Making space for the year

I didn’t feel ready to start this year. Instead, I decided it was time to redesign the home office.

Our work went longer into December than it would normally, yes, but there was something more to it than that. After twelve months that saw the return of work trips abroad, two weeks teaching in Barcelona, and an ongoing tentative, collective remaking of what work was now, I felt more inclined come January 3rd to reflect and shape the surroundings of Smithery.

And not in the piecemeal fashion that I’d done before.

Now, I have strong views on what a library is, which I’ve laid out before and discussed again recently. I’ve played with various iterations of a dual-desk structure. And so on, and so forth. But I’ve never sat back and designed a whole working space, from scratch.

Why now?

It’s probably fairly obvious; all the signals, wherever you work, point to a different future around gathering together to get things done. As a company we work with a number of clients on different projects concurrently. There used to be greater value in being in London more often, as clients who worked in the city were likely to be there most of the week.

Nowadays, there’s no density of presence across multiple clients – even if people are in of two or three days, it’s never the same ones – so our permanent desk presence at Makerversity has no real need to return. We’re still members, it’s the best environment I’ve worked in ever in London, and I pop in whenever I’m passing. But there’s no need for a percent base there.

Our home office then, more than ever, is the heart of Smithery – the nest, perhaps, if we want to go down The Poetics of Space route – and accordingly I felt it deserved much more attention.

It’s taken us a week. Which is admittedly longer than I’d hoped.

But to sit here writing (an admittedly self-indulgent) piece in this space feels… well, delightful.

What’s changed, then?

The room is now split in two; a working half, and a study half.

Only a few pieces of furniture are new, most are repurposed. The desk I’m sitting it is one we found in a closing down sale in the aftermath of 2008’s financial crisis (which feels kind of apt given what may be ahead). I find it a good reminder to invest in thing that last and can be open to reinvention. This has been a desk, a kitchen table, a dining area shelf, a kids table at New Year, and more besides.

I still subscribe to Austin Kleon’s idea of the digital desk and the physical desk; two separate spaces to work differently at. Behind me, there’s a smaller desk against the wall, with a board full of projects, ideas, sketches and more.

Colour wise, with wooden floors it would have been very easy to disappear down the slightly sterile greys and whites which still seem to dominate a lot of interiors. Instead, I wanted to pick out the colour in the things we owned already, and find a punchier way of bringing them together. Hence the teals, reds, oranges and so on, and leaning into natural wood surfaces wherever possible.

Then, once the hard work was done in redecorating, arranging took another couple of days. The thing that I think must dominate any thoughts of working space at home is probably what it’s going to look like on Zoom

Finding a way to make a wall work in real life, and yet still frame you well on a video, is something I’m still working on. But this is fairly good to be going on with, I think.

It’ll be interesting to see how the camera set up I’m using (Opal C1 currently) reacts to the different colour in the background, through different phases of the day and different weather conditions.

Finally, I feel we’re now into the final tweaks; putting up pictures, arranging objects and prompts.

My favourite thing I’ve started experimenting with is using a prism cube. By placing it in particular places on certain days, it catches the sun and cascades little assemblages of colour around the room. I wonder if I can make it pick out certain sections of the bookshelves on particular days of the year, like a mundane version of the Staff of Ra from Raiders of the Lost Ark?

I feel ready for 2023 now. Let’s get to work.

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