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Spotlight on Interior Designer : Nadia Al-Chalaby

So you’ve been with Flexiform about a year now… How are you finding it?

I’ve got to say joining Flexiform has been one of my most exciting ventures so far. I came on board at a time of change and growth; Flexiform had been winning contract after contract and have been developing their product ranges to suit the demands of the industry. When I started a big change over in staff had just happened meaning that the Interiors department was just me, a laptop and many many files to go through to get a sense of Flexiform’s clients, design styles and ongoing work. Having no handover on an ongoing project was daunting and may have taken me a month or so to get my head around but after that it was exciting times ahead!

VR was something that was new to me when I started and I’d only seen a few companies outsource this work for final presentations but never seen a design firm use this technology in-house.  This got me excited as I knew Flexiform was a company willing to invest in new ideas and development, in the year I’ve worked hear it’s been refreshing being witness to new technologies being used.

What is your favourite part of being an Interior Designer?

I’ve always loved design, the feeling of creating something unique from scratch or being able to design something in a way that will alter people’s perception of a space is greatly rewarding to me. I used to rent a small unit space down by the canal in my local town, after work id go down with my tools some scrapped tractor parts Id have found at the machine auctions and aged wooden rounds. I’d spend hours sanding and painting, trying to create new shapes and design products that exposed the raw properties of the materials id found. This was so fun and I managed to create a few really nice products, however as I didn’t then want to sell anything and just kept buying new parts this didn’t turn into the most sustainable business model and meant that 6 months or so later I had to stop. I just loved creating new things.

It’d be hard to pinpoint just one area that I love as to get a good end result the whole process is very important, but I suppose my favourite part is seeing the benefits that a well-designed space or product can have on its end users. When people use well-designed considered spaces they instantly have a greater feeling of sense and purpose as everything around them is then geared towards enhancing their productiveness and innovation, and who can complain at that!  Creating a space that actually makes the end user feel like they can achieve more is probably my favourite part.

The way offices are used has changed over the past 5 years, what do you see as key factors in a good office design?

We’ve all been hearing buzz words thrown around these last few years such as agile working, open plan spaces and collaboration, these are brilliant words designers use to sell a concept and entice a client but is there really one standard solution to fit all? Does putting a few plants or some greenery into an office really give you an instant Biophilic office or is there much more behind the design to be taken into consideration.

To create a working environment that is tailored to the needs of staff, enables them to work more efficiently and feel more relaxed in their surroundings this takes a more in-depth approach.  To get an office environment right you first need to understand the core functions of the business, the idiosyncrasies of the staff and how the departments work together.  You find that in many companies the building they occupy dictates how people work and it’s our job as designers to strip away that preconceived conception allowing staff to work in a way that will create most productive and innovative results.

There are of course certain ideals I try and get onto most of my design albeit how these are portrayed varies for every client. Wellness is always one of my main concerns, by wellness I don’t mean workplace yoga or massages in the office; I’m talking about using design to make sure that all staff have a positive healthy environment to work from that does not impact their health. This could be through ergonomically design workspaces, glare resistant desks, task specific lighting or office separation to give staff various environments to suit their activities. Biophilia also directly links with wellness. Creating environments that connect with people with nature will always mean people feel instantly more comfortable. Good Biophilic design should promote positive interactions and relationships among people and the natural environment. Humans are a deeply social species whose security and productivity depends on positive interactions within a spatial context, so creating the right environments with the workplace is crucial.

Why do you think design is being highly considered in the workplace and what trends do you see emerging?

With university fees’ rising to nearly 10k per student the expectation of top-class learning environment is a given, and why shouldn’t it be? If you’re paying extortionate amounts for education why should you not be taught in an environment that is best suited for you? This belief is then translated to the workplace as when students leave university they expect the same standard of the environment in the office. Studies have shown that when making the decision to join a company to work for, the design of the office plays a huge factor. You have to think, house prices for young people are becoming ever more expensive making it impossible for millennial’s to get on the property ladder. Instead they occupy shared accommodation or live in bad areas so they can have a space of their own.  Young people are spending more time in the office and socialising in bars and less at home, so creating a safe environment where people can flourish, feel at home and enjoy spending their time is vital.

The concept of a 90 hour work week is something that Silicon Valley has seen for the past few decades and this is greatly reflected in their office spaces. Calm subdued colour pallets are used, the introduction to nature and the outside environment is brought inside at every available opportunity and raw materials are exposed to create edgy environments true to their surroundings. This is something we are seeing as an emerging trend in office design and it’s called “California cool”.

We’ve seen banks such as JP Morgan move away from suits and ties to “casual business attire” and accountancy firm PKF Cooper Parry redesigning the social norm of accountancy offices by creating spaces with bright colours, beanbag areas, hanging chairs for relaxation with trees and grassed areas dividing the spaces. I do believe all offices will be going this way within the next 10 years, creating fun engaging environments that not only benefit the staff and boost company moral but benefit the company as levels in productivity rise.

So, what is on your drawing board today?

Now that is a tricky question, our Interiors department has about 5 – 15 ongoing projects at any given time however on my desk today right now is a new proposal for Fox Media’s London branch, the development of some agile workspaces for HSE HQ and a few new tender proposals. But aside from our client projects we have been in-house redesigning all our showrooms in Scotland and London, and are now just starting on our HQ, they’ve been fun projects to work on, stressful don’t get me wrong but fun!

This development will give us the chance to showcase our new ranges and design our showrooms in a way that really shows what our Interiors department can do. We’ve been looking at developing our fabrics pallets, using some new suppliers and trying to decide which fabrics best compliment certain furniture ranges, for example we’ve used heavy wool blends on acoustic products to increase the absorbency, lighter mesh fabrics for group environments to allow for sound travel. It’s been really fun developing these projects and I’m excited to see the benefits of our new spaces and what’s to come in the future with Flexiform.