real Estate. In 2017, she received the Most Influential Woman of the Decade prize from the trade magazine PropertyEU in London. She is considered the most influential woman in the European real estate sector.