Catherine Avery Shows How The Design of Your (Home) Office Can Change Your Business

Catherine AveryI started in Wall Street and I was working for a variety of companies including that large insurance company.  I was working in marketing on the international side and it was fascinating.  I loved working in corporate America.

I always say my design epiphany came about when I was sitting in this cubicle that was bland and boring and located on the main pathway directly next to the area that held the coffee machine, the copier and all of the office supplies.  Because my cubicle was closest to all that, it was the assumption that I was in charge of all that.

I was the marketing manager on an international multi-million dollar project with a lot of responsibilities and the 9pm calls to Asia and the whole nine yards but was frequently asked can you fix the coffee machine?  We have a client coming in and we want some coffee.  The copier isn’t working.  Can you replace the ink?  And all kinds of things like this.

I’m nice and kind by nature but I thought – did you not recognize that I need to turn this out for a major corporate meeting with the heads of all the departments in the next 45 minutes?  I could give a hoot about your coffee.  Please, get your coffee yourself.  In fact ironically I never drank a cup of coffee until I met my husband at age 34 after I left corporate America.  I decided the easiest way to handle the coffee machine was to say – I don’t know.  I don’t drink it.  Very effective.

Anyway, long story short, that was sort of when I realized as I was getting in the design world, that I’m a great designer and I was a great corporate person.  Instead of saying to myself – oh, I’m going to go off and design homes for people.  I realized that my real talents were understanding how a business works and how I could design to support business.

So the design side was an entirely second career.  At age 30-something I met my husband.  I didn’t want to commute anymore.  I didn’t want to go back and forth to Manhattan.  I didn’t want to spend 15 hour days and not see him.

And so as we were getting married, I took some time off to reevaluate what my career choice would be.  I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur.  I knew I wanted to work for myself and I knew it wasn’t going to be Wall Street.

I sat down and evaluated 4 possible careers.  They were Psychology, Graphic Design, Interior Design and Teaching.  They all kind of intermingled now when I think about it and what I do now.  I use a lot of psychology with my clients.  I do a lot of education for people to understand why these things are important.  In the design world and in the graphic design this comes into play because I have to create marketing materials.  I have help for that of course but I have to have the design concept for what I want.

I sat down with several girlfriends and they started laughing and they said – it’s very plain to us what you’re supposed to do.  Take an interior design course.  And I said why do you say that?  And they said well because your hobby for the last eight or ten years has been you buy an apartment, you renovate it and design it, and then you sell it and buy another apartment.  Why don’t you start making money at that?

It was actually a friend who had me come into her office and take a look at her lobby – design epiphany #2 when I realized I should be doing offices – and she said I know you do homes and this and that but really I’m torn.  I don’t know what to do about our lobby.  Can you help me?  I walked in and saw the meeting room and everything clicked into place.

It’s all these things you do in your life and they come and they come and they come and then suddenly everything falls into place.  You say – oh, this is what I’m meant to be doing with my life.  Oh, ok.

One of the things that precipitated the change was having a baby and being home.  During the time that I was home with our newborn I was in design school and we made a choice as a family that I would stay home for a few years.  The first two years of our daughter’s life.  I was in school at that time with some help.  Believe me, there were plenty of nights that I was up until 1am wondering how I was ever going to get up at 6 with the baby.

That was really the transition.  While I was still in design school, when my daughter turned two, I took a part time job with a designer and was learning from that designer.  I would say it was sort of a gradual transition.

I had already left corporate America several years earlier and I had done an entrepreneurial venture trading stocks and I didn’t like it.  The big lesson I learned from that, other than it’s really easy to lose money in the stock market, is that I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur but I knew I absolutely had to be passionate about whatever business I was going to run.  You have to put all your energy, all your time, your heart and soul, your money, your savings, everything into building that business and it’s a commitment.  For me e-trading was something to do.  I didn’t love it.

I love this.  I love servicing the clients.  I love that process of figuring out how do I seat 2 people side by side in a 13×15 office space?  If you’re going to take the plunge into entrepreneurship it has to be something you’re completely passionate about and committed to.

