Kelly Robinson’s spiritual design approach to workspaces
Designing for companies like Airbnb, SoundCloud and Headspace, Kelly Robinson shares her holistic approach to workspace design.
Kelly Robinson is driven by her views on humanity along nature and space. With successful projects across the workspace design sector, she understands the need of humans to be in a nurturing space.
Her designs demonstrate her passion for nature and her strong spirituality, resulting in well-balanced, open spaces. Her vision for the future is positive on changing the way we treat the world, thus involves having a loving heart, a meticulous eye, and fiery ambition.
Who is Kelly Robinson? How did your journey into workspace design begin?
Kelly Robinson: “My journey into workspace design was an unconventional one, which began in 2008, while I was working as a stewardess on a private yacht in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. Living and working on the yacht was a version of design school.
It taught me how to set space in different ways depending on the kind of interaction one wants to curate. It taught me how to design in a way that optimizes for efficiency, without clutter, and without wasting a single square foot.
It also taught me the importance of how to maintain a space, choosing materials wisely and making sure to have storage systems that work. Seeing space through that lens in my early twenties, I travelled to more than 40 countries and continued to receive design inspiration from different cultures and places around the world.
I collected thousands of impressions of what I saw and where I stayed and developed a passion for the connection between our inner world and the outer world. Then, I landed a job among the first ten employees at Airbnb, and quickly took on the role of mothering the company.
That included managing the design, build-out, and operation of their earliest offices. My experience there launched a career for me that has felt like an unexpected, but very fun design adventure.”
Kelly Robinson: “I have since been lucky to support many pioneering companies like Headspace and Soundcloud among others, often at the early stages as their culture is still largely being shaped.
I work with them to design their corporate headquarters, establish food and waste programs, and create spaces to hold other culturally significant rituals.
Aside from my design work I identify as many things; an environmentalist, a yoga teacher, a birth doula, and a nature nerd. Underneath it all, I’m really just a huge hippie who is endlessly fascinated by the natural world.”
Why Kelly Robinson, why interior and workspace design?
Kelly Robinson: “When I connect my design work with my deeper purpose in life, I see two clear links and goals. The first is around our health and the connection between our inner world and our outer world.
Because our external environment can have such a big impact on how we feel internally, intentional design has become a way for me to help people feel healthier and better.
The second is around the way we treat our planet. The climate crisis has been top of mind for me for years, and I think that the way we live in our homes and workplaces has a huge impact on our Earth.
Designing planet consciousness into spaces that people can see and feel every day raises awareness around this impact. Encouraging better earth stewardship is so important to me, and I often connect that to my work as a designer.”
What if the best solution for a greener office was in your garden? Discover the Workstation Cabin by Hello Wood.
What is the spirit of your design thinking and how do you approach every new project?
Kelly Robinson: “I take a holistic approach to design, and I would even call it a spiritual approach. My intention is to create a sense of oneness for the individual end user and the company at large, reducing hierarchy through spatial design. In my eyes, the most prime real estate (i.e. the best view, lighting, or air quality) should be shared and open to all.
Balance is also a key driver for me. I bring a lot of feminine energy into my work as a designer, which I believe brings balance to companies who are often driven in a masculine way. Spaces that nurture and mother us are needed, especially in fast-paced environments with constant change.”
As a design practice, what are the key aspects of developing projects for workspaces compared to different interior design sectors?
Kelly Robinson: “Honestly, I don’t see workplace design as much different than other sectors, because ultimately human beings are always the end user. Whenever I take on a new design client, the first thing I try to understand is who they are on a human level.
Fundamentally, I believe in a sense of oneness among all humans, but a company typically attracts a group of people who share a similar purpose. Understanding what makes the humans who make up this company unique—what drives them, what lights them up, what their stories and beliefs are—this is really the design differentiator.
Obviously the level of “professionalism” and needs of the space will change from sector to sector, but even those I find becoming more and more obsolete as time goes on. Hospitality is everywhere. No matter how advanced technology becomes, our basic human needs remain the same.”
You are very immersed in Yoga, Feng Shui and spirituality, how do all these interests influence your work as a designer?
Kelly Robinson: “My spirituality is the foundation of who I am, so it has a big influence on my design work. One way I could try to explain that influence is by looking at the root of the word “spirit.” Spirit comes from the latin root “spiritus” which means breath, or to breathe.
So on a micro level, what connects all beings (plants, animals, humans) is our spirit, or our breath. When I look at a space to design, I am looking to optimize it so that people can move and breathe.
I am designing so that energy can flow and avoid getting stuck, trapped, or wasted. This means more round spaces, less boxes, more open spaces, less locked doors, more plants, less plastic, more composting and less waste!”
What advice would you give to students and young design studios today who are interested in office design and looking to get their first client?
Kelly Robinson: “Seek out clients and companies who align with your values. The best design comes from true passion and heart, and it flows more genuinely when you care about who you are designing a space for.”
Smart working and WFH have recently become widely-adopted habits, how will these change and affect work culture in the long run?
Kelly Robinson: “Even before the onset of the pandemic, I have been predicting that the future workforce will demand much more autonomy around where and how they work. Businesses everywhere have now realized that things can still function when we are not physically present together.
To me, I see the future of the workplace more as a gathering place, rather than a place that hosts people all day every day. I see offices without desks because solo, routine work can be done closer to nature or closer to families.
I think it will be more of a special occasion to go to the workplace, and that they will be designed to support weekly or even monthly gatherings and events, rather than daily work.”
What is the next step for Kelly Robinson?
Kelly Robinson: “I am experiencing a big shift in my work and am so excited about it! With the onset of the pandemic, the design brief of our homes changed overnight. We need them to support us in a completely different way now.
I knew people would struggle being suddenly confined inside, so I began offering free design sessions to support people in quarantine. I was surprised by how much I could help simply by seeing people’s spaces through Zoom, and working directly with women and families felt so natural.
My spiritual side could really bloom on these intimate calls, and the feedback was really meaningful and positive. I was inspired to write a design guide entitled “Where Spirit Meets Space”, and then launched a 28-day program to guide groups of women through the transformation of their homes, which ultimately brought about transformation in many areas of their lives.
I look forward to supporting more people as we shift the way we live in our homes. Workplace will always be my first design baby, but I’m excited about this new path.”
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