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At home with... Stories of Koti

There’s no doubt that working from home is now the new normal. For those of us in the design industry, especially if you’re freelance or an independent business owner, working from home may well have already been a normal and integrated part of our lives. But if not, having to adapt to a new routine in amongst the anxiety of a pandemic seems overwhelming to say the least. Whilst we’ve been acclimatising to working out of the spare room or from the dining table, we’ve also had to navigate ongoing projects; maintaining a healthy relationship with clients whilst not being able to meet or see the progress face-to-face. Projects which usually should have had a lead time of several weeks have now been extended to months, regardless of how organised we’ve been. So, as lockdown eases across the country, and restrictions are slowly relaxing we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to enlighten you on how people in the industry have been coping with the changes.

Each week we will be having a chat to interior designers and creatives across the North West (and further afield) to see how their working lives, and spaces, have changed this year. To make things more interesting, we’ll be asking our guests to show us their current WFH set-up – what can we say, we’re nosy!

This week, we’re at home with Lucie, principal designer and founder of Stories of Koti, a boutique interior design studio based in West Yorkshire. Lucie also publishes a regular blog and curates a minimalist, Scandi-inspired Instagram feed to die for.

Image by Stories of Koti

Image courtesy of Stories of Koti

Hi Lucie, could you tell us a little bit about Stories of Koti first of all?

Hi guys, thanks for having me! Sure, so I founded Stories of Koti in 2018 after building a small but successful independent commercial interiors studio with my partner. Whilst I absolutely love helping business owners to build their branding we have so much fun creating unique interior identities for commercial clients, I couldn't ignore the obsession inside me that's concerned with how we can use design in our homes to better our daily lives.

Our homes should fill us with joy and I believe that when we become truly considerate and purposeful with our designs, we can create a home that is not only beautiful, but thoughtfully crafted to make even the most mundane daily routines simple and enjoyable. Whether we’re just looking at one room or a whole house renovation, we work really closely with our clients to understand how they want to live and what their individual vision is. We’re so grateful for our craftsmen who often help us create really unique bespoke details. In this way, we can build truly personal homes based on values and intent that complement our client’s preferred way of living and serve them seamlessly each day.

Has lockdown changed the way you would usually work?

Definitely – in March I had to temporarily close the studio and start working from home. Since then I’ve been working from a modest setup in my living room. I feel lucky that I have this really calming space to work from as I know working from home hasn’t been a privilege available to everyone. Nonetheless it hasn’t been ideal; I miss the community of the mill where our studio is based, my large desk and the big library of sample books (I had to be selective with what I brought home).

Image courtesy of Stories of Koti

How have you found working from home?

I think many of us would agree that there are pros and cons of working from home. On the one hand, we’ve all tapped into a greater sense of community, well-being and balance. I’ve enjoyed having a more relaxed routine, cooking well for each meal, not spending late nights in the office and receiving lots of cuddles from my cat. On the other hand, there have been times when I’ve felt a real sense of isolation: I’ve missed networking with other creatives, daily chats in the communal kitchen and the occasional beer after work! I hope that we can find a harmonious blend and carry forward the valuable lessons we’ve learnt through this period as we create a new normal. I think when you’re self-employed it can often feel like the whole world is racing ahead of you; it can be really hard to relax and take time off. I’ve definitely learnt to slow down a bit and feel more comfortable with taking a break if I need to, which is really necessary if you're going to produce your best creative work.

Image courtesy of Stories of Koti

Have you been able to continue working as you would usually?

Although it’s not necessarily what I’d choose, the process I’ve built over the years has meant that I can design from afar. As long as a client can provide photos and measurements of the space, I can get to work designing and produce all the drawings and specifications necessary for implementation. However, I much prefer to be able to see a space and get a feel for it in real-time. The biggest challenge we’ve faced has been the timeline of a project: understandably some delivery times have been longer, manufacture has been slower and installations delayed, as safety of contractors and clients was paramount. I’ve found that clients have been really understanding and patient, which was a big relief while we all navigated these new waters.

How has it been trying to work with your clients whilst not be able to see them face to face?

