Is your workspace working for you?

Is the Cheeseplant too much?

Having worked in a number of architect’s practices and seen many workspaces throughout my career in design, I can safely say that they are a number of office interiors than can really make you feel uninspired, depressed, lack originality and are nothing more than a space with desks, PC’s and printers.  There is either too much noise (bad acoustics) or deathly silence; too much paperwork, lever arch files on view and  bland colour schemes or too much conflicting colour in the furniture, walls and fabric desk partitions.

Working 9 to 5?

So how do we plan an office that is an equal balance, that encourages staff moral by being a productive place to work, that is an effective use of space without people sitting on top of each other or too far apart? Considering how much time we spend in the office or ‘at work’ surely it is a priority within your company’s manifesto to spend time designing and planning the way your office works?

I don’t claim to know all the answers but these are a few pointers that I work towards when designing office environments for my clients.

Who are you?

So your client arrives for a meeting and has climbed the stairs or exited the lift within an office block.  How do they know they have arrived at their destination?  How do they know that it’s the right company’s door?  Oh that’s right there is a small sign on the door that states the name!  Of course that doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

Stenham Offices, London by Blue Bottle

Make a statement with your company logo and branding.  This is where you really need to make an impression.  Upon initial entrance to your offices, whether it be on the street or in an office complex, state who you are, what you do and don’t be afraid to make it big!

No title needed!

Branding in interiors is highly important and should have continuity throughout a scheme.  It is present on stationary, on websites and on company vehicles so why not within interiors.  That is not to say that it should be everywhere but clever introductions of company colours and graphics on screens, walls, doors or floors, just allow visitors to know where they are and  reaffirms a strong brand identity. Don’t be guilty of overkill but ensure that you say it loud and proud!

A warm reception

Not all offices have a manned reception and it’s not to say that it should always be the case but a meet and greet area, where visitors can sit and wait is advisable.  I personally always make my mind up about a company by the reception; it can say a lot about what an organisation is trying to say.  Some can say,’We are formal, professional, so don’t crack your jokes with us‘.

Leo Burnett Office by Ministry of Design

Others can reflect ‘We are wacky, outgoing and a little off-the-cuff, so you probably won’t get our high-brow jokes

Stunning reception area

Stunning Reception for Artemis, London by Bluebottle

Then there is ‘ We are friendly, approachable and we’ll tell you some good ones once the deal is done’.

Quirky, different - Skype Offices

Having a reception desk is worthwhile when there is a receptionist sat manning it, but if the office is small, make an area for visitors that allows them to sit down and wait and read through company brochures.  This is also a great space to allow for informal team meetings or breakout spaces.

The Timeout Corner

In every office I have worked in, I have always had lunch at my desk so heavens knows how many crumbs I have in my keyboard!  I certainly know that this seems to be the norm, when you are up against a heavy deadline or there is lack of options to sit elsewhere.  Well this is where I advise on creating a space otherwise known as a ‘Breakout’ Area.

KPMG Offices - Brisbane by Hassel Architects

It serves to have many functions, a place for colleagues to meet and chat, a place for a coffee and a break from looking at the screen, an area that isn’t a formal meeting room.

Brainstorming at Skype's offices

It is advised by health officials that staring at a computer monitor causes strain to your eyes, therefore, having a break and ‘exercising’ your eyes by looking into the distance, will reduce damage. For further ways to reduce eye strain check out Computer Active website.


Each square foot of office space is to be considered, as it’s normally per square foot or square metre that you will be paying for.  This is not just the spaces that employees/the team inhabit but also the spaces they don’t, where there is nothing but open space.

Oh sign me up!

Many companies will buy furniture or acquire it and place it with not much consideration for a team’s needs, an individual’s requirements or the company’s image.  Bad space planning can affect staff moral and create ineffective workspace management.  This is an important process to an office design; ensuring you understand about team relationships, the resources they need within their working space and also understanding the way they work is essential.  For instance, if you are working with a sales team, you can guarantee there will be a lot of noise from talking on the telephone to chatting to each other.  This means the acoustics between individuals and also in the open space need to be addressed.  There is nothing worse than the sound you get on the other end of the line that makes it sound like they are in a call centre.  For teams that need space to think, create or solve, how do you create an effective environment to encourage and assist them to so?

Twitter offices - Clearly no paper!

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)

It may sound as through I have just made this one up, but believe me, it is very much a real condition and one that should be taken seriously and preventative measures can be taken to ensure that you don’t have anyone phoning in claiming to be suffering from SBS.

Such causes can be:

  • Poor lighting
  • Inadequate ergonomic seating and desk configuration
  • Chemicals or polluntants in the air
  • Poor ventilation
  • Poor heating/cooling systems

This is to list but a few, but all of these can be resolved by taking steps to ensure that everyone in your company has a working environment that doesn’t affect their health.

For further information on SBS visit the NHS website.

