Issue 8 – Designing an Office
- 5 Things to do to create a relaxed and homely office space
- You’ve got mail
- Fun meets function: designing ‘quirky’ telephone booths
- The history of the modern office
- French Touch Properties
5 Things to do to create a relaxed and homely office space
More than 1.52 million Brits now work full-time from their kitchen tables, bedroom desks and garden sheds, up 19% from a decade ago. Yet it is a tricky balance: how do you create an office space that is functional, relaxed and yet homely?
Create a lifestyle board
Before you start moving furniture and buying pen-holders, take a moment to think about your ideal work environment. What are your requirements and personal habits? What size desk would be most useful? Will the space be used by other members of the family? How much storage do you really need? What small changes would make your working life easier and better? Get those ideas down on paper (or on a pinboard) so that they are at the heart of your design decision-making.
Maximise your space
Any nook or cranny can become a great home office: under the stairs, a bay window, a landing, a garden shed… Building shelves above your desk will provide storage and help keep your desk tidy. You could also consider adding a curtain or a sliding door to close off the space at the end of the day – out of sight and out of mind.
Find a good joiner
A good designer will help you visualise the potential of a space, while a good joiner will turn your design into a reality. Bespoke joinery is not only tailored to your individual needs, but can also be designed to fit perfectly with existing interiors and finishes. Off the shelf furniture can rarely achieve both objectives.
Good lighting is the key to a comfortable environment. Natural light is of course ideal but be mindful both of screen glare and of having a good source of artificial light when you are working after dark. Install LEDs into shelves over the desk area or fit swing-arm wall lamps to create task lighting without using up precious desk space. Also remember to think about the colour of the light: golden light is great for relaxing but you may find a cooler, bluer light helps you concentrate and stay alert.
Think carefully about the position of power points and audio/visual connections. Having untidy bundles of cables under your desk may distract you and become a dust trap. Don’t feel that your office should be corporate or bland in any way. It is your home after all, so surround yourself with art or photos; use colours; buy a statement pendant light. Lastly, bring some natural life to your desk with flowers and plant – research shows that plants increase productivity and happiness!
You’ve got mail
The world of stationery is a constantly growing arena. Even in this digital age, the market is expected to grow by £49.1 million by 2021. There are whole shops dedicated to Japanese pencils and Instagram worthy staplers, and beautiful leather day diaries. We speak to Helen Hugh-Jones, who sells her designs under the brand Nell’s Originals.
She’s actually not sure where the brand name and little ballerina logo originally came from: she thinks she was probably about 14 or 15 years old. By this time she had started making elaborate birthday books for her friends – little stories, fully illustrated, and often full of in-jokes that no-one can remember. The brand now has a growing series of Christmas and greetings cards, prints and bespoke commissions.
Helen’s style is very simple and clear: she loves the clarity of using black pen outline. She generally uses fairly minimal backgrounds – just a colour wash, or plain white – although she is currently also illustrating a book that requires more detailed backgrounds and settings, which is both ’a challenge and a delight’.
The design process starts with a pencil sketch that she can ink over. She then either uses watercolours or scans it and works on it in Photoshop, with an iPad and Apple Pencil. The effects of the two processes are very different. Watercolour is more delicate and subtle and decisions, once made, are hard to change. The design, colours and ideas all have to be confirmed beforehand and any mistakes have to be incorporated into the scheme. On the computer, you can alter outlines, change colours, layer whole other images into the scene, and be more experimental. The effect is much punchier, brighter and more immediate.
Helen’s inspirations are very varied. She loves early 20th century British designers such as Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious, but she also loves Florentine Renaissance paintings and manuscripts.
She uses her own personalised stationery (of course) and loves sending people a quick ‘thank you’ note after a dinner party, or ‘congratulations’ on moving house: “It is so much more personal than an email!” She finds that people are increasingly requesting custom orders and wonders if it is more a form of self expression rather than anything else – a way of making your own little mark.