I’m feeling very grateful for the modern technology that has enabled us to stay so connected throughout lockdown but I honestly can’t wait to be able to work with clients face to face again. I read somewhere that around 70% of communication is non-verbal! I think as designers we especially feel the effect of this. So much of our work relies on intuition, reading people’s auras, their subtle reactions and getting to know their stories. From a client’s perspective, it might be a strange prospect working with a designer remotely. It’s such a personal process and there needs to be a good level of trust there. Usually, this rapport is built in our first few meetings; they visit our studio and see where we work, we’re welcomed into their homes, sometimes meeting their families, children and even the pets. We become relaxed in each other’s presence, which is so important when they’re opening the doors into the intimacy of their home.

Image courtesy of Stories of Koti

You’ve talked a bit on your blog about the importance of decluttering, detoxing and the benefits of creating a minimal home workspace. Could you tell us a little about that and how you think this lockdown experience has influenced that idea?

I mean it’s probably undeniable that a global pandemic is pretty anxiety-inducing for most. On top of that, the perimeter for our daily activities was suddenly reduced to the rooms within our house as the spare room became the office, the kitchen table a school, the living room a gym… In times like this, we have to do ourselves as many favours as possible in looking after our health and reducing further stresses from our environment. I really wanted to focus on helping people regain some head space, making sure their homes were still a place of comfort. There’s some pieces on the blog where we talk about how to tackle decluttering, improving the air quality in our homes, introducing nature to reduce mental fatigue plus tips on how to create a calming dedicated workspace that keeps you focused on the task at hand – no matter how little space you have available!

You spoke a lot on your Instagram feed about feeling the urge to decorate because you were in the house a lot more, could you expand on that?

Sure, I bet this was the case for a lot of people! As we were all spending so much time at home, having a space where you feel happy and comfortable was suddenly more important than ever. When we’re all focused on the daily grind, rushing in and out of the house, people can forget the importance of making their homes a sanctuary. It’s where we start and finish our day – if we wake up and go to sleep in disarray, how can we expect to perform our best when we step outside? Hopefully this period has been an awakening to the effect that the design of our homes has on our mental well-being and how we show up in this world. Unfortunately, many people have also been facing financial uncertainty from this pandemic, which perhaps curbed plans for big renovations. I hope our blog can still be a source of inspiration and ideas for those who are maybe looking to take smaller steps in improving their home environment. We also work on a consultation basis for people who are just looking for some advice or a few key pieces to transform their rooms.

Back in April you started an email series of love letters, what was the idea behind that?

The boredom started to set in for me in April; restrictions were tight on travel and spending time outside, I was already missing seeing friends & family and just generally having the freedom to explore new things. I think a lot of people were feeling this way so I started to curate some resources for our subscribers. It’s not all interiors related – there’s recipes to make, blogs to read, music to listen to, products to browse, exercise to do and even virtual tours of museums and galleries. Apart from hopefully helping to keep our readers inspired, it was a great creative outlet for me! I really enjoyed putting them together and I’d love for more people to come and join our newsletter community.

Image courtesy of Stories of Koti

Finally Lucie, what advice would you give to anyone who may be struggling with their current WFH set-up?

If you're not used to working from home, it can definitely be quite an adjustment and can take some trial and error to find a setup and routine that works best for you. It might be tempting to just sit with the laptop wherever takes your fancy that day but I think it's vital to have a dedicated workspace to help you get in the right frame of mind. Even if you only have a small corner or surface available, it's somewhere to intentionally sit down in the morning and leave behind in the evening. Our living room shelves became my temporary home studio over the last couple of months; it's just a small space but it keeps me focused. How we decorate our workspace is a really personal thing. I function best in a calm and neutral space but others might be more inspired when they're surrounded by colour. Either way, an organised and de-cluttered space is still key. Other designers will know, we can often have lots of documents, drawings, samples etc. just for one project; I find it useful to have a binder or box for each client where I can easily access information when I need it. Most importantly, we need to be kind to ourselves and make sure we take breaks. I'm terrible at remembering to take a break when I'm absorbed in my work but it's really important to get up and move every once in a while. Make yourself a cuppa, find a comfy chair to read a book, call a friend or get outside if you can - your creative mind will thank you!

Thank you so much for your time, Lucie, and for inviting us to have a nosy around your home workspace!

To read more about Stories of Koti, you can visit their website, or follow them on Instagram.