The management of Stern Office Products Inc., one of Washington's largest purveyors of office furniture, views thw future with delight.

A fixture at 734 7th St. NW for 14 years, they see the coming decade of tightened belts as a boom time for intelligent buyers -- and sellers -- of office furniture.

Several years ago, office furniture "systems" were introduced to corporate planning and purchasing agents. According to Stern's experts, these systems will continue to grow in popularity during the '80s as personnel managers seek to consolidate tasks, increase productivity and conserve space.

Furniture systems, as defined by Steelcase Inc. of Grand Rapids, Mich., the world's largest manufacturer of office furniture, are "freestanding unit assemblies -- work surfaces and storage components joined together as a single unit, panels with wall-mounted components, and a combination of the two."

"Prior to 1970, we were in the 'age of waste,' characterized by energy-inefficient buildings and unused space," said Richard G. Dapiran, vice president of sales for Stern. "Now we're looking at the age of conservation, meaning people-energy, thermal energy and utilization of space, among other things." At the same time, consumers realize, he said, that office furniture purchases are an important aspect of total office planning.

"Furniture previously was viewed as part of image-making or as a necessary evil," explained Dapiran. "There weren't many decisions to be made concerning office furniture in the past."

When Stern Office Furniture Inc. began in 1946 with a stock of used and surplus office furniture displayed in its windows, the choice was basic gray or basic black. In the early '50s, Stern introduced model office displays to Washington. Today, some of Stern's office designs for the future are actual working models, constructed on the firm's third floor to accomodate its own corporate needs. Office systems furniture is arranged for use by Stern's support staff, and is exhibited to potential customers.

"Systems are not a new idea," explained Dapiran," "and approxiimatley 30 percent of all office furniture sold is system-related. Systems are and have been developed incrementally so that older components can be retrofitted and new components can be added."

One of the main developments in furniture sales, according to Dapiran, is energy utilization. Electrical consumption in offices will be reduced by eliminating celing lighting and by the use of furniture-mounted "task and ambient lighting." Although "appearance, style and look is hard to describe," said Daprin, "the office of the '80s will be heavily involved in energy and environmental management. Offices must change to meet the future. They will have to have flexibility built into them."

The Stern sales force expects that flexibility to come from panel systems, which divide open spaces into work areas and eliminate the need for interior walls. Wall panels with internal wiring, said Dapiran, will allow electrical connections to be made wherever the panels are installed.

"Acoustics are a whole new discipline for us," said Dapiran, "and it's still in an embryonic stage. But sound, like light and color, is an environmental condition. It changes during the day. The office of the future will have to address itself to these situations."

Design and sales people at Stern are also looking into the "work flow through computer rooms," said Dapiran," "and products are being designed to help facilitate usage problems. One things we do at Stern is 'task analysis,' and its importance can't be overestimated."

Task analysis entails meetings with the potential purchaser of an office furniture system to determine the intended use of an office area. "Fallout from this kind of survey can be very helpful," explained Dapiran. "We get into what goes on in an individual office and are able to make suggestions about purchases that will provide service for years. We attempt to sit down with office managers and analyze how work is processed through the office."

Nonetheless, Dapiran conceded, the office of the future will probably resemble its contemporary counterpart. "You'll see a lot more computers and word processors, but basically the future trend will be the consolidation of work areas and tasks. . . The executive has still not moved out of his mahogany office and probably won't," he said.

In the Stern Office Furniture showroom one piece of future furniture seems to attract most visitors. It is a $15,000 executive control panel equipped with a TV, casette tape recorder, calculator, paper shredder, transcriber and, for the truly self-conscious power broker, a biorhythm machine for early detection of unfavorable mental and physical waves