Designing an office can actually change a business.  One example was a company on a small budget and they wanted to redesign their space and they had 12 to 13 people in their office and they were growing and they had 3 years left on their lease.  So they were at that funny point where they didn’t want to invest a ton of money into painting and whatnot because it wouldn’t make good sense, which is what I advised them so they didn’t paint, but they had to make room for more employees.

So what would happen is that you’d walk into the main lobby area and there was no desk or anything.  There was just this empty underutilized space and I said – why don’t you have a reception desk?  And so now instead of management being interrupted every 5 minutes by the UPS delivery or whatnot, they have an intern sitting in there who takes care of all that.  Their productivity is increasing.  When your productivity increases your profitability increases.

I also created an underutilized conference room.  They weren’t using it.  They had an accountant working in one section of that conference room and she needed privacy and space so everyone gave it to her.  No one ever used that conference room.

They also had a lot of interns and the interns worked on staggered schedules.  Two came Mondays and Wednesdays.  Two came on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  So I suggested having two desks in that area where the accountant used to be and the interns take turns at the various desks.  So they share that space or desk sharing.

What happens now is that people use the conference room space.  It’s finished, it’s available, they have lunch together, they’re happier together, they enjoy each other.  Another thing we did for them was to create a centralized filing area.

So I work with companies and help them with their processing.  And this is whether you’re a small entrepreneur, one person sitting in your office or whether you have 13 or 15 employees.  In this instance there were 13 employees.

I worked with them to determine that what was happening was they were sharing files but Susan would be working on a file and now Janet needed access to that file but it was left in Susan’s office.  Every time she needed it she had to go to Susan’s office to get it.  So two things are happening.  One you’re wasting time walking to get the file and two, you’re interrupting someone else’s work.  So I created a centralized filing area for them.  This streamlined their processes and just on Fridays alone when they were all having to file paperwork – I set it up so an intern files the paperwork.  That saved 6 or 7 employees an hour every Friday – just buy that one centralization and rethinking the process.

They’re ecstatic because they’re saving time.  Saving time equals money.

For someone just starting out, this is what I recommend.  By the way, I love working with entrepreneurs because so many of them are sitting on a sofa with their laptop frustrated out of their minds.  A lot of them are working moms and have kids running everywhere and cats and dogs.  They have other responsibilities.  The mailman is ringing the doorbell.

The first thing is to think about carving out a space for yourself.  I’m really a big fan of saying – you’re worthy of that space and what I call that is sacred space.  It means that your work should be so important to you that you have a space for it.  People will say – I’m in an apartment.  I don’t have room.

I just created an office space for someone who is in the living room.  They’re in a small apartment.  She has no choice but to have her desk in the living area but I synthesized it in such a way that it makes sense but it’s also a separate space for her.  A piece of artwork, you can put up a screen that you can take down at night.  During the day you have the screen that you can put up for some privacy.

You really need to think about where you have your own space for you.  I’ve designed one in a closet where I’ve opened up a closet and put a whole office in there, shelving and the whole nine yards.  Basements, guest bedrooms.  A lot of people don’t use their dining rooms.  If you’re not using a room for what it’s intended for, use it for something else.  What’s the big deal?  Who said we have to have houses with individualized dining rooms?

I think when you bring somebody from the outside who has a third party perspective and so they see your space differently.  And it’s like you said – your friends all see the career that’s right for you.  Sometimes if you bring in a professional they can see something that you’re just not seeing because quite frankly you’re busy running your business.  You don’t have time to think where you’re going to it.  You need to get that proposal right now so you can pay the bills, have your marketing, etc.  That’s why it’s great to bring in a pro and have someone else take a look.

Can I tell you another story?  So I just worked with a couple.  They run an amazing company called Love and Passion.  They were very unhappy because she was sitting where she was facing his back.  And they wanted to be sitting where they could see each other.  And so when I worked with them, and I worked with them virtually meaning via skype.  I recreated their work space for them so they are actually sitting side by side.