Current projects include the launch of personalised stationery, design for a wedding, children’s books for two authors, and lots of individual commissions, including a painting of a philosophical llama…
Fun meets function: designing ‘quirky’ telephone booths
In the last few years we have had more and more enquiries for office refurbishments that bring together design, practicality, careful project planning and… fun.
There are two big challenges for commercial refurbishments: how to avoid disrupting working clients and how to ensure their building work doesn’t affect all the neighbouring businesses.
This is easier said than done. All too often our site team will only have access during office hours when, after all, the office staff are also trying to work. Add to this the pressure of working around the different stakeholders – landlords, tenants, neighbouring offices, important meetings, internal management – and you start to see the importance of having a careful project programme from the very start.
Recently one of our projects involved all of this and more. The brief was fairly simple: to design and build two soundproof telephone booths so that staff could make calls without disturbing the rest of the office. They also specified that they wanted a ‘funky’ and ‘cheerful’ style.
As a starting point, the design team took the existing green colour scheme from the office floor tiles and matched it with a range of complementary tones for the booths. As these were to be fitted in a basement with no natural light, we chose colours that would make the space feel bigger and brighter (inside and out). The gradient of shade, going from black to ‘kiwi’ as the eye travels up also made the ceiling height appear higher, which is beneficial in an otherwise rather long and low room.
Soft neutral greys were chosen for the fitted benches and tables so as not to be too overpowering. The aluminium frames of the windows and doors were sprayed in Anthracite Grey: the perfect foil to the bright greens of the structure.
In our search for a suitable acoustic cladding we came across a French product that not only comes in a wide range of colours, it is also designed to fit naturally around corners. This limits the number of joints needed and increases the acoustic quality: the foam could wrap the whole booth, like a cocoon.
The apparent simplicity of the structure is deceiving. The design, choice of materials and technical details had to be thought through to ensure it fulfilled all standard work place requirements including good ventilation, light, internet and power outlets, and comfortable seating. In this particular environment we were also limited by the space and conditions available. The booths had to sit between existing ductwork and a fire exit and since it was a rented property, it needed to be easily broken down and destroyed if the client ever moved!
You can see more images here: goodbodylondon.com/case-studies/concept-design-build
The history of the modern office
The open-plan office in one form or another has dominated workspaces since architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Larkin Administration Building in New York at the beginning of the 20th Century.
In 1856, A UK government report on office space layouts said: “for intellectual work, separate rooms are necessary so that a person who works with his head may not be interrupted; but for the more mechanical work, the working in concert of a number of clerks in the same room under proper superintendence, is the proper mode of meeting it”.
Since that report was written, views on the working environment have clearly moved on! Most offices are now completely open-plan providing few or no private spaces, even for ‘intellectual’ workers and while many improvements have been made over the years, the changing nature of work and worker interactions has forced modifications to our working environment.
Open-plan offices in the first half of the 20th century were mostly used by typists and technicians: row upon row of clerical staff completing repetitive tasks. By the 1930s, Frank Lloyd Wright overhauled the monotonous style with his Johnson Wax Headquarters in Wisconsin. Clusters of wooden desks were separated by terracotta furnishings and lit from above with skylights held up by mushroom-shaped columns. It was airy, spacious, and beautifully designed.
Later, in the 1960s, the Burolandschaft office landscaping movement emerged and created a small revolution in the workspace. Staff sat in organic-like patterns based on the flows of communication and were divided by filing cabinets, screens and potted plants.
By the 1980s this was replaced by the hot-desk. The system, whose term is borrowed from ‘hot-bunking’, where submariners shared their bunks between duties, was seen as an efficient use of space and resource for workers with different timetables. The disruption of hierarchy and the lack of permanence however often gave hot-desking a bad name.
There are many advantages to the open-plan office. It saves space and can create a more equal community of workers. Unfortunately, the potential disadvantages can have a big impact on the company’s efficiency through noise and distraction, the inability to adjust light and temperature, and the lack of privacy.
