OFFICE FOCUS: DESIGNING FOR WELLBEING


Q & A with Wren Loucks, founder of be-kin, an interior design agency that focuses on wellbeing


EDITED BY CATHY HAYWARD

The mental health support I received as a teenager brought me into mental health advocacy. I studied fi ne art and art history at Queen’s University in Canada before completing my postgrad diploma in architectural interior design at the Inchbald School of Design in London. My painting thesis was on the link between memories and the physical reality of architecture, and in design school I became fascinated with phenomenology. This interest in how spaces connect to our mental well-being and performance has been the heart of my creative process for years. After Inchbald, I moved into high-end residential interior design but my passion for inclusivity led me to work for an access consultancy firm, where I advised large corporates like the NHS and global brands on their inclusive design strategy – how we can design better to support differences in cognitive, physical and mental abilities. I felt I was stitching my passion for mental health and well-being back into design.

At be-kin, I meld my experience in accessibility and mental health advocacy to design home, commercial and workspace environments that accommodate different sensory profiles to relax and sustain those who live and work there.

All my residential projects have a home office now but they didn’t before. Covid has fundamentally changed how people think about space. My clients want an area at home where they can work and feel productive, but to then be able to adapt this space or close the door, so that they can transition into a social or relaxation space. We need to think about these environments holistically, like our lives. At be-kin we do things differently, so we can design holistically. We have a plant whisperer who chooses plants based not just on the light, air quality and humidity in a space but also the culture and people who use it. A view to the outside is important to allow people to look away from the screen and stretch their eyes – or artwork with perspective if an outside view isn’t possible. I’m also installing rise and fall desks to help people to incorporate movement into their daily lives, and I love working with colour-changing lights to empower clients to create different sensory environments within the same space, depending on their mood.

White Red Architects and main contractor BW have transformed 12 Henrietta Street into a post-Covid working space. Image Credit: FREDDIE MARRIAGE
White Red Architects and main contractor BW have transformed 12 Henrietta Street into a post-Covid working space. Image Credit: FREDDIE MARRIAGE

Accessibility is not just about wheelchair access. While accommodating people with physical impairments is important, we also need to take neurodiversity into account and create spaces which support people differences in cognitive and sensory profiles. For example, some environments are a complete sensory overload for many people – the lighting, sounds, smells and colours – and they can’t work like that, it reduces their productivity. When we design spaces, we need to think about creating environments that are adaptable to different needs. Covid and an increase in anxiety makes this ever more important.

Wren Loucks, the company’s founder
Wren Loucks, the company’s founder

Just as we understand people’s personalities in residential projects, we should incorporate a business personality in office design. Designers need to get to get under the skin of the client organisation, how they work and how they would like to work, their brand images – just as we do with resi projects. However, in a commercial space it is essential to design in an adaptable way, to incorporate differerences in cognitive, sensory and physical abilities within the space. Otherwise, the organisation runs the risk of exlusion and also creating enviroments where productivity drops.

Colour-changing lights can empower clients to create different sensory environments within the same space, depending on their mood
Colour-changing lights can empower clients to create different sensory environments within the same space, depending on their mood

Businesses need to be sensitive to what people have learned about themselves during the pandemic. We spent a year in isolation and most of us have been quite reflective about that. Many will have recognised that they are more productive doing certain tasks at home. It’s naive to think that things will just go back to how they were before.

People are more intentional about why they come into the office now. Rather than just turning up day in, day out, they’ll come to the office for a reason. Spaces therefore need to be configured to be more task-related – informal collaboration, formal meetings, focused work, socialising, team-building.

be-kin has a plant whisperer who chooses plants based not just on the light, air quality and humidity in a space but the culture and people who use it
be-kin has a plant whisperer who chooses plants based not just on the light, air quality and humidity in a space but the culture and people who use it

Tomorrow’s workplaces will borrow more from hotel design than ever before. More and more businesses are going to opt for a different space model, that is task related but also links in social activities with workplace activities. Head offices will be seen as more of a destination workplace with a range of other work and social environments, from cinema spaces to bars and restaurants. This will be complemented by a mix of adaptable spaces, designed with the task in mind, to optimise creativity and productivity. I hope we will see a better link to nature in design, as biophilia and being closer to nature has the ability to decrease cortisol levels and anxiety – which we know has increased as a result of Covid. If staff feel a sense of well-being in their workplace environment, they will perform better.








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