Making the change from a permanent desk at the office to a work-from-home desk requires a bit of transition unless you already work from home. For the most part, I’m not talking about those people in today’s post. When it was decided that my office would send everyone home and start this “work from home” period with enthusiasm, we were a little unsure how long this period would last.
Two weeks maybe?
I think we all know better now and it looks as though this current pandemic situation is going to keep a lot of us away from our permanent work environments and working at some make-shift office setups. I don’t know about the rest of you but for the first few days, I worked while sitting on the couch, or if I’m being completely transparent, from my bed. I wasn’t actually under the covers like some lunatic, I was perched on top of a fully made bed … because I had nowhere else to go. My wife took over the office years ago, my daughter has a whole desk/cabinetry thing built into her bedroom, and I had my pick of the kitchen counter, the coffee table in front of the TV (bad idea) or somewhere comfortable like my bed so that’s what I chose.
It worked fine for the first day, felt kinda weird on day two, and by the start of day three I had found a 6′ long folding table and had set up shop in my bedroom. Wasn’t terrible for the most part but for the sake of my back and shoulders, I am thinking about doing a stealth-run up to the office to grab my desk chair. As I was setting up this make-shift workspace, I spent some time thinking about how common it is for people to personalize their workspace in some manner … maybe it’s just to help set the right frame of mind, or maybe it’s a way to find some comfort in an atypical situation that could last for some undetermined length.
So, it was that line of thinking that prompted me to send out a request through my Instagram stories asking people to send me a photo of the most important thing on their desk along with a description of why this thing was important to them. I didn’t give particularly detailed instructions so as to allow people to determine for themselves what they might send along. What I received back was pretty interesting – have a look for yourself but I think it’s only fair that I kick things off by answering the same question I presented to everyone else.
[also, if you see an image or story you like, go ahead and click on either the photo or the person’s name and it’ll bring you to their Instagram account – my way of saying ‘thank you’ to the people who participated.]
Did you know that I have a favorite rock? I’d like to think that since I am an architect, as an extension this means that other architects most likely have a favorite rock as well. Mine happens to be the one to the left side of the image above. I like the white line that runs completely around it but that’s not actually the reason why I like this particular rock – it’s for what this rock represents.
As a rule, architects tend to work a lot and when you write a blog and record a podcast on top of your regular day job as an architect, at times it seems like all you do is work. What this rock represents is the why behind why I work as much as I do. This particular rock was collected on a family vacation taken years ago while I was exploring a coastal edge with my family. During my childhood, my family rarely took vacations and if you drew a straight line between Dallas, Texas and Minneota, Minnesota you will know just about every place I had ever traveled to prior to studying abroad when I was in college and 20 years old. I came back from that trip having been in more foreign countries than US states and that was when I decided that when I started my own family, traveling and exposing my children (non-existent at this time mind you) to different cultures and people so that they could learn that things exist beyond their day-to-day experiences was going to be important.
So I have a rock, which as a metaphor represents the exact opposite of something heavy that weighs you down. Ironic.
I try not to keep a lot on my desk, but it sometimes happens when work and L² get busy. With COVID-19, this is my new 24/7 workstation, so it’s staying pretty clean – which leaves my options limited. Perhaps it’s my monitor stand, handmade by architect friend Paul Reynolds. Or my AIA water mug, metaphoric for all the people that I’ve met via AIA over the years. But I think my best thing is my Leuchtturm 1917 dot grid journal. I’ve kept one going on 4 years now, tweaking the layouts each year…but it’s definitely a must-have for me. It keeps me accountable with tasks, helps me refer back to when project decisions are made, and takes note of different life events.
The best thing on my desk is what I call the kiXstand, mostly because I don’t know what else to call it. I made it to kick up the edge of my tablet off the desk so it’s easier to pick up. I’m a terrible woodworker so my talents always limit what I’m capable of fabricating (that’s true for a lot of things apparently). Knowing this, I came up with the simplest shape to accomplish the task. I like it because it’s hand-crafted and imperfect, and the wood is a nice contrast to all the black tech on the desk.
Actually…maybe I’ll paint it black.
The best things currently on my desk are these little wind-up vibrating robots – the tall one is called Critter and the short one is Kranky. They are made by Kritterland and we’ve had them forever. So much fun to play with!
I prefer to put things away, so my favorite things are not always ON my desk. However, I am sentimental about the things I keep. Here I have two pieces of baseboard that remind me of how I taught my son how to miter a trim corner with a coping saw while on a 2018 missions trip for hurricane victims in Houston TX. My metal ruler dates back to ninth grade (1981) – when I first started making architectural models. Other treasured items are from my school years. The duck is from my wonderful math-teacher wife, who used this technique (talk to the duck) to help her programming students work through problems.
… the Rolling Ruler, excellent for scoring near-perfect parallel lines in short order.
Michele Grace Hottel
I always have a pencil on my desk, and today it a Prismacolor Ebony Jet Black Extra Smooth 14420 because I feel that it is a very versatile old-style tool to use … and I do my best sketches in pencil.
I took roughly 9,000 photos and can share a Dropbox link with all of them if you’d like. Unfortunately, none of them quite capture how regal Mies is, but he is the most prized possession on my current desk setup.
