HOW TO DESIGN AN OFFICE THAT IMPROVES STAFF HAPPINESS

The way we work is changing and, in response, so too is office design. As employees start seeking meaningful work and employers begin to focus on metrics like staff wellbeing and job satisfaction, we are seeing workplace design become more considered and inviting. 

The average Australian puts in almost 41 hours of work each week. That’s a substantial amount of time, so it makes sense that the design of an office will affect whether an employee wants to work for an organisation. In the report The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace, a third of respondents said that office design affects their decision when accepting or declining a job. For many people, a well-designed office is not only a pleasant space to work, it also assures them that the organisation cares about its staff. 

So how can you make your workplace more conducive to staff happiness and productivity? One way is through biophilic design – a principle of integrating natural elements into the built environment. Research compiled in The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace found that the calming presence of elements such as plants, natural materials and sunlight helps employees to better cope with stress and pressure, in turn improving their productivity. 

The report found that plants and other natural elements had the following impacts on staff: 

  • Creativity improves by 15% 

  • Productivity increases by 6%

  • Wellbeing is reported to increase by 15%

To show you ways to introduce more greenery into your office, we have put together ideas from inspiring workplaces around the world. 

Install a green wall

Image via Inhabitat

Image via Inhabitat

At Airbnb’s head office in San Francisco, an impressive 1,226 sq ft green wall has been installed in the main atrium, creating a living piece of art. The green wall scales three floors of the office, while the design of the atrium allows natural light to filter in. The sets a calming tone as staff and visitors enter the office and the green wall can be viewed from many of the workspaces and meeting rooms within the building. 

Related reading: Vertical gardening – the ultimate spacesaver

Add potted plants to the office

Image via designboom, photography by Toshikyuki Yano and Michael Feather

Image via designboom, photography by Toshikyuki Yano and Michael Feather

One of the simplest ways to introduce greenery to an office is using potted plants. In Tokyo, the office of tech company LivePerson cleverly uses plants as a way to break up the space. The office is located in a single room and rather than building walls or dividers, the company allows its staff to arrange the office as they please. All of the furniture and plants can be easily moved, which gives the organisation greater flexibility to rearrange the office as the team grows. 

 

Use natural colours and materials  

Image via Breathe Architecture, photography by Peter Clarke

Image via Breathe Architecture, photography by Peter Clarke

When international tech company Slack set up its new Melbourne office, they called upon Breathe Architecture to create an inviting workspace. The abundance of plants adds a sense of serenity to the space, which is complemented by a green and grey colour palette and the use of natural materialssuch as recycled timber. The effect is incredibly calming, with employees reporting that the workspace has a Zen feel to it. To ensure that the effects of the design are not disturbed, employees are required to take phone calls in meeting rooms, rather than at their desks in the open-plan work area. 

 

Embrace natural vistas

Image via Inhabitat, photography by Iwan Baan

Image via Inhabitat, photography by Iwan Baan

If your office has a view out to trees, parks, water or another natural setting, make this a focal point of its design. In Spain, architecture firm SelgasCano has fully embraced this design idea, building its office in the woods of Madrid. The glass wall takes full advantage of this natural setting, providing views out to the forest floor and allowing sunlight into the office. This design means that artificial lighting isn’t necessary during the day, which reduces the company’s power costs and makes the office more sustainable. 

 

Choose low-maintenance plants 

Image via designboom, photography by Peter Clark

Image via designboom, photography by Peter Clark

When it comes to choosing plants for an office, it’s wise to select hardy indoor plants that can handle the conditions of artificial lighting and ventilation. Birkenstock in Melbourne is a great example of this, where mother-in-law's tongue/snake plant is used throughout its new office. These plants are easy to care for and don’t like too much water, which means less upkeep is necessary. The repetition of this plant creates a calming effect and is a pleasant way to divide each workspace. 

Related reading: Biophilic design at work – why we need greener offices

We believe in giving credit where credit is due, so if at any time you see work that is improperly recognised, please send us a quick note & we’ll gladly update the information. Thanks for inspiring us!

HOW TO CHOOSE OUTDOOR ART

Taking art outside is one of the most exciting ways to add character to an outdoor space. Outdoor art can range from large installations to more subtle pieces, and there are many ways to incorporate it into a garden, courtyard or balcony.

