Well-designed work spaces now offer the comforts of home

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An open-concept shared workspace with four sit/stand desks encourages people to bounce creative ideas off each other

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Natasha Penzo wanted the Leslieville design studio she opened earlier this year to inspire visiting clients — mostly residential design — in a relaxed and homey setting.

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So the co-founder of Urban Blueprint set about turning a tired, closed-off Airbnb that came with six longer-term rental units into a street-level fixture the neighbourhood now walks by, engages with, and enjoys.

Redesign began with blowing the front of the building out into a storefront that embraces sidewalk life. In warmer weather, black-framed sliding doors open to a parade of people with strollers, friendly exchanges, and occasional barking dog.

In every season, locals drop by to say hello, or to co-ordinate logistics for area events like the winter festival Wunderlust happening November 18 and 19. If you’re in Toronto for it, Urban Blueprint is doing gingerbread houses.

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Inside, handsome tub chairs and a coffee table tucked cozily under the window look more like an open invitation to curl up and read/scroll than an office reception area.

Lower local building density means the spot gets good light; decorative and pot lighting are rarely turned on. Not surprisingly, this corner has become a frequent working perch for those creating content.

At home, it’s relatively easy to design space that functions for both work and hanging out. Focus on comfortable, flexible seating — swivel chairs, for example, can face inward or out. Pick a spot with natural light if possible and/or invest in task lighting. Add an electrical outlet if needed.

Thoughtful décor mostly echoes the earthy neutrals of the building’s beautiful exposed brick. Colour and shape are layered in with wall art and sculpture from the local gallery of Emily Harding, including exceptionally fine pieces by Canadian sculptor Gord Smith.

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An affordable way to add sculptural shapes to home-office décor is to shop local galleries, craft fairs, and thrift sales and buy only from a specific category, like black ceramic vases or amber glass. Group for a collected look, or distribute as accents to tie a space together.

Art and accessories change according to season or mood, a practice Penzo admits is made easier by her access to an inventory room of samples, sales product, and items used in a sister home-staging business.

These visually-interesting, ever-evolving vignettes also serve as backdrop for social media, a design feature that’s increasingly important for home-based content creators. “(The space) really does lend itself to capturing content, whether it’s a marble knot, coffee table books, or a special artist,” says Penzo.

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An open-concept shared workspace with four sit/stand desks encourages people to bounce creative ideas off each other. For distraction-free phone space, there’s a boardroom, and a kitchenette in a warming, moody blue.

Its tone reflects Penzo’s love of saturated colours, which she says clients are embracing. “Even people who aren’t doing an entire room are turning to darker and more exciting colours for, say, on the island. And in about 90 per cent of our clients’ homes, we are painting the doors black or navy,” she says.

Here, on the back wall of the common work room, floor-to-ceiling cabinets in dark blue are balanced by a short flight of stairs leading to a black door with glass inserts.

Elsewhere, a powder room isn’t an explosion of colour, but it is a symphony of pattern, tone, and texture. For more on it, go to www.aroundthehouse.ca

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The space has potential as a pop-up for partner brands, suggests Penzo, who’s considering showcasing suppliers the company admires and works with. Or maybe holding private parties. Or making room for more art collaborations and exhibitions.

“We’re surrounded by great retailers and restaurants who share our passions and our values,” says Penzo. “And the community here is really strong. People take care of each other, are interested in each other. So there are a lot of possibilities.”

Vicky Sanderson is the editor of Around the House, www. aroundthehouse. ca. Check her out on Instagram@ athwithvicky, Twitter ATHwithVicky and or Facebook.com/ATHVicky.ca.

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