Nicola Holden Designs – Contemporary Interior Designer, London.

How things all around the world have changed in the last couple of weeks!  These days, most of us are confined to our homes, taking our work home with us if we’re lucky enough to still have a job!

Home means something different to all of us, and it’s by no means a safe place for everyone. The idea of home as a sanctuary is one that many of us take for granted, but if you’re struggling to adjust to working from home, then here are a few things you can do to create a work space that will help you to feel nurtured, safe and secure.

Create A Work Routine and Structure Your Day

It’s important to keep your work and home lives separate to enable you to switch off at the end of your working day.  The easiest way to do this is to stick to a routine for your days.  Wake up at the same time each morning, make your bed, and get dressed in work clothes to help your brain understand that it should be in work mode.  Try to keep office hours if at all possible and, when you shut down your computer at the end of the working day, let that be the end of it. Don’t continually check you emails on your phone in the evenings.

Plan regular breaks into your working day.  Take a proper lunch break.  Rather than congregating round the water cooler try and take ten minutes in the garden or put the laundry on.  Schedule in time to check your social media, for example what would have been your commuting time.  Make time for exercise too, as exercise endorphins have a positive effect on our mood.  Take advantage of the many trainers out there who are putting classes online.

Image: Plush Design Studio from Pexels

Set Up A Dedicated Work Space

As tempting as it may be, don’t do your work slouched on your sofa or your bed as this can cause back problems.  Instead set up a distinct office space in your home, even if that’s the corner of your bedroom.  Try to create a clear space where you can put the laptop, a notebook and pen, and a coaster for a drink.  If you don’t have lots of space, or your ‘home office’ doubles as the kitchen table, then make sure you put away your ‘office’ each evening, to create a separation between work and play.  This real life switch between the two spaces helps with the switch in your head from work to home in the same way that those who commute have physical distance between the two.

Your choice of space will also depend on what sort of work you do.  If your work involves a lot of analytical and logical thinking then you’ll work better in a cosy space with a dropped ceiling.  If however, your work involves a lot of creative thinking, then you’ll work best in a space with a high ceiling.  And if you don’t have high ceilings then you can decorate your space to give the illusion of higher ceilings – adding vertical stripes, tall bookshelves, full-length curtains all help to amplify visual height. 

Maintain A Connection To Nature

We might not be allowed outside much at the moment, but this shouldn’t stop us maintaining a connection to nature.  Try to choose a work space with a window so that you have a view to the outside.  Being able to see out of window restores cognitive capacity, reduces stress and mental fatigue, and promotes a sense of freedom and openness.  Seeing the slow but certain progress of plants as they grow and open up is a daily joy!  Gazing out of a window into the distance also helps us to exercise our eyes and reduce eye strain.  Opening a window and letting in fresh air also improves the air quality in our environment which aids focus and concentration. 

If your work space doesn’t have a direct line of sight to the outside then you can employ alternative tactics such as colour, pot plants or flowers, natural materials and artwork (all of which have proven benefits).  Using a swivel chair will allow periodic views through any openings that might be visible behind you.

If your view of the outside is not great, then hang plants, install sheer curtains, or apply translucent window films decorated with floral patterns to retain the semblance of an outside view and filter incoming light while sparing yourself the downsides.

Image: Colin King

Sound Matters

Music / background noise or silence is often cited as having an impact on productivity; however, what works for you is often down to personal preference.  White noise is generally considered to be better otherwise the brain will start to tune in and it can become distracting.  I sometimes prefer foreign language songs that are harder to ‘sing along to’ in my mind.  Background coffee shop noise has also been attributed with increasing productivity, so if you’re missing working in your local coffee shop you can try Coffitivity.  Nature sounds can also help to boost our well-being. 

Get The Lighting Right

Lighting is a whole subject in itself, and I have blogged about this before.  Working in a room with bad lighting can cause fatigue, eye strain, headaches and even depression.  Our primary source of light should be natural light, so ensure that your windows are letting in as much light as possible.  Move furniture out of the way of exterior openings.  Open your curtains properly to ensure they are not blocking out too much light.  Use tie-backs if necessary.  Use mirrors to bounce light around a room, and paint your ceilings out with gloss paint with a light reflectance value (LRV) of 60-90!

The most important form of lighting for a work environment is task lighting, and a directional desk light is the best way to achieve this – to light your keyboard and your notes. 

Add Colour and Personality

Colour is an incredibly powerful tool to use in our homes.  As Karen Haller, author of The Little Book of Colour says, colour “… communicates feeling, creates a mood, affects our energy, our appetites, our sleep, and has a profound effect on our emotional wellbeing and on the behaviours of everyone we live with.” 