Pleased to meet you

Meeting rooms should serve their purpose but also should provide comfort for their visitors.  This is where deals can be done, people can be interviewed, problems are solved and information is acquired.  So having equipment that can assist with all of these tasks is essential.  Take time to carefully consider flexibility and a comfortable viewing distance from a screen if this is to serve as a seminar room, not to mention ergonomic meeting chairs that are comfortable.

Lego meeting room, but where's the Lego?

There are many issues that need to be considered in this space such as lighting, air temperature, ventilation and also the acoustics, all of which can be factored in by the designer.  It isn’t just a room with a table.

Leo Burnett Meeting room

Oh I'm green with envy!

So there we have it.  Office design or Space planning is not as simple as moving a few desks into the space.  There is numerous things to consider.  As designers we are able to factor in both the functionality of the space not to mention the aesthetics.  Just for the record it’s not all colour swatches and furniture images, there is far more to consider that can enable your company to have a happy, healthy working environment.

For more information on our services please check out our website

Check out a short guide on Health & Safety in the workplace.

Posted in commercial, Completed Projects, designer, Interior Design Scheme, office interiors, Professional services, technical drawing, Uncategorized, workspace | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

I want to be an Interior Designer!

Sometimes I question how I ever ended up being an Interior Designer, it hasn’t happened by accident, it has taken a lot of hard work and dedication!  But it is a question that comes up when I am teaching.

I  like to think that I have always been interested in Architecture, from drawing houses and planning a series of house types, aged 9, to knowing at 14 that 3D spaces interested me and looking at Elle Deco and taking ideas and making my own version of the magazine.

I did however doubt my ability to get to University and certainly whilst doing A-levels, back in the day when teachers discouraged you from University if you weren’t academic.  I was always a mid-range pupil, only excelling in Art and just scraping through all my other subjects!  I did think about Fine Art, but my portfolio didn’t reflect my strengths in painting.  I did however show that I had a love of interior spaces.

But while many students are waiting on A-Level results, it seems appropriate to say that I got my place at University through clearing and I managed to get on the BA (Hons)  Architecture course without fully understanding that if I wanted to be an Architect it would take at least 7 years!!

So I started in 1995 at University to then decide after a stressful first year at a London institution that I was useless at designing exteriors of buildings and that I should have followed my first love so I swapped to Interior Design.

Well after working incredibly hard I achieved a 2:2 in Interior Design in 1999 and working , I then had to find my first job!

It was at a time when interior jobs weren’t readily available, but I spent all my time sending CV’s off in the post (no access to email then) and getting rejection letter after rejection letter!  I would have taken anything to work in the industry and did manage to get my first job in an Architectural practice, doing admin!!  The joy of dead-filing was far from my ambition of being a high-flying Interior Designer.  But in retrospect it fuelled the fire to become more determined to become successful and to do what I loved!!  So when I finally left after only managing 8 months in the role, I knew my way round the administrative side of a build project, which has been extremely invaluable.

By my second role, I felt much more equipped to push my way forward and ask to be involved in designing the interiors whilst in an Architecture practice.  Working with people who inspire you and encourage you to be a better designer is important for your career.

Throughout the years I have met mentors, bastards, ruthless clients and great ones, brillant architects, fantastic visionaries, useless designers, mean business types and supportive colleagues.  With each encounter and each relationship, I may have learnt a little or may have learnt a lot.  But most importantly I have never lost my ambition and determination.

I may not have been the academic type but it hasn’t stopped me from working on a vast range of projects from residential to public and commericial.  I am a true believer in chasing your dreams and not to let the bastards grind you down.  If someone say’s you can’t do it, prove them wrong (I’d love to list all those who said I couldn’t).

I love what I do, I get to take my ideas put them to paper, work with great clients, make their space(s) become a reality and see them inhabit that space.  I may have made it sound easy but it does take a lot of hard work and it is stressful.  So if you are thinking about becoming an Interior Designer or an Interior Architect be prepared to work hard.  But if you love what you do it does make the hard work less of a chore.

I’m still here 15 years on and the industry is proving to be on the up. Jobs in interior design are on the increase and Interior Designers are now proving to be a valued members of the design team.

10 years of having my own company is achievement in itself but also having the opportunity to teach my discipline is an even greater achievement as I get to see others do what they love.

If you are thinking of becoming an Interior designer or Interior Architect but think you are not academic enough, just remember grades alone wouldn’t get you there without ambition! Believe in you!


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Does design education meet current needs of the employer and how will this influence the future of design education?

Following my meeting with the Interior Educators at the RCA last week where we entered into discussions about the future of interior design education, I thought I would include in my blog, my paper, that I wrote for my PGCE this year, which was written when I was teaching on the Foundation Degree.
I feel very strongly about the future of  design education in this country, mainly due to my role as a lecturer (now teaching at BA level).  Each year I see more, and more students at 18, struggling with degree courses and could be attributed to the fact that design education at secondary level is in the decline.
So even if you don’t have the energy to read through my paper please sign the petition to save creativity in education.

