Designful

Design

When architect Veronica Schreibeis Smith had her first child, she found herself becoming increasingly frustrated with her home kitchen. Juggling a demanding job and a young baby, she was struggling to cook healthy meals. She wondered if redesigning the space could help to improve her family’s eating habits. Schreibeis Smith shared this epiphany and more on an episode of our new podcast, Studio KOHLER Presents: By Design. Launched in 2021, the show features experts who are pushing the envelope in the sphere of wellness and design. Hosted by Kohler Design Studio Manager Erin Lilly, the podcast is a space for conversations on subjects spanning the future of kitchen design to personalization in the post-pandemic office.

“These are universal topics on our shared human experience, and they’re only increasing in importance in this particular moment in time. We think about them a lot, so it made sense to talk about them. Conversations lead to new ideas, new ways of thinking about things,” says our Director of Brand Strategy and Consumer Insights Casey Flanagan, who was a driving force behind Studio KOHLER Presents: By Design. As Flanagan explains, the podcast is a natural extension of our 2021 perspective of the year, Dimensions of Wellbeing, which focused on how spaces impact people. Throughout 2021, we used Dimensions of Wellbeing to talk about and better understand people’s needs for wellbeing, cleanliness, and hygiene. 

New York City during the pandemic
New York City during the pandemic

“As designers, we like to think that we're a little more open-minded and curious, but we still inadvertently tend to create biases and get into echo chambers,” says host Erin Lilly. “We can forget to remain curious, ask questions, and go down rabbit holes to have interesting conversations outside our wheelhouse.” Lilly, however, has no problem venturing into uncharted territory in the podcast. Describing herself as an amateur anthropologist, she gives us glimpses into the thought processes and experiences of innovative designers looking to improve our health and quality of life.

Studio KOHLER Presents: By Design celebrates and explores empathetic design solutions relating to wellness by initiating insightful discussions with various experts. In the case of Schreibeis Smith, the architect’s  personal struggles led to the realization that kitchen design has largely remained the same for more than 50 years despite the fact that our lifestyles have changed. In response, she created a “wellness kitchen” in her home, complete with a miniature garden. This not only allows her family to eat more fresh produce, but gardening also encourages her to practice mindfulness. In the podcast, she highlights new possibilities of freezing compost into cubes to contain the smell and introducing climate-controlled cabinetry. Finally, she zooms out to look at how design choices at home and in the office impact our wellbeing, citing scientific studies that show how biophilic design and fresh air can improve cognitive performance, while time spent in sterile, unnatural spaces can trigger an unhealthy flight-or-fight response in the body. 

Kitchen island ideas for every space
The modern kitchen
Kitchen island ideas for every space

In another episode, Komal Kotwal, the Sustainable Design Leader for Health, Wellbeing, and Equity at global firm HOK, explores similar ideas of wellness in the context of the workplace. She explains that offices today don’t respond to different peoples’ needs. For instance, she says one in seven people is neurodiverse — they may be on the autism spectrum or have other neurodevelopmental disorders — but architects and designers are only now starting to factor this into their design process. A hyposensitive individual, for example, may struggle to stimulate their senses and so they may need a workplace with bright lights and vivid colors to be productive, Kotwal says, but this might be distracting for others. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, she proposes a personalized approach to office design, creating an ecosystem of different spaces that allows all kinds of people to feel and do their best at work.

Nasdaq office in Philadelphia designed by HOK
Nasdaq office in Philadelphia designed by HOK

Our visceral response to an environment is also at the heart of interior designer William Paley’s conversation with Lilly in another episode. “There’s a tendency for people to think that design is all about what something looks like, which is exaggerated by social media. There’s an overemphasis on the visual,” says the creative director of tonychi studio on the podcast. “It’s not about what it looks like, but about how it feels to be in a room.” Paley and his firm often employ “invisible design” in restaurants and hotels, an approach in which visual elements are understated, allowing the function of a space to take center stage. This allows people to have their own personal experience of and connection to a space. Lilly praises Paley’s service-orientated approach. “It's not ego-led. He’s coming from a place of observation and understanding, it’s really empathy driven,” she says, explaining that this applies to all of the guests on Studio KOHLER Presents: By Design. “They’re in tune with what's going on and what the world needs. It's refreshing to hear. The work that they're doing will have a ripple effect for decades.”

The spa consultation area at Mandarin Oriental Guangzhou
Mandarin Oriental Guangzhou hotel lobby
Mandarin Oriental Guangzhou hotel lobby