Emotion’s Leading Role in Designing Positive Workplace Interiors

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Chair of the Month

Fernanda Ruelas
Fernanda Ruelas
Fernanda Ruelas brings a multicultural perspective to her role as Studio Director at Legeard Studio. Having grown up in Mexico, she studied Architecture and Urbanism at Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City and lived abroad in Florence and Barcelona.  After graduating, she moved to New York and received certificates in Interior Design, Graphic Design, and Digital Marketing at Parsons School of Design where she developed her passion as a designer. As Studio Director, Fernanda is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the design process in the New York City office, including coordinating with clients, team members, and consultants, as well as managing the development of all project materials. She’s passionate about design and art, materializing concepts and ideas in a creative way to foster connections and collaborate with people to understand that design is at its best when multiple mentalities come together.

Fernanda Ruelas of Legeard Studio shares some human-focused design tips and ideas for creating a positive workplace experience. 

Soft archways, neutral tones, and varied lighting contribute to an open, calming work setting. Photography provided by Justin Crail (Legeard Studio).

Achieving a work-life balance has increased in difficulty over the last three years. Remote work has arguably drawn a line down the middle of the two, causing many workers to identify as only having a work life and a home life. This mindset portrays the “office”— in person or two feet from the bedroom — as the draining part of their day, where the negative energy continues to seep into non-work hours. For this reason, it is important to consider human-focused workplace design as a driving force behind a successful office and its employees alike. Acknowledging employee health and well-being enlightens users to the possibilities of establishing the workplace as a positive part of their day instead of a tasking majority of it.

Photography provided by Justin Crail (Legeard Studio).

Why Offices Need Positive Energy

A design approach focused on emotions and feelings is all about creating energizing environments that give power back to the user while simultaneously supporting their mental and physical health. Timeless, minimalistic interiors removes excessiveness from the equation and recenters the energy around the people in those physical spaces. We have all been in a situation where we cannot focus because our workplace is messy or there’s too much noise. When there is less visual clutter, our minds are also at ease. This contributes to an overall positive and creative state of mind free from stress. The goal is to have that feeling remain with the user throughout their day and have them feel eager to return to that same feeling, evoked by the thoughtfully-curated office interiors, the next day. Altering mindsets is difficult, especially when you’re not in a healthy environment that will help make this positive change in thought. By creating familiarity within a shared space helps, users see that their work environment is just a single facet to the rest of their life instead of a large sum, and are more willing to be vulnerable in an office purposely designed to make them feel safe.

Art comes in many forms. From sculpted, handcrafted statement pieces to framed portraits, each new addition further depicts the lives of the users within the space. Photography provided by Justin Crail (Legeard Studio).

Implementing Energizing Design Concepts

In addition to evoking positive energy within each space, we also have to ensure the designed interiors are where people will want to spend their time working and socializing with their coworkers. Inserting stimulating design elements to activate the five senses and help employees confidently navigate throughout the workspace—physically, mentally, and emotionally—is key. An open, minimal layout connected by arches rather than closed doors creates a necessary flow and reflects intentions for hosting healthy dialogue between individuals and groups at work. Building those relations from the start creates a safe environment void of public speaking fears. Meanwhile, lounge areas lend themselves better for comfort rather than work, especially for those moments between all of the chaos a normal work day can bring to mind. A dedicated area to unwind, share lunch with a coworker, or for celebrations help maintain the cyclical motion of positive energy. The following details are emblematic of a warm environment reminiscent of home, and are to be kept in mind when designing workplace interiors:

  • Wall textures can dramatically transform the space. An interesting wall treatment like “limewash” creates depth and movement throughout the walls; breaking the monotony of flat paint and creating a warm environment.
  • Color plays an important role in our state of mind, and can create a specific mood or atmosphere. Soft and neutral colors are used to ease everyone’s mindset and evoke a sense of calmness and focus.
  • Having multiple purposes in a single space requires different lighting solutions. The selection is based on function and design, creating a balance between decorative lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting.
  • Art is an invitation, giving a homelike sense and making the space feel more personal. It also reflects the personality of the people using the space, and provides life and color without being distracting.
  • Furniture is an opportunity to fill the space with inspiration from some of the most iconic designers throughout history—ie. the Soft Pad Office Chair designed by Charles and Ray Eames, the Jean Prouvé Fauteuil armchair, and other contemporaries like Apparatus or Timothy Oulton. This creates an impactful design-like environment without losing the functionality in the space.

Each element is layered within the space so it isn’t sterile in appearance. Instead, the strategic curation engenders transparency between employees, therefore creating a calm, collaborative working environment.

Photography provided by Justin Crail (Legeard Studio)

Some Work, Some Play

Thoughtful design details are not limited to building and furniture materials, either. Team building is a crucial component to establishing a happy, healthy workplace, and recreational spaces have the power to break the daily monotony, embrace internal comradery, and form a tighter bond between coworkers. Big or small elements, from foosball and ping-pong tables, to arcade games and pinball machines; a little friendly competition stimulates part of the brain that normally remains dormant during the workday, and makes taking breaks all the more enticing.

When these tenets are met, individual successes are celebrated by the team as much as group successes. In turn, people are excited to continue work from the previous day, and come into work with an open frame of mind daily, rather than viewing reporting to the office as a chore required to maintain their 50/50 work-life “balance”.

Looking ahead, adding soft home elements, flexible furniture options, and developing both individual and collaborative spaces to support hybrid workers are all components today’s in-office users are asking for, and design details that can be inserted into these active spaces to show the employees their concerns are being heard. Enhanced acoustics, sustainability structural elements, and buildings supported by technology and the Metaverse have gained traction, as well as digital tools in conference rooms and shared spaces. Architects and designers will need to maintain open minds as office spaces continue to shift and grow, and stay committed to the positive well-being of the users.

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