So here goes . . .
In December 2011, the Coalition government published their report, ‘Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth’, which describes a vision for boosting business investment through innovation, with the hope of encouraging global success in the UK economy (Department for Business Innovation and Skills, 2011).
This has sparked a number of supporting reports such as ‘Design for Innovation, 2011), that contests that design and creativity should be an integral part of the Government’s plans for economic growth.  The future therefore could be characterised as appearing more optimistic for designers such as myself, teaching those pursuing a career in Interior Architectural Design.
In respect of teaching the Foundation Degree in Arts (FDa) in Interior Architectural Design, which is categorised at Level 4 and 5 in the National Qualifications Framework (Avis et al, 2010), I have had the experience of teaching three groups over the last two and a half years in two institutions.
A key facet of this paper is to discuss the relevance of the introduction of New Labour’s ‘vocational FDa’ in the discipline of Interior Architectural Design and discuss how the FDa curriculum offers a different skill-set to other higher qualifications.
This paper also discusses how the pedagogical approach of the FDa is addressing the development of fundamental design skills in creative-thinking, literacy and professional communication.
In conclusion, I will suggest strategies based on my findings on how design education will have to develop to respond to new government strategies and industry requirements and what measures are to be taken to ensure we, as design educators, deliver a curriculum that is fit-for-purpose.

CONTEXT: Setting the Foundations
In 2000, David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment announced the introduction of a new two-year Foundation degree (Harvey, 2011), created to bridge the gap of a perceived shortage of technical-based people entering the workforce at a higher level than those fulfilling an apprenticeship.  The Higher Education Funding Council for England noted that the Foundation Degree was to bring:
A much needed innovation and cultural change to the higher education sector, including greater appreciation by providers of the requirements of employers and a need to develop and adapt courses swiftly and effectively to generate employability skills. (fdf, 2008.p.3).
Since it’s introduction, there has been a significant decline in other vocational level 5 qualifications, noticeably the HND and HNC, reflecting the growing popularity of Foundation degrees in attracting students wishing to study part-time, mature students and those wishing to use it as a stepping-stone to an honours degree.
A key feature of the FDa was to have input from employers, assisting in the development, review, deliverance and assessment of this programme. In the Leitch Report, it was further highlighted, as a new type of  “employer led provision” (Leitch, 2006. p.77), which was set to see our skills sector strengthen.