Image via Living Green

Image via Living Green

When choosing outdoor art, there are two things to consider: balance within the outdoor area and your own taste. Art is a very personal decision and there is no right or wrong when it comes to selecting a piece. With that said, you should consider the size and scale of a piece and where it will go in a garden. A well-chosen piece of art captures attention without detracting from other elements in the space.

In the image above, the rusted metal has an earthy feel that works well with the aesthetic of the space, and its scale complements the height of the trees and smaller plants. The shape is also important, as a piece with harsh lines or angles would have created too much contrast with the organic shapes of the path and planting scheme.

Whether large or small, a piece of art becomes a natural focal point in the garden, so your first step should be to identify where you want to position it. Then consider the following:

  • Look for pieces that will reference the colours or forms of your home or nearby architecture.

  • Ensure the piece is in proportion with the surrounding plants or built surfaces.

  • Consider how the shape of the art will contrast with the rest of the garden.

One thing to consider is that outdoor art doesn’t have to be art in the traditional sense. Using natural materials such as the basalt obelisk below is a great way to create form and function that is in sync with the flow of the space. Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden in Sydney is a great example of outdoor art positioned so that it feels like part of the natural landscape.

Image via The Small Garden

Image via The Small Garden

Less is more

Both of these pieces are subtle, yet they have the right amount of impact for their respective settings. The soft curve and colouration of the empty urn is an ideal complement to an unstructured planting scheme, while the form of the rock sculpture lends itself to a more structured style of design. The use of a white sculpture in front of a white wall is an interesting choice that carries on the more formal aesthetic of this space.

In both of these gardens, the surrounding plants frame the art and each piece of art is the right height and scale for its immediate setting. When positioning art in planted settings like these, choose evergreen plants to maintain year-round impact. Plants like grasses are ideal for complementing art that has movement to it, while more structured plants like hedges will bring form to a structured garden or more traditional piece of art.

 

Small space outdoor art

In small spaces such as balconies and rooftops, there are ways to integrate without sacrificing functional living space. Wall art is a simple addition for these spaces, but there are also other ways you can transform common garden elements into artistic features.

This small courtyard is another great example of less in more. The large potted tree adds height and scale to the space, which contrasts well with the metallic vessel and stools. The stools are not only functional, but they also become sculptural pieces when not in use. In spaces like this where there is a direct connection to an indoor space, positioning the art so that it is visible from inside is a great way to get more enjoyment from it.

Image via Architizer

Image via Architizer

On this rooftop in New York, the designers have cleverly transformed the built surface into a sculptural feature. This is a great solution for small outdoor areas, where you may not have the floor or wall to accommodate a piece of art. Likewise, this retaining wall is another clever example of how you can transform built surfaces into sculptural focal points.

Image via Archello

Image via Archello

This is a simple idea for a small space that transforms a potted plant into an artistic element come nightfall. If you spend a lot of time in your space during the evening, lighting an existing feature is a simple way to make a statement. This works best when the feature has a unique or striking form. If you do invest in outdoor art, lighting is something to think about when you install it, so that you can continue to enjoy it after dark.

 

Positioning art

Image via Amazon

Image via Amazon

When positioning a piece of art, place it in a spot where it won’t be competing for attention. Generally speaking, art should be allowed to stand on its own and if you do have multiple pieces, try to scatter them around the garden so they can be ‘discovered’ and admired individually. With this said, repetition does work well for pieces that are visually similar, such as the water features above or a series of sculptures that form a collection.

This tactic works in both small and large outdoor areas and is especially effective in spaces such as entrance gardens, where the art pieces can be arranged to lead people towards the building.  

We believe in giving credit where credit is due, so if at any time you see work that is improperly recognised, please send us a quick note & we’ll gladly update the information. Thanks for inspiring us!

YOUR TOP QUESTIONS ANSWERED: BALCONIES

Have you ever wondered if you could be doing more with your balcony or if it has the right furnishings? Recently we have noticed that homeowners have the same questions on their mind, so we have launched a new blog series where we share answers to the questions we are most commonly asked. To get you inspired to embrace your outdoor space, we are starting with balconies.

Image + design Terrasses Des Oliviers

Image + design Terrasses Des Oliviers

1. Help … what should I do with my balcony?

Let’s start this one with what you shouldn’t do with your balcony, and that is to use it only as a place for hanging laundry! Your balcony should enhance your lifestyle and ways to use it include lounging and entertaining, or as a balcony garden. There are a few things to consider with this question, so we have broken the answer down into individual tips.