They’re Love and Passion coaches so that means they are relationship coaches.  There office space had to support who they are as a brand and their company and in their personal relationship, right?  So can you kind of visualize that?  Can you see how not looking at one another would upset the balance in the office space and not be supportive?

They’re so incredibly happy and they’ve been able to take that office space and make it about their personality.  And they’ve done that through, and these are some strategies for you just as I’m telling the story, she loves color.  The walls are a vibrant yellow.  You might now want that much color.  Accessories.  Gosh there are so many resources for reasonably priced accessories.  Home Goods or Target you can get some really great things that reflect who you are.

My brand is red.  What color do you think all of my brand accessories are?  Believe me, they’re all red.  It’s so amazing.  I love it.  Every time I go in there it reminds me of my brand.  A lot of my brand is about bringing this idea of the sacred in and zen to my space.  So what do I have in my space?  I have great quotes, a photograph my cousin took in the evening of a moon with all the stars.  Very meaningful.

My logo is about the moon gate.  The moon gate in Chinese is symbolic for the moon, for the feminine, for the divine.  The moon gate is how you enter into the garden so back in the day the nobles had these gardens where they would gather to have tea, to talk about literature, to talk about philosophy, to play music.

So of course one of the things I have in my office is a wonderful photograph of the moon gate.  When I walk into my office, my office is aligned to who I am and what I believe in – my brand.  There’s small ways that you can do that.  You can buy posters.  You don’t have to break the bank to get a great design.

Let me recap.  Getting a space, setting up a desk, get a really good chair (that’s where you’re going to spend some money), and accessorize in a way that uplifts you.  It doesn’t really matter that no one is coming to your office.  I hear that excuse all the time and I understand it.  No one’s coming to my office.  What does it matter?  It matters for you.  You’re going to feel more productive.  You’re going to feel more excited about your business.  You’re going to feel more passionate about your business if you’re walking into a space that supports you.

I use color in terms of how it affects moods.  There are entire courses on color psychology – some of which I’ve taken.  I’ll give you the down to earth basics.  Warm colors (reds, oranges, yellows) are vibrant and happy and they lift you up and they get you excited.  They sort of rev you up.

Cool colors – calm colors – blues and greens are calming.  They keep you feeling relaxed and harmonious.  Interestingly you can get into the color psychology from country to country.  In the US the favorite color is blue.  That might not be the case in Asia where I believe the favorite color is red.  It’s even cultural.  You know there are so many elements, there are so many things that go into making a great design.  Color is a huge part of it and so that’s why I say if you’re afraid of using color start with some accessories and see how it goes before you jump into painting the walls.

I use feng shui principles in my designs and  I am currently in the process of studying it because it really aligns with who I am and what I believe in and how to align a space.  Interestingly I was talking to an architect and he said to me – let’s face it.  Feng shui is good design.  It’s about having your desk facing the door.  Now in feng shui there’s a whole lot more to that.  There’s the power position, where your desk should be, etc.  Why should you be facing the door?  Well one you’re facing out towards abundance to things coming into your life.  And two, let’s face it, do you really like it when someone walks up behind you and startles you because you’re not looking at the door?  That’s good design.

I’m fascinated by feng shui.  There’s so much to learn.  I feel like I’m constantly learning new things.

Favorite Book: Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture by:  Sally Augustin

Want to get a free audiobook version of the book recommended by this week’s guest?  Click here to download it.


Resource: ; Google Drive

See Catherine’s top tips for those thinking of leaving the corporate paycheck to start their own business, here:

Catherine Avery - Interior DesignerGuest: Catherine Avery – Resovate Office Design

Resovate Office Design is passionate about helping our clients improve productivity and increase profitability through the design of innovative and creative environments that resonate with your clients and employees. We believe that it’s not just about your design, it’s about your business. It’s about creating a functional, productive, harmonious experience that leads to the success and well being of you, your clients and your employees. We collaborate with you to design to your needs, wants, and most importantly to your aspirations.


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