CONTEXT: Educating designers.
In 2010, a survey revealed that 51% of designers had a degree level qualification (Design Council, 2010).  Even though it is not essential to have any form of qualification to work within the discipline of Interior Architectural Design, it is considered to be the norm.  The majority of employers in the field are keen to see evidence of a diverse set of skills within a portfolio of design work, however the average route into a career in interior design is currently very narrow- school to undergraduate level and possibly postgraduate  (Design Commission, 2011).  In today’s industry, employers still recognise a Bachelor’s degree as a seal of excellence in design education.
The current arguments that come from the design industry, suggests that young designers entering into the workplace with a Bachelors degree may demonstrate high levels of creativity but have generally not obtained the relevant technical and work-based skills needed to survive within a very competitive industry. (Design Commission, 2011).
The pedagogical approach to the FDa Interior Architectural Design, two year curriculum, introduces students to the traditional methods of technical hand drawings skills, developmental sketchbooks, current industry practice of Computer Aided Design (CAD) and 3D visualisation, work-based skills (WBL) and personal and professional development (PPD). Creativity is encouraged through research at ‘concept’ stage, by sourcing inspirational imagery.  This begins the design process.  Through the production of sketchbooks, the development of design is monitored so, upon assessment, we can see how a student has arrived at their final design scheme. In the workplace however, a designer rarely has the luxury of creating such a creative workbook.  But the concepts behind improving sketching ability, will allow a designer to feel confident with interpreting their ideas quickly and effectively, without the need to use modern methods such as CAD.
In my experience, the FDa in Interior Architectural Design places strong emphasis on developing work-based learning (WBL) skills within the curriculum, with four modules for WBL and PPD delivered over the two years.  These can be embedded into ‘live briefs’, in which we, as tutors, construct project briefs based on existing buildings.  This ‘live brief’ encompasses one semester and has proven to be successful in embedding functional skills in literacy and numeracy, to those students that may have struggled had they opted to study at bachelor degree level.  
The emphasis on WBL skills in the FDa may stir criticism from creative tutors as it is a common module, covered by all FDa’s. It is thought to remove emphasis away from the creative attributes of an art course, but what it does allow tutors to do, is to tailor written assignments to mimic professional reports that would have to be presented within the workplace. Within Interior Architecture students have to present a design report of 2000 words at the end of the module, which is:
To develop skills in research, setting clear objectives, action planning and presenting a report.  It offers students the opportunity, in co-operation with the organisational client, to access information and resources to tackle work-based issues that is related to modules currently being studied in the programme and of relevance to the student’s employment and career.  
(Leeds Metropolitan University, 2007,p.40).
This is a much-needed skill within the industry, as the need for written documentation as letters, emails or reports, is a demonstration of a professional level of articulation expected in a designer.
It also develops the student’s understanding of the design process and the importance of research to enhance creative-thinking within the overall process, a teaching method emphasised in Hatchuel’s ‘Concept-Knowledge Theory’ (C-K) in which there is a direct correlation with developing creativity to generate new knowledge through exploration. (Hatchuel et al, 2008). There is much to be said about developing students’ ‘life-research’ to enhance creative-thinking, an idea which is reiterated by a study into Creative training in higher education.  Lau has developed six factors, which develop the student’s creative training. (Lau,2009)
(1)    identifying design student’ thinking habits;
(2)    developing students’ intrinsic motivation by fun;
(3)    developing students’ self determination;
(4)    developing students’ positive and forward thinking;
(5)    managing students’ emotions;
(6)    removing students’ obstacles to creativity. (Lau, 2009, p.155)
Since the days of art and design degrees being delivered in Art colleges or Polytechnics, these institutions always embraced creativity.  This has continued within some higher education institutions, where the onus is on enhancing innovation, creativity and research, however, within the written curriculum of FDa Interior Architectural design, creativity is only highlighted within the first four modules, where learning outcomes underpin a “broad range of skills essential and in context of Art and Design” (Leeds Metropolitan University, 2007).  Jackson, highlights that problems occur in higher education, as creativity upsets the “Status quo as we teach students to unlearn the compliant habits they have acquired through years of formal education” (Jackson et al, 2007.p.208).
In support of the curriculum of the FDa, I would say that as tutors, we put onus on being able to demonstrate the ability to conceptualise through drawing, whilst emphasising the importance of being able to present those ideas both verbally and written, bringing the knowledge-based understanding together with creativity.
The contact time between tutor and student, only allows for a set of four lectures per week with limited tutorial time.  For a full-time course, this means that for the remainder of the week, students carry out ‘self-directed’ learning.  ‘Self–directed’ learning is usually carried out at home, away from peers, and is thought, by many students to be an individual process.  In a subject, such as design, this is not conducive to the learning process.  Any creative subject at degree level needs to promote a ‘studio culture’, as it focuses on the hidden curriculum (Kelly, 2004), allowing a design student to learn fundamental skills such as competitiveness, teamwork, mentoring and social skills.  Studio culture is under threat as cohorts are growing and staff numbers have decreased by 30% since 1998 (Milliner, 2003).  In Attoe and Mugerauer’s article they highlight the prevalence in:
The pedagogical technique used in most design studios is criticism of each student’s efforts at synthesis.  Typically, an architectural “problem” is posed and information relating to the problem is made available.  Then the student undertakes the sometimes lengthy and often frustrating process of finding a “solution”.  The studio teacher talks frequently and at length with the student during this problem-solving and synthesising process. (Attoe and Mugerauer, 1991, p.41)
Without this important exercise, students do not have the ‘experience’ and are only witnessing a formal curriculum (Kelly, 2004).  
Upon final assessment, students are required to complete all 15-credit modules.  The criteria for assessment, is that all the learning outcomes are met. I would argue that the assessment process solely focuses on the objectives defined by the learning outcomes, as opposed to the subjective content of the design project.  In other words, are their designs showing innovation and creativity and do they adhere to current UK building standards? This is my criticism of the Leeds Metropolitan degree, which I feel is out-dated, unchanged since 2007, and has therefore not responded to social, economic or cultural demand of recent years.
Courses appear to be written, but not developed, and it could be argued that the original remit of the FDa of industry shaping and inputting into the content of the courses is not being fulfilled. The Design Commission, in their ‘Restarting Britain’ report, focused upon the need for reform for design education and growth.  They highlighted the fact that if design courses have a loss of all vocational pathways it would be lamentable, “especially as design is, at heart, an applied discipline” (Design Commission, 2011.p.13).  

