Sometimes in business, tough decisions can lead to a completely new direction – and a different way of working. For Paula Benson and her partner Paul West, this involved a brand new home office for their design and branding studio. We caught up with her to find out more…
So, what happened that led to you building a home studio for your business?
My partner in life and business, Paul West, and I have run Form, a busy and fast paced design and branding studio working in music, entertainment, events and fashion for over two decades. With the help of employees and a sizeable London office studio, we won awards and lectured about design around the world. However, after over two decades of working long days and frequent weekends, managing staff, keeping on top of fast moving technology and diminishing budgets, all whilst still trying to remain creative and fulfilled meant we were left rather frazzled and in need of new directions.
We decided we needed to shake things up a bit and have a big rethink. So we made a very big (and scary) decision: After a year’s planning, we rented out our studio, waved sad goodbyes to all our staff, and decided to take a sabbatical.
It didn’t quite turn out like that though. We continued to be asked to work on some fantastic design and branding projects, such as the rebranding of Latitude Festival and Abbey Road Studios and being the design workaholics we are, we continued to work from home, just the two of us. It transpired we loved this new way of working so decided to reconfigure four main rooms of our apartment to allow us to permanently work from home – starting with the conversion of our main bedroom into a home studio.
These changes meant we could also change the whole way we worked - no commutes, no need to take on projects we didn’t find stimulating just to pay the overheads and it freed up time to work on personal projects from this new HQ. As well as the two of us continuing challenging and high profile Form projects such as the redesign of V Festival, I launched Film and Furniture, the online resource which discusses furniture, décor and homeware in films and shows our avid readers where to find those pieces for themselves. I am very passionate about it. Paul developed his love of painting and drawing and quickly began exhibiting and selling around the world. After years of working mainly in digital Paul was eager to incorporate some more expressive mark making in his creative output.
What were the most important decisions you had to make about the studio?
Turning a bedroom into a practical and pleasing office, with two large desk areas, storage, books, a break out meeting area, a sofa bed (so the room could also be used as an occasional guest room) and a hulking printer to accommodate meant we needed to make damn good use of space.
We designed and had made cupboards, shelving and desks in white (converting our former bedroom wardrobes into storage by having the dark wood doors cut down to make shelves and adding new white doors to create more space and light). We added bi-fold doors to the garden which also creates more sense of space and it's a treat to look out onto greenery when in the midst of work. We also installed a floating shelf which traverses the whole circumference of the room to house our vinyl toy collection from travels around the world, and also made space for turntables and Pauls sizeable vinyl collection.
However, converting our bedroom into a studio meant changing around all the other rooms too - creating a new main bedroom from a small guest room and a dressing room/guest room from a small box room. It was a lot of work!
How has the home studio affected your life and your business?
Creating a home studio has been life changing. We’ve ended up running three businesses rather than one, but we both love the stimulation of learning new things, facing new challenges and, above all, working flexible hours. You’ll often find us on Hampstead Heath walking our new addition Poppy the dog on Monday mornings if the weather turns out fine and at our laptops until 10pm or Sunday afternoons instead. We work from home, from the local café, on the train, from a caravan in Northumberland - we even redesigned a website from a beach side café in Greece.
We were concerned at first that some clients might not take us seriously working from home but that’s turned out to be completely unfounded. Clients and suppliers love coming round for meetings and we run 'brand bust’ workshops from our lounge.
We miss having staff and help of course. We’re always juggling a hundred things but that just seems to be who we are!
The addition of a dog to the fold as been pivotal – Paul has wanted one for many years but working from home meant there was no excuse! The dog walks create some essential division between work and leisure – coming back to the studio after a morning walk feels like going into work. Coming back after the evening walk feels like coming home. Otherwise I think we’d never move from our desks!
We also feel much more in touch and linked to our local community, something that always felt missing when life involved dashing out to another area for work and coming home late. The local park has proved to be hotbed of networking too! We’ve met all sorts of fascinating people and also several new clients.