I can have the design I’m working on, on the main screen. Then on the second screen, I can switch between:
4) how-to YouTube videos, if I need to do something in Photoshop that I don’t know how to do, I can have the video on one screen and follow along on my other screen to learn
The most important thing on my desk other than my laptop. USB-c to HDMI so I can have a big screen.
A Muji 0.38 navy blue ink pen and hand cream because this hand washing is causing my hands to look prematurely aged.
I’m an architecture student and I’m sharing with you my most important thing(s) on my desk during the “working from home” phase. There’s no way I can work without the first 2 but the 3rd is also very important!
- A thick book to lift my laptop a bit to be closer to my eye level.
- The cardboard back of an A3 tracing sheets pad (to have a rough surface covering the desk marble top to ease the movement of the mouse)
- My note pad for sudden ideas and quick notes
The current unfortunate situation disrupted one major aspect of my usual workflow. I have an environmentally unfriendly habit of printing a lot. When designing, I usually think first, 3D model second, print the result and sketch over it, refine and do it again a few more times.
I do not have a damn printer at home!
Therefore I found myself sketching more over the past two weeks, without the aid of geometrically correct print of the model. I am glad to have the opportunity to sketch more, though. I am just using some basic sketchbook or trace and my amazing Lamy Joy fountain pen. It is fulfilling to work with traditional ink and paper. So overall I am probably a bit less productive because of the change in my habits, but hopefully a better architect due to another perspective I am exposed to.
The most important “thing” on my desk (obviously besides the computer) is my gaming mouse. The gaming mouse allows me to program 20 buttons to my most-used commands making me work almost double as fast and only using one hand. This allows me to keep up my performance in a setting not as conducive for productivity.
I did this office doodle back in the late ’90s. I have it framed on my desk because I liked the freedom of inspiration that I had when I sketched it. No thoughts, just seeing where the sketch evolved as I drew it. Just having fun.
The value of a structured time-plan with included productivity tools (like Pomodoro tracking system) as well as the ability to clear my thoughts is just huge for me. I still prefer pen and paper when it comes to reviewing my activities, goals, are priorities. Plus, I feel like I have control over my life for a bit.
It’s obviously a painting and is a recent acquisition in my life.
About a week prior to the madness going on in the world my mom was up for a visit (I’m originally from south Louisiana) and she loves to go to consignment stores. Dallas is not short on those so my girlfriend and I took her to several around town. I came across this painting in Lula B’s in the Design District, I was instantly captivated by it and did not know or understand why. After going through the rest of the store I ended up back at the painting standing in front of it in a trance-like state. My mom and girlfriend said I should get it since I liked it so much, but I decided I didn’t need it. I’m very minimalist by nature and don’t require a lot of things. For the next week, I found myself thinking about the painting every single day, pondering how it encompasses many things in my life distilled into one single painting. From its vernacular architecture to foreign-to-me landscape, the emotion and feeling it brings out of me, its beautiful imperfections, to the dream-like quality it posses while simultaneously putting me in a dream-like state every time I look at it. I could clearly go on and on and on about it, but I will just leave you with the highlights of its significance to me.
I decided to go back the following weekend to get it … and it was gone which left me distraught and disappointed in myself for not getting when I first saw it. Little did I know my girlfriend stealthily went to get it later on the same day I first saw it and it was hanging in its current spot when I returned home filled with disappointment. She said she never saw me react to anything like that before and had to go get it for me. My favorite pastime since starting this work from home thing has been staring at the painting as a break from work. Seeing it at all times of the day under numerous variations of lighting, its as if there are an infinite amount of worlds that exist within it. Imagine, if you will, a multiverse that exists within this painting and I have the privilege of looking into each.
Tape measure: I kind have to blame my dad for this. Well everything when I graduated high school, I told my dad I didn’t want to go to college after I graduated from High school… I told him I want to take a year off from school. He told me, “that’s fine son, you’re going to work in construction, with me”. I was not expecting that kind of answer. After working for 2 months as a laborer, my boss told me that I needed to go to a technical school for a framing certificate and that I must have 80 hours of class time otherwise I can’t continue working as a laborer.
I just couldn’t believe I was going back to school. I registered and took the class, and I didn’t just like the class, I was starting to love it. After I completed the 80 hours class, I signed up for H.V.A.C. and concrete classes, I even I took the state test for EPA H.V.A.C.
Anyway, a few years later, another construction company hired me as a laborer, and they asked me if I wanted to learn Autodesk. I said to myself “I just can’t get away from school” … but I did want to learn so I applied at Bergen Community College for Drafting and Design associates. After taking some of the courses – such architecture drafting, building systems, M&M construction, tech illustration, etc. – I sat down in the Central Park NYC and I was looking at the buildings and the community going inside the museums, and asked myself “is being a licensed architect my future? Is that why I want to learn more about design, and structure?” Now, every time I go to an architecture conference or reunion, I meet extraordinary architects and students and I have to thank my dad for introducing me to the construction trade.
There are a lot of reasons why personalizing your workspace is a good thing – it brings comfort, familiarity, and can help relieve stress. In 2006 Steelcase did a survey of 700 white-collar workers and found that employees who are allowed to personalize their workspace were up to 38% more productive and up to 45% more creative … seems ideal for architects and people who actually work in a creative industry. For me, I just think it puts my head in the right frame of mind when I sit down to work. If I’m going to be there for any length of time, it only makes sense that my workspace would reflect something about the things that bring me happiness.
… and don’t we all need a little more happiness in our lives?