There have been many criticisms over the intermediate vocational, foundation degree curriculum from both the industry and from educators.
The current pedagogical practice on the FDa Interior Architectural Design programme, centres it’s deliverance of modules through ‘live briefs’, lectures and tutorials.
In my opinion, there is a need to establish ‘peer-to-peer’ learning through Studio Practice. This needs to be compulsory to the curriculum with credits awarded for engaging in ‘Studio Culture’, to widen their design development.  This would help to embed Lau’s six factors of creative-thinking within the FDa curriculum, to encourage their creative ability (Lau, 2009).
Design Lecturers, also need to ensure that they are aware of, or in current practice, as to maintain specialist Continual Professional Development as to be in line with their colleagues teaching on Bachelor degree programmes.
To enable the transition from the FDa to the workplace, we have to make moves to establish connections with local creative industries, and introduce work-experience as part of the curriculum.  We as tutors can encourage creativity as part of the design process, teach relevant IT, literacy and communication skills but we are unable to cover relevant skills that can only be learnt ‘on-the-job’.
The Foundation degree, sells itself as a vocational course but not in all instances does it adhere to this.  If we were to treat this form of qualification as a form of ‘higher’ apprenticeship scheme, allowing local creative employers to have direct involvement in the curriculum, by taking on students during their studies, this would see a vast improvement in the calibre of FDa students that we are releasing post programme.  This would increase the reputation of the FDa and would see an increase in competition with their peers studying on a Bachelor’s Degree.  For one of the key selling points from those applying for jobs, is relevant work-experience.  This would offer the FDa a unique selling point to employers.
The success of our workforce of young designers can only be achieved, if we ensure that design education is delivering current trends and practices reflecting current technological advancements.  The UK government’s new initiatives to establish the UK as a country for innovation, will fair well for the popularity of the design courses and will hopefully become a further driving force for the development in design education, as innovation becomes a recognised commodity. With the option of many alternative routes into higher education in design, we will therefore, hopefully, be delivering a workforce with varying sets of skills, to enable us to compete globally and strengthen our reputation for being a country delivering  ‘design excellence’.

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The show must go on!

Today I am filled with an enormous sense of emotion. It is the end of one journey with my latest project that I have been apart of for eighteen months.
Unlike design projects that I get involved in, I feel an enormous sense of relief when a project finishes! By the end of a refurb or a new build, there is always a sense of pride but accompanied by a slight undertone of boredom, as the project’s completion normally means the stress and tension has worn me down!
However, the project I have been involved in has seen one local man’s talent for writing a new stage production five years ago to finally come to realisation at Harrogate Theatre this week.
Keith Humphrey’s clever, witty and emotional musical tells the story of one average man, Lewis Angel’s life slowly falls apart, with the break up of his marriage. As Lewis tries out single life, he is unaware of the things beyond his control, controlled by his conscience, his alter ego or his devil, Twelve.
When I first heard that Keith had written a musical, I was sceptical, as he gad no past experience, and being a lover of musicals, I can normally tell what is bad and good! Keith firstly paired up with the very talented local director Phill Ruddy, who was to put his professional seal of this show. Together they have been unstoppable! They first asked me to design the logo, which would be the branding identity for Boiling Frog. I had the idea is my head as soon as we had our first meeting. The name ‘Boiling Frog’ is misleading as no frogs were harmed in the making of this stage production!!!
We went through different concepts but the leaf and the pocket watch are the two strongest identities that run through as a theme in this show, not to mention XII (Twelve).
Once we had finalised the design, Katie Greenhalf of VWP, took over, she has far more talent in the graphics department than I do, and she designed all the marketing material, brochures and posters.
The team were forming, with the following talents of Matthew Sharrock as music producer, Hannah Ruddy, costume designer, Crista Webber of Cat and Mouse PR, Gary Lawson, official filming and photography to document the making of Boiling Frog and the very talented set designer, Alexander Swarbrick, not to mention Keith’s supportive, patient and gorgeous wife-to-be Jude Humphreys (neé Hutchinson).
This team for ‘Humruddy’ Productions became a solid, hardworking and ambitious team of creatives. As we KNEW this would be something great.
When it came to auditioning, we, as a team were blown away by the talent in North Yorkshire. It was clear that the young talent that was out there was exceptional. Making this a professional performance.
The principle roles to the two leading men Ed Leigh and Christian Lunn are exceptional and for two young men, these two are going places!!
The leading ladies Michelle Beckett and Alex Cawthray have voices that perfectly compliment each other not forgetting their ability to make the audience really feel their emotional pain.
The rest of the cast are strong and there is not one person on that stage who doesn’t deserve the STAR sticker on their dressing room door!
I have now positioned myself as the crew, working alongside Carolyn Roper, who has stage managed us to very last minute!
So this is it, tonight is the last night of THIS stage production of ‘Boiling Frog the Musical’ but the beginning of many more.
Most of all, I am very privileged to have been part of this and especially as I have got to do it with friends!
There will not be a dry eye in the house tonight! WE DID It!!

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Amsterdam. A view through a window.

Well I worked out whilst on the flight back from Amsterdam , that the last time the hubby and I took a weekend out to go to a city destination, without kids, was five and a half years ago!!

So when the offer of a grown-up weekend away came up, I opted for Amsterdam as I previously loved the city and it has been nine years since my last visit.

We were keen to ‘walk’ the city.  Find hidden treasures off the beaten path.  Explore more of the dutch way of life than we had done on our previous visit.  For a life time has happened since then our tastes and interests have developed and matured (I hope).