Shift your mindset

The best way to see the potential of your balcony is to reframe your thinking. We often meet people who can only see what they can’t do with their balcony rather than what’s possible. In most situations, however, you can achieve your goals, just on a smaller scale. For example, if you want to grow your own produce, it may not be possible to have a veggie patch, but you can have a raised herb garden and even some potted citrus trees. Start small, focus on the opportunities and you will feel less overwhelmed.

Ask the right questions

The question to ask yourself is this: ‘What do I actually want to use my outdoor space for?’ It is important to think about this carefully – unlike other outdoor areas, it is more than likely that your balcony will only be able to serve a single purpose.

It often happens that people put a barbecue outside because that’s what they think they are supposed to use their balcony for. But if you only use that barbecue a couple of times each summer, you will probably find you will get far more use out of your balcony if you were to put an outdoor sofa there instead and use it as a space for relaxing.

As you are defining the purpose of the balcony, sketch the shape of your space on a notepad and work out how each part of the space will be used – this will help you to understand what’s achievable.

Get the planning right

Another reason that homeowners neglect their balconies is that they are put off by a lack of shelter, shade or privacy. Look at the size and aspect of your space and start to consider how you can address these issues (with respect to any body corporate regulations that may apply to your building). Thinking about these issues will make the space more liveable year round.

If you want to cultivate your own garden, you will need to be mindful that balconies are often exposed to more elements, such as wind and heat. Understanding which plants will tolerate these conditions will ensure the success of your balcony garden. When space is limited, you can integrate greenery by using hanging planters or installing a vertical garden. Not sure what to plant? Our list of top balcony plants features hardy plants that like being potted and don’t mind the heat and wind.

Less is more

Showing restraint is the key to creating a functional space. Cluttering a balcony will make it feel smaller and could inhibit the flow of movement between indoor and outdoor areas. This comes down to the furniture you choose – look for slimline pieces that will fit comfortably in the space.

When considering the decor, consider taking cues from your interiors to ensure there is continuity between the spaces. A sense of cohesiveness is an important part of feeling comfortable when you move between your indoor and outdoor spaces.

2. Will spending money on my outdoor space add value to my home?

In a nutshell – yes. But investing in your outdoor area won’t just add value to your property, it will also improve your health and lifestyle.

When you purchase a property, you are paying for every square metre, so it makes sense to utilise the balcony space you have. Doing so creates an outdoor room that maximises the liveability of your home, in turn elevating your lifestyle.

There is a growing body of research showing the positive connections between plants and people. When we have more contact with plants and the outdoors, stress lowers and this has a positive impact on both physical and mental health. So by investing in your outdoor space, you are making a commitment to improving your lifestyle as a whole. 

Image Design + Image Anthony Wyer 

Image Design + Image Anthony Wyer 

3. Should I invest in new outdoor furniture?

Whether to purchase new furniture or use what you have depends upon a number of factors. We understand that investing in furniture can be a significant expense, but if your furniture is too large for the space, it can be one of the reasons why you may not use your balcony as often as you would like.

This is generally the case for people who are downsizing from a larger home into an apartment. In these situations, it is often best to start again and invest in the best quality outdoor furniture that your budget will allow. Look for lightweight pieces, UV-resistant outdoor fabrics and furnishings that suit the scale of the space you have.

This is a good opportunity to rethink how you use your balcony. If you don’t have space for a full dining setting, for example, you may choose to purchase bar seating or a small outdoor lounge instead. Or you may even decide to build-in furnishings such as bench seating with storage, as this is a great way to maximise space.

When it comes to pots, once again quality is important. Heavy are generally not suitable on a balcony, as they retain more heat. Look for lightweight pots and use good quality soil and agents like Wettasoil so your plants don’t go thirsty. If you have large plants, put them on wheels so you can move them around to suit seasonal conditions.

Image + design The Small Garden

Image + design The Small Garden

Have a question for us?

Over the coming months we will be sharing more advice on courtyards, rooftops and plant selection – so if there’s something you would like to ask us, we’d love to hear from you! Email info@thesmallgarden.com.au or tag us on Instagram

We believe in giving credit where credit is due, so if at any time you see work that is improperly recognised, please send us a quick note & we’ll gladly update the information. Thanks for inspiring us!

WHAT IS EDESIGN AND HOW DOES IT WORK

You may have heard that we launched an eDesign service last year. And you may or may not know what eDesign is. Whatever camp you fall into, we thought we’d take the opportunity to explain how we can design an outdoor area without even stepping foot inside your space.

There is a big difference between designing outdoor and indoor spaces. When nature gets involved, the stakes of getting it wrong are much higher. But if you are reading this and picturing your own neglected outdoor space, you already know that.

That’s why we created The Small Garden four years ago and it’s also the reason why we decided to launch an online design service. Our eDesign service works similarly to our standard design practice, but it’s faster and more accessible. It also means that we can now work with people right across Australia and around the world!

eDesign works for a number of spaces, including:

One of the biggest advantages of eDesign is that once we send your design plans, you can then take the installation at your own pace. Depending on the complexity of the design, you might tackle some parts of it yourself and then let a local tradesperson handle the rest. This gives you so much more flexibility without compromising the integrity of the design.

How it works

We have created a process that is simple for you you. After you contact us, we send you a questionnaire about your space and what you would like to do with it. This questionnaire is an extremely valuable part of the process, as it gives you an opportunity to organise your thoughts and ideas, and often leads to greater clarity about what you really want. You then return this to us with images and measurements of your space, as well as images of outdoor areas that inspire you.

Once we have this essential information, we meet you via phone or video chat. In this session we ask the same questions as an on-site consultation, in order to really get to know you and the personality you want to inject into the space. We also discuss design challenges and any specific requirements you have.

This part is really exciting because it lets us understand your world and the role the outdoor space will play within it. After this, we prepare a design outline for you and then start working on the design plan. This plan shows you the full potential of your area and has everything you need to bring it to life – from a 3D design plan to planting guides, landscaping notes and material recommendations, we cover it all.

edesign2.jpg

Why it works

Outdoor spaces can present a number of challenges – uneven surfaces, lack of storage and no shade are just some of the issues involved in outdoor design. At The Small Garden we have seen it all: dark outdoor spaces, tiny gardens and over-exposed rooftops. That means we don’t need to visit your space to offer design solutions – we already know what works from experience.

But while we don’t meet you in person, we still get to know you through phone, video chat and email. This is a vitally important part of the process that we take our time with. Once we know you, your personality and your lifestyle, we are able to create a custom design plan that mirrors your vision.

We tell you everything you need to know, including plants that will thrive in your area, styling ideas and which materials to use for durability and minimal maintenance. We also show you how to make your space function properly – that could mean adding more storage, creating zones or considering where to install lighting and shade.

So no matter where you are, we now have the opportunity to work together to transform your outdoor space. This is hugely exciting and if it’s something you’d like to know more about, send us an email and we will provide you with an eDesign Service Kit. 

ENTRANCE GARDEN DESIGN IDEAS THAT WILL TRANSFORM YOUR SPACE

Set the tone for your home or business with an inviting entrance garden. No matter your style or how much space you have, there are plenty of ways to infuse greenery into every entrance space.

It’s amazing the difference an entrance garden makes to a building. Whether it’s a home, apartment block, retail space or standalone business, the welcoming touch of greenery makes the setting more appealing to both you and your visitors. Even a low-maintenance garden or a potted plant can have a dramatic impact.

Why entrance gardens matter

Entrance gardens at home are a calming welcome, especially at the end of the day. And in residential settings such as apartments, it's often the case that the entrance garden is the only greenery in the building. Financially, the advantage of a well-maintained entrance garden is enhanced street appeal. We all know that first impressions count and this is especially important if you want to sell, attract tenants or add value to a property.

For businesses, the impact of an entrance garden goes beyond aesthetics. Research has found that consumers will go out of their way to shop at stores with greenery. In professional environments, the presence of plants has been linked with lower stress levels and improved productivity.

Be inspired to inject more greenery into your space with these entrance garden ideas.  

1. Use a statement feature

Images L to R via Glamour Drops, Designer: Sue Carr x Paul Bangay and The Small Garden

Images L to R via Glamour Drops, Designer: Sue Carr x Paul Bangay and The Small Garden

As entrance gardens are typically small, a single focal point is sufficient and can be used to add depth and impact. In these spaces, simple greenery and hedging adds presence to the sculptural elements without being overwhelming or distracting. The use of lighting underneath the urn is a fantastic way to enhance its impact, while the creeping fig on the wall behind it softens the entrance and is a space-saving way to add more plant life to the entry. In the Queenslander home, the presence of a plant beside the front door ensures there is continuity between the front garden and entry to the home.  

2. Reference the building’s architecture

This garden perfectly complements the architecture of the home. Large offset in situ concrete pads give prominence to this front entrance and bring the architectural lines of the house into the garden. Like the gardens above, the restraint shown with planting ensures the entry isn’t overwhelming, and the use of the cloud tree makes the perfect statement. When planning an entrance garden, choose a single feature plant or sculpture and surround it with smaller mass-planted plants.

3. Offset white walls with greenery

Image via Estilos Deco Photographer: Mark Roper, Stylist: Glen Proebstel

Image via Estilos Deco Photographer: Mark Roper, Stylist: Glen Proebstel

Plants are the ideal way to bring an all-white space to life. The choice of plants and pots in this space creates a boho feel that sets the tone to the home (though you could also use a more structured approach if you want to set a more formal tone). The plants are all low maintenance and their height adds further scale to the space. Details including the pot and white rocks in the garden bed show attention to detail and create continuity throughout the small space.

4. Create an unstructured look  

Image via Gardenista, Designer: Mark Tessier Landscape Architecture, Photographer: Art Gray

Image via Gardenista, Designer: Mark Tessier Landscape Architecture, Photographer: Art Gray

With an off-form concrete path and use of grasses and water, this entrance sets a relaxing and highly inviting tone. The size of the path ensures the space doesn’t feel overgrown, and the raised water ponds are calming additions that add height. Like many of the gardens we have featured here, the planting is simple but effective. Using grasses in a space like this is a great way to enhance the calming effect of the trees.

5. Add definition with pots and coloured doors

Images L to R via The Small Garden and Away in Style, Designer: Stuart Membery

Images L to R via The Small Garden and Away in Style, Designer: Stuart Membery

When planning an entrance garden, consider how you can add impact with existing features such as doors. In these two spaces, two symmetrical pots frame coloured doors. This draws attention to a key feature of the entrance while also softening the space with greenery. The pots have also been carefully chosen to complement the overall aesthetic of the entrance and the building’s architecture. The great thing about the simplicity of these entrances is that they are low maintenance. This scheme is also a great idea for businesses with limited entry space and/or time for upkeep.

6. Use screens and plants for privacy

In small spaces such as apartments and townhouses, the entrance to the home is often your only piece of outdoor space. In this outdoor area, screens and plants have been used to create privacy and bring structure to the space. The bamboo adds a sense of lusciousness and is ideal for this small space, as it grows vertically and doesn’t become too bushy. The timber slats still allow breeze and light to filter through, while the use of different paving styles adds texture and interest.

7. Integrate steps into the design

Images L to R via Dwell Designer: Tary Arterburn of Studio Outside, Photographer: Arien Kennedy and HomeDSGN Designer: Tim Davies Landscaping

Images L to R via Dwell Designer: Tary Arterburn of Studio Outside, Photographer: Arien Kennedy and HomeDSGN Designer: Tim Davies Landscaping

These gardens are two very different styles, but they are both elegant solutions for dealing with the raised entry of the homes. The floating platforms on the right become a sculptural point of focus that is softened by the plants. Additional focal points are kept to minimum in this space and the lighting not only adds ambience at night, but is also an important safety consideration for steps and uneven surfaces. In the space on the left, the large rush plants disguise the raised area behind them and soften the hard surfaces. The earthy tones are subtle and the ideal complement to the greenery.

Practical considerations for entrance gardens

To ensure your garden is functional as well as inviting, ask yourself the following questions in the planning process:

  • What style of architecture is my building or home and what style of garden will complement this?

  • Are there other gardens on the property and how can the entrance make reference to these?

  • How much time can I dedicate to looking after the garden?

  • Where do elements such as paths and steps need to go?

  • What other practical considerations need to be thought through? This will ensure your plan accommodates elements such as storage, bins, taps, lighting, watering systems, etc.

Get even more garden design ideas in our free ebook, Small Spaces, Big Ideas.

We believe in giving credit where credit is due, so if at any time you see work that is improperly recognised, please send us a quick note & we’ll gladly update the information. Thanks for inspiring us!