Some companies have already begun to address these issues by creating meeting pods, telephone booths or recreation rooms to encourage creative conversation, thinking time as well as quiet down time.
With the emergence of cloud-based software and demands for a better work-life balance, employers and employees adopted a completely new approach. Large organisations, with a lack of space and rising costs have been the first to encourage some employees to work from home a few days a week. The use of laptops has facilitated this flexibility not just in companies practising ‘musical chairs’ but also in the number of self-employed people now working from cafés and libraries.
Yet, for people working remotely, whether it is from the comfort of their home or a beach in Bali, it can be an isolating experience. The rise of the co-working space, where people could share resources and network, was in many ways an answer to this problem. This method of collaborative working first started to appear on the west coast of the US in 2005 and year on year has spread globally. It is thought that in the UK at least 1 million people will be using a co-working space by 2018.
Whatever the future of the office, we will almost certainly still be looking for some kind of support to work from and sit on, space division – and people to work with. Our ‘tribal’ culture after all will be particularly hard to change.
French Touch Properties
French Touch Properties is one of London’s leading property search companies based in the capital since 2005. We interviewed the founder Segolene Chambon who talks with passion about her team, her work and what it means to have La Touch.
Segolene and her team of 10 have a particular ability to convey dynamism, professionalism and passion to everything they do.
How would you describe your company and can you tell us more about it?
We are a friendly but professional company aiming at supporting our clients – mainly French speaking families, individuals and companies — with their London real estate projects. Our services include: renting or buying a residential or commercial property, finding the best schools for our clients’ kids, installing the newcomers in London… We manage each project as if they were ours. Finally, we aim at having La Touch, which is a term describing our values: welcoming, smiling, dynamic and professional: the extra mile along with a constant smile!
Did you always dream of starting your own company?
Not really, I would have never thought I was capable of this. For the 5 first years it was only myself, enjoying helping people settling and sharing with them my love of London. I really enjoyed looking after people but was unsure if I was capable of recruiting and managing a bigger business. The demand eventually became too big for myself alone and I finally decided to build a team around me in 2010. Since then, the company has grown very quickly and I am lucky to have great colleagues to work with. They all have the Touch! My dream is to have a branch of French Touch in Paris (which is now the case: French Touch Properties Paris is running), in the French Riviera and in Miami 🙂
What is the best part of your job?
Everyday is different so it’s exciting. We help people to settle in London with a lot of care and attention. We love to contribute to their happiness and well-being.
What’s the worst part of your job, or the most difficult?
The most difficult part of our job is that it never stops and that every project is critical because every project is so important for our clients and their families or businesses. We take a lot of stress off their shoulders and often we become much more than estate agents since we provide a lot of listening and reassuring.
Can you describe your office and in particular your desk?
Our office is in Chiswick in a Victorian house overlooking a park. It’s cosy and full of light but we spend most of our time out with our cherished clients.
What is the one thing you have to have on your desk?
My mobile phone is my office. I am always on the phone with clients and my team, always taking pictures or sending WhatsApp messages to them. We have a team WhatsApp group which is our virtual machine à café where we share information, pictures, jokes, etc. so that we are always a team despite not seeing each other every day.
Digital or paper? Do you only use the Apps on your phone or do you still use paper and pen?
I’m from a “pen and paper generation” but I’m now into Facebook/ Instagram/ Whatsapp.
What was the best piece of advice you have been given throughout your career as a business owner?
Never give up, always be open to new opportunities, build a team who enjoy to work with the same energy and values than yourself.
Any advice/tips you can give to people moving to London?
London is a huge and wonderful city. There are a lot of different areas, different villages. In addition, it is a complex city. Renting or buying a flat/house is a complex, stressful and time- consuming process. Get some professional support, you will save yourself problems, time and a lot of grey hair.