On our previous visit we had read through the guide books and visited The Anne Frank Museum which is an amazing experience and I was blown away by the exhibition, even more so than the Jewish Museum in Berlin.  The Rijksmuseum was also top of the check list when visiting Amsterdam.  However this time, we opted to spend time wandering through the city and admiring and adoring the architecture, the shopping and the food.

I find Amsterdam a very romantic city and I think this is down to the culture.  Stepping aside from the Coffeeshops and the Red Light District, which indeed have there own form of beauty.  The canal walks, the bridges, the art, the houses (new and old), the food and the friendly nature of the city, makes for a less hectic city break.

Even their modes of transport, the tram and the bike, are far more eco-friendly, even if I thought I was going to be mowed down by one of them.

I adore the architecture of Amsterdam and whilst on our walks I found myself, doing what I do best, which is looking in the windows of the houses and apartments.  I noticed that a lot of the houses, with their large ground floor windows have  double height spaces, and therefore the interiors are awash with natural light.  In some instances the spaces have been divided into a mezzanine level, maximising the use of the high ceilings. Walls were covered in floor to ceiling of books and there was always evidence of some design classics and large pieces of art.  I couldn’t help but wonder if ‘looking through windows’ is something that all designers can’t help but do.  In a way it’s like research.  I am also a bit of a daydreamer and like to imagine the lives that are led inside these house plus I always like to imagine what it must be like to live in a building on a canal.

Where land is at a premium, these houses and apartments don’t come cheap, therefore, I’m guessing that the residents spend time designing their homes and their lives.  Just observing the dutch way of life, it seems far more relaxed than that of my own.  Leaving me feeling envious. But the grass is always greener and it’s only my assumptions based on a view through a window!


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A Return to Education

After much deliberation, I  made the decision to study for my PGCE ( teaching qualification).

With a year’s teaching under my belt, I am now in the position to say, that I enjoy it, am passionate about it, and want to continue down this career path.  That is not to say that I am abandoning my professional practice, as this is where my true passions lie.  But if this financial instability has taught me one lesson, is that you should diversify, be a master of a number of trades for relying on the world of construction, architecture, design, art etc; is simply not enough.

So I have now started the two years of hard(er) graft to gain that all important qualified teacher status begins but the last time I was in higher education was 11 years ago.  My life is somewhat different now.  I am older, wiser, responsible for two children, one husband, a cat, a mortgage and a design consultancy.  But hey-ho, others have done it and triumphed and I hope to do the same . . and report back!!!

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Penelope Tiffney of Spatial Designers was appointed by University of Leeds in 2008 to provide the interior design scheme for the recently completed Storm Jameson Court – a luxury 460 en suite student residence on campus.

The new student study room

This new state-of-the-art accommodation replaces the former Charles Morris Halls, which was demolished in 2009. In its place, Storm Jameson Court will provide facilities for both students and conference delegates throughout the year.

The new interior design scheme has revolutionized student accommodation as we know it, immeasurably enhancing the standard of living for its residents, the first of which will be arriving over the next few weeks.

With high specification, contemporary finishes and fixtures throughout, including modern furnishings and intelligent colour and lighting schemes, Storm Jameson Court is light years away from the university digs of the past. This development offers exceptional quality and sets the president for all student accommodation.

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The 24 hour reception, with its Altro Digiclad image, adds impact on entrance, leading onto a lounge complete with sun terrace. This student common room has the feeling of elegance and luxury, offering both café style and low, soft seating with a 52” LCD screen, hot desking and games area.

The traditional cluster flat arrangement has been replaced with hotel-style corridors, accessed with programmed key fobs. Upon entrance to each bedroom, Spatial Designers has created a unique, purpose-designed bathroom pod, built by Walker Modular, which are curved externally with a white gloss interior and contemporary sanitary fittings, glazed shower cubicles and Altro Timber safe flooring.

The contemporary look of the built-in bedroom furniture has been designed to make best use of the space, displaying maximum storage both above and below the double bed, while the floating desk allows a complete view of the full-length window with its desirable coloured glass pane. Meanwhile the kitchen area boasts walnut furniture, muted tones and bold feature walls.

The accommodation also fully facilitates students with varying levels of disability with 26 rooms assigned to accommodate disabled students.

The project was completed as a design and build contract by Morgan Sindall.


Note to editors:

Penelope Tiffney of Spatial Designers, is a Harrogate based Interior Design Consultancy, established since 2004. She has been responsible for the design schemes of a variety of projects in the UK. In 2006 she completed the interior scheme for Titanic Spa, Huddersfield, 1 Sekforde Street business centre, Britannia Row business centre, Islington and Clerkenwell and a portfolio of high profile residential projects in London and the South East. The Storm Jameson Project for University of Leeds is the first of many student residences for the Spatial Designers Portfolio.

Posted in architecture, Completed Projects, designer, Interior Design Scheme, interior designer, interiorarchitect, interiordesign, Professional services | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Drawing outside the box!