Colour has the power to positively support us emotionally, yet so often we chose to decorate with so called ‘neutral’ colours on behalf of the future buyer of our home, or because of what our friends and family will think if we don’t.  This results in us living in places we don’t really like, in the hope that others will.

It is so important that we stamp our own mark on our space as this restores our equilibrium in this world, reminds us of our journey through life, and inspires us.  So layer in pattern and texture, add in sparkle with metallic objects, and display art, decorative items and collections.  It is about choosing furnishings that play with scale or proportion, and adding in items with quirky, offbeat designs.  It’s the little things that make you smile.

Image: Pinterest (source unknown)

Keep Your Working Space Clutter Free

Clutter in your environment provides a distraction and if it builds up can also start to have a negative impact on your mood.  In fact, I have heard it said that being surrounded by clutter is as stressful to us as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder!  A clean and clear environment enables you to come in and focus on what you want to get on with.

Image: Pinterest (Source unknown)

Turn Up The Thermostat

Don’t try and work in an environment which is too cold because if you’re cold you’re using a substantial amount of energy to keep warm and that’s energy that can’t be used to focus on the task in hand.  In colder working environments people have been shown to make 44% more mistakes.  The optimum temperature for a productive working environment is 21-22 degrees Celcius.  A warmer environment also makes people happier.  So turn up the thermostat without feeling guilty about it.

Add Fragrance

Our sense of smell is the strongest of our senses and is able to influence brain activity.  Using reed diffusers, incense burners or essential oils in your environment can boost your productivity.  Try these fragrances for different benefits:

  • Lemon promotes concentration and has calming and clarifying properties that are helpful when you’re feeling angry, anxious or run down. 
  • Rosemary is the perfect pick-me-up. In addition to improving memory retention, rosemary has stimulating properties that fight physical exhaustion, headaches and mental fatigue.
  • The stimulating properties in cinnamon can help fight mental fatigue and improve concentration and focus.
  • Try peppermint when brainstorming. An energy booster, this scent invigorates the mind, promotes concentration and stimulates clear thinking.

Your own work space is personal and unique to you so find places that inspire you to be productive and incorporate elements of those spaces in whatever ways you can.  Notice not just the layout of the office and the furniture, but the sounds and smells as well as other design and storage features. 

However long the night, the dawn will break”
African Proverb



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Before I get started on pattern I thought I’d say a quick word on the virus. I am not a doctor or a scientist, and it’s hard to know who is right and who is wrong at a time like this when things seem to be changing on a daily basis. As an interior designer, it is my job to help people to create beautiful spaces to live in, and spaces that encourage our health and wellness. And so I hope, as we all start to spend a lot more time at home, that together we can create spaces that nurture us. So please keep safe, and let’s look out for each other.

To me, pattern is the stuff of life.  We are surrounded by patterns.  “We wear them and we walk over them, we eat them and drink them, we even learn, think and speak in patterns.  As well as being part of the basic structure of the human body and mind, patterns speak a powerful universal language.”  Anna Murray & Grace Winteringham, Patternity

The layering of colour, texture and pattern provides a sensorial richness, and a sense of abundance that is not only pleasurable, but vital to healthy neural development.  An environment that is too minimalistic acts as an anaesthetic, numbing our senses and emotions.  Pattern also brings with it the structured repetition of elements.  It enables us to feel abundance without it feeling overwhelming.

I am always on the lookout for patterns, especially when I am travelling and exploring different cultures.  Like a magpie drawn to shiny objects, I am drawn to interiors where layers of patterns are mixed seemingly effortlessly together.

But pattern in an Indian palace is one thing.  The question is, how do we go about adding pattern into our homes.  Here are my top tips:

1. Think Scale, Proportion and Balance

Pattern is often my starting point when working on a new interiors scheme.  As Peti Lau says, “I make sure that the patterns have a scale of small, medium and large.  Like music, I think of patterns like a chord.  A base note, a medium note and a high note to tie it all together to give a beautiful sound.”  Using a mix of geometric prints with florals also helps to create balance and harmony.  Large scale patterns can be less elaborate than smaller prints and can make a real impact, as you can see from this wallpaper in this small hallway.   

In this bedroom I used a large scale printed velvet for the headboard, a medium scale wallpaper, and then cushions with a small delicate print.

2. Balance Pattern with Plain Colours

Using colour is a great way to ground pattern in a room.  If you have a multi-coloured pattern it is easy to pick out some individual colours to use elsewhere in the scheme thereby creating a cohesive and balanced interior.  In this drawing room the curtains are a large scale floral pattern, and then I have picked out two bright pops of colour for cushions.  These colours also work well with the colours in the Keith Haring art.  The neutral colours in the remainder of the scheme prevent the bright colours from feeling too overwhelming.

3. Add Pattern Through Accessories

If you are nervous of adding pattern into your interiors, then look to add pattern through cushions, rugs, accessories and art.  Here, repetition of shape and colour help to pull a scheme together. In this scheme the cushion fabric came first. I then picked out some of the colours in the cushions for the bespoke rug which is made up of large triangles, thereby repeating the shapes in the cushions.

4. Make the Most of Trims

Trims, tapes and borders are excellent ways to add pattern without overwhelming the senses.  In this bathroom I added a trim to the Roman blind to bring some pattern into this space. 

5. Add Vintage Elements

Vintage textiles and rugs add interest and pattern into a scheme.  Think Suzanis, silk Ikats, kelims and Persian rugs which work beautifully in a contemporary setting and can be mixed and matched for a global look.  In this bedroom, the monochrome patterned rug grounds the scheme and adds a subtle element of pattern.

6. Be Bold with Patterned Tiles

Patterned tiles are a great way to bring pattern into those rooms which are so often devoid of personality.  In this London bathroom, I used four different tiles, working in patterned floor tiles, with plain wall tiles laid out to create an interesting pattern in themselves.

7. Even Those that Love Simplicity Can Introduce Pattern

Not all patterns have to be colourful and bold.  Think of patterns that exist in nature – marble, ripples, bubbles, the speckles on an egg, or the cracks in baked earth.  These are all patterns that add richness to our spaces, and stir our senses and emotions.  The Corian worktop in this kitchen adds a very subtle speckled pattern to this space.

And the veining in the marble in this bathroom brings life and movement to these hard surfaces

I hope I have been able to give you some confidence to introducing pattern into your own schemes.  I’d love to hear how you get on!

“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.”
William Morris

Last week, the BBC published an article discussing how we are all missing out on a daily dose of nature.  The writer referred to a study published by the National Trust with the University of Derby, which suggested “that being connected with nature – noticing natural phenomenon every day – is linked to higher well-being.”

This understanding of the importance of our connection to nature is not new thinking.  Back in 1865, Frederick Law Olmsted argued that “… the enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it, tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system”.  Studies have also proven that in hospitals, patients with a view to nature exhibit faster recovery rates than patients without a view to nature.  And even as little as 5 to 20 minutes of immersion in nature can lead to positive emotions, mental restoration and other health benefits.

The furniture is positioned to make the most of views through the window, and the cushions add the colours of nature.

So, for those of us living in urban environments, what can we do to improve our connection with nature?  Of course, it’s important to try and increase the amount of time that we do actually spend outdoors, but by incorporating what is termed biophilic design into our homes, we can increase our exposure to nature without actually leaving the house.

One of the strongest aspects of biophilic design is to have a visual connection with nature.  The best way to achieve this is with a view of something natural through the window.  So make sure you’re your furniture layouts and window treatments don’t impede your views.  However, if views of nature are not the strong point of your home design, then bring this visual connection into your home by adding pot plants, a green wall, a water feature / aquarium, or even artwork depicting nature scenes.

Nature scenes in art, and on the lampshade bring a connection to nature into this landing

We don’t only respond to nature through our sight, but also through touch, smell and sounds too.  So make sure you chose natural textures such as wood, fur, stone, and textured fabrics, etc, as well as scents and sounds.  Whenever you can, throw your windows open to let in natural breezes.  Pets are also a great way to increase our connection with nature!

Marble tiles, pot plants, shells and the colours of the sea all work together to bring nature into this bathroom

Natural shapes are also good sub-conscious connectors – circles, hexagons, and other fractal geometrics.  These are easy to incorporate in wallpaper designs, rugs and tile shapes to name a few.  And don’t forget to add colour – nature is full of colour!  Think flowers, birds, sunsets, etc.

Fresh flowers, natural scents and even the organic shape of the dresser handles help to connect us to nature.

It is also important to consider how we lay out our spaces, as we are trying to incorporate elements of prospect and refuge.  Prospect ensures that we have an unimpeded view over a distance, for surveillance and planning, while Refuge gives us a place for withdrawal from the environmental conditions and offers us protection.  Think of a cave man standing at the entrance to his cave, or refuge, and surveying the surrounding countryside, or prospect.  Our homes should include open plan layouts, balconies and landings where we can stand and survey or using transparent materials so as not to close off our views.  But these should also be balanced with intimate refuge spaces – a snug, or a window seat – where we go to relax or meditate, to read or to think.

The bubble chair gives the user a sense of refuge whilst retaining a view of the overall space

Basically, what we are trying to avoid with biophilic design is a white / beige / grey minimalistic box that seems to be what so many of us end up with because we get overwhelmed with making decisions on colours, and what works with what, that we default to something that slowly, sub-consciously wears us down.

To flourish, we need a combination of complexity and order in our surroundings.  Spaces that are engaging and information-rich – a balance between boring and overwhelming.  Does your home deliver this, or does it need some help?