The Designer‘s Secret to Creating Work-Life Balance

This article was originally published on Christie’s International Real Estate’s blog Luxury Defined.

Working from home has suddenly become a way of life for many people. While it has its benefits, the lack of physical boundaries between office and home can throw your work-life balance out of kilter. These experts advise on designing a space that offers just the right mix.

A cosy reading corner with views of London's Big Ben

There’s no reason your workspace shouldn’t feel comfortable and homely, too. Create balance by setting up cozy reading corners—it’s a bonus if you can add a view, such as in this space designed by RPW Design.

Keep it Flexible
Ariane Steinbeck is managing director of leading design consultancy RPW Design, which has created luxury hospitality interiors for hotels such as the Fairmont St Andrews in Scotland and the Hilton Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

How have you created an area for work within your living space?
I’ve always taken a flexible approach to how and where I work—my actual office feels very much like a home and I’ve applied the same ethos to working in my living space. I have a very big dining table, a jumble of different chairs that are suitable for long hours of sitting, and a fabulous couch that I like to recline on, even as I work.

The reading room at the Fairmont St Andrews hotel

Take your cues from the reading room created by RPW designs for the Fairmont St Andrews: fill it with your favorite books, as well as those you use for work, and add in personal momentos.

What’s your advice for achieving work-life balance in a home office?
I’d suggest styling it like a library or reading room. Walls of books are comforting and visually interesting, and they also help with the acoustics, which is important for conference calls. A table or desk and a good ergonomic chair are key. It doesn’t have to be office furniture—choose pieces that reflect your personality. If space allows, go for a pair of deep armchairs, and a couple of side tables. Add a sofa for creative contemplation. A beautiful rug is also worth the investment, not only for aesthetic appeal but also for a quick back stretch should you need one.

What do you think is most important in the design of a workspace?
Good lighting is crucial. It needs to be easily adjustable so that you don’t get glare or bounce when using your computer. It’s worth speaking to a specialist, who can advise you on how to use light to enhance mood as well as on the practicalities.

Designer Mark Cunningham's home office

Designer Mark Cunningham’s home office has several spaces that lend themselves to productive working and tackling various different tasks.

Ensure it’s Inviting
Mark Cunningham is a world-leading interior designer, with an impressive portfolio including properties on New York’s Fifth Avenue and in Martha’s Vineyard.

How have you created an area for work within your living space?
I have two work areas at home. I work at a large table in the living room in the morning and early afternoon—when the light is good—and gravitate towards the fireplace at other times. A home office should be inviting, somewhere that encourages concentration for hours at a time. A layer of warmth helps, whether that’s a fabric wallcovering, a cashmere throw, or a wool rug. Lighting is critical, so I’ve added a task lamp on the desk and reading lamps by the armchairs.

A home office on New York's 5th Avenue

This light-filled home office on New York’s Fifth Avenue was designed by Cunningham to enhance both work and life, with a streamlined desk and comfortable seating area.

What’s your advice for achieving work-life balance in a home office?
Create a space that accommodates a more casual approach to working and allows for relaxation. Include a comfortable couch or club chair, and an upholstered ottoman that doubles as a coffee table. Your office should also have as many personal touches as any other room: fill it with your favorite books, as well as those you use for work, with photographs and with professional accolades. Remember, this is an office within your residence—so don’t strip the home out of the equation.

What do you think is most important in the design of a workspace?
I design with my clients’ work practices in mind. Do they listen to music while they work; do they like to sit at a desk, or to use a laptop while kick their heels up on a couch? Are they distracted or inspired by window views? These are questions you should ask yourself when creating your own home office—keep in mind that your lifestyle and workflow are key.

A home office and library

Walls of books keep this home office and library, designed by Cunningham for a client in upstate New York, warm and visually interesting.

Consider its Energy
Laura Morris is an artist, interior decorator, and board chair of the International Feng Shui Guild. She is also cofounder of the Mindful Design Feng Shui training program.

How have you created an area for work within your living space?
Feng shui is about taking a holistic approach to design and creating spaces that support and nurture. These principles apply to every room in the home, whatever its purpose. For my home office, I chose an area that’s full of energy. It’s got large windows, and I’ve added a hit of color and lots of natural elements, such as plants and crystals, which help to boost creativity.

What’s your advice for achieving work-life balance in a home office?
Keep nature at the fore of your design. Bringing the natural world into your workspace can improve wellbeing. Many principles of feng shui are closely aligned to those found in biophilic design (connecting our interior spaces to nature). A Human Spaces report from 2015 showed that greenery and natural light increased productivity and creativity and lifted mood.

An open plan apartment filled with natural design elements

Morris says this space—with its large windows, vibrant colors, and lively greenery—is her favorite room in her home, and where she often feels most productive.

What do you think is most important in the design of a workspace?
As feng shui designers, our main consideration is how a space makes you feel and what it does to your energy. Is it a space you can work in for long stretches? Do you feel supported and productive? The flow and layout can impact how functional a workspace is, which in turn influences your productivity. When designing an office using feng shui principles, the position of the desk is extremely important. Ideally a desk should be placed so that you can see the main entrance to the office when you are working.