As we approach the first semester of year II of Interior Architecture, I am painfully planning lessons. I am also planning for a 10 week course at Leeds City College, where I am to teach ‘An Introduction to Interior Design’, for those keen on exploring the potential of planning spaces. Both courses hold different outcomes, one set of students are working towards their degree, the other set of students will hopefully be able to use the skills learnt to use interior design as a hobby and for their home refurbishments.

One important skill that will be emphasised and practiced on both courses are drawing skills . I have realised from teaching that students very rarely sit down with their sketch book and sketch through ideas!

Without a doubt, this is the most important skill needed to be a good designer; to be able to transfer your ideas to paper, without sitting down at the computer, is prevalent.

So I have been practicing what I preach and therefore arranging drawing tasks to enable the students to understand the potential of sketching their ideas.

How many ways can you draw an open box?

This helps to demonstrate orthogonal projection drawing techniques. It did take me a few attempts, but I believe the following examples demonstrate my reasons for this exercise.

The first example of 'drawing a box' that I learnt.

The oblique projection is the most simplistic of the Parallel projection. This was the first example of three-dimensional drawing that I got taught at school.

The Axo

The Axonometric is the true plan of the room, in this instance a true square tilted at 45 degrees to reveal both sides of the object or space. The parallel lines are projected at equal distance, making the drawing look distorted. This example is useful for illustrating how objects are assembled.

The Iso

The Isometric, is my personal favorite.

An isometric view of an object will provide a view of three sides.
It is important to choose the best view to provide the most detail.

All lines are at either 30 degrees except for vertical lines (90 degrees)


One Point Perspective’s show the front or elevation of the space or object, the projection lines are that taken to one vanishing point. One point perspectives are useful when illustrating a long, thin environment. i.e a corridor.

The Two point Perspective, with it’s two vanishing points on the same plane, allows you to view a space on a corner, to show two different elevations.

And last but not least . . . . . .

The Three point Perspective allows you to illustrate a building from aerial or worms-eye view. Think of perspective drawings of Manhatttan or an MC Escher painting. The work on thee vanishing points, two on a horizontal plane and one, either above or below, depending on your chosen view.

Now, for my students, I will advise that there is a formula to work though to carry out these drawings, but as I am no mathematician, I advise that you trust your own eye, and if it does not look correct then you may need to revisit the principles.

For further reading please look at:

Drawing and Perceiving: Real-world Drawing for Students of Architecture and Design by Douglas Cooper

101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick

Technical Drawing: Basics by Bert Bielefeld and Isabella Skiba

Posted in Architect, designer, interior designer, interiorarchitect, technical drawing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Architect, Interior Architect, Interior Designer, Interior Decorator? The debate.


Clerkenwell design week 2010

In May of this year I attended Clerkenwell Design week; the trendy EC1 London borough was buzzing with design professionals across the board.  The exhibition celebrated the best in furniture, product and design services that Clerkenwell has to offer.  It was a first for this exhibition and I believe a successful one.


I was really keen to get my fill of the exhibition, as my trips to London are few and far between these days.  So I chose to attend a seminar entitled ‘Who we are’ The Interior Designer.  The chair speaker was Iris Dunbar; Director of The Interior Design School and past president of BIDA.  The panel consisted of four professionals; two architects , one interior architect  and one interior designer.

I felt slightly unnerved by the early discussions, as the conversation inevitably lead to ‘Do Interior Designers take work away from Architects’ and vice versa, because it is apparent that architects do like to take control of their projects from concept to completion and interior designers likewise. There is an increasingly evolving cross pollination of the role of the Architect and the Interior Designer; a niche that has created a hybrid, the Interior Architectural Designer.

In some instances the architect can do the job of the designer and the designer can do the job of the architect. But it all depends on the individual strengths and more importantly the education of the designer or architect.

The war-of-words was mild, but it did feel like a divide of disciplines.  The Architect has a clearly defined role and can very much own the project, the designer on the other hand can at times feel like his poor relative, brought into the project as an afterthought ‘to add a bit of colour’.  I had visions of the Two Ronnies sketch of the Class System; the architect (upper class), interior designer (middle class), interior decorator (lower class). Let me state I don’t think this is the case but I’m not sure this is the universal opinion within the industry.  This is a real sticking point.  We are all creative, we are all visionaries and are all offering a different level of design detail from macro to micro .  Why do we have to feel like we need to debate the issue?

The Architect, Designer relationship

"I look up at him".

I found it very hard to hold my tongue, as they seemed to be going round in circles.  The most apparent evidence was that each member of the panel felt very strongly about their profession and the work they were involved in.  But for the ‘interior designer’ they were stuck somewhere in the middle, they felt they crossed over into the discipline of Architecture but to the outside world they always had to state that they weren’t an Interior Decorator.

Perhaps the issues lie with the definition of services that an ‘Interior Designer’ can offer.  For example, I am a designer, who does not really offer the residential soft furnishings as this is something that is self taught throughout the years.  My education is that of an architectural background, I started out doing an degree in architecture, to then swap to interior design but concentrating on interior architecture, and was taught by architects.  I studied for 4 years and covered everything from history of architecture, psychology of design to structure. I do not call myself an interior architect due to the legal implications.   I do not have the level of knowledge to design complete buildings but  I do call myself an interior architectural designer and work on design teams with architects, I respect their knowledge and know I can complement their scheme and offer my expertise to enhance the function, safety, and aesthetics of interior spaces.

As I write this blog, I am reading a discussion on an american forum, which argues this very matter. It is interesting to read comments from Architects, Interior designers and Interior decorators.  There is one very good point from one designer;

Well, I think that there is no such thing as an “Interior Architect” and the term actually denigrates Interior Design. (Are there “Exterior Architects”?)

What’s wrong with being an Interior Designer to the fullest extent of the definition? I had an educator tell me that they used the “E.A.” term to attract males to the program that didn’t want to be labeled as an Interior Designer. That’s a sad commentary on the image of our profession.

Interior Design is more than “Interior Architecture” which to me implies just the structural and architectural components of a space. Interior Design is so much more than that.

While many architects are capable of completing a design, it is often the special skills of an Interior Designer that are needed to complete the design with their knowledge of space, detailing and yes, furniture and finishes.

It is my experience that Interior Designers do not want to be Architects, but recognized for their specialty that compliments Architecture.

The definition of interior designer is so diverse and any individual can give themselves the title. It has not had a professional body that offers us the same high regard as that of the RIBA. Until recently, BIID (British Institute Interior Design) has made some headway in becoming a recognised body. The British Interior Design Association was awarded the prestigious and rare accolade of Institute status by the Minister of State in 2009. They offer their members recognition and a Code of Conduct to follow as well as much more.  There long term plans are outlined in a recent idfx article.

It is apparent that a recognised status should be awarded to all designers that have fulfilled a certain level of training and examinations through education or service.  This would open the door for many interior designers and close the door for those individuals who turn their hand to it as they enjoy it as a hobby.  Slowly but surely we will gain the same recognition as that of other professions in the Building industry and yes, we may be more pigeon-holed into either the interior designer or interior architectural designer as defined roles,   but I live in hope that my title will one day carry the gravity and prestige it fully deserves.

Posted in Architect, architecture, BIID, clerkenwell design week, designer, interior designer, interiorarchitect, interiordesign, Professional services, RIBA | 4 Comments

Producing the Winning Tender?

As a sole trader or small company, you may, like me have had to prepare your own quotations, tenders or estimates whilst trying to second guess the competitors.

I have recently discovered that abandoning the idea of the ‘second-guess’ tactic is a much easier process.  Knowing what percentages architects or fellow designers are working to is too consuming.

How do you value your service?

As a professional Interior Designer, I know the worth of the service I offer.  I know how hard I work on a project, I know I give 110% to a project and I can offer my client and the design team my experience.  This comes at a cost.  Within my tender proposals I indicate, clearly the services I offer, the work that will be carried out for the tender sum.  I should really add that I will no doubt give them so many added extras, but this is for the client to recognise and acknowledge once I have won the project.

Time is money.

Pricing the services of a Designer is easily evaluated on time spent.  Should you have experience on similar type projects then reflecting on the timesheets you used on the job, will give you a good indication of the time spent.

Time allocated for each task for concept presentations

A rough Pie chart to demonstrate the proportion of time allocate.

££ per hour x 100hrs over a 8 week period.

Using an hourly rate method and calculating the time estimated can give a clear indication of a fixed fee or ESTIMATED fixed fee.  Every client is different, some require revision, after revision.  Some approve and sign off drawings in a speedy manner.  Remember to stipulate your terms and conditions.  If your fixed fee is for a number of hours allocated over a certain amount of time, or up to a specific stage i.e Planning, Design Stage, Tender Stage be clear and reiterate that should this time be exceeded then you will notify the client that this is the case.

Break it down.

Producing a detailed breakdown, regardless whether it has been asked for can give show the client your added value.  Personally, I produce a programme of works/resources with the task and time required to carry out that task.  Designing, 3D models, researching all takes time.  We may make it look easy but it isn’t and if, like me you have experienced the excruciating pain of 3D renders and animations, you know the time allocated will be double that due to technology and personal perfection and pride!

The reality of designing.

So you’ve lost?

If the tender has been unsuccessful, don’t be afraid to enquire for feedback.  You may or may not receive a response.  But it’s all a learning curve for next time.

For more professional advice and a detailed look at Tendering please see:
Business Link

The 10 Elements of Successful Tendering

Posted in architecture, interiordesign, Professional services, Sole trader, Tendering | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments