Image: Tracey Ayton
A Vancouver jewellery designer crafts a multi-faceted workspace featuring all the domestic comforts.
Look quickly at Leah Belford’s office, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s where she lives. “You won’t find any expected elements like fluorescent lighting and cubicles here,” she says. “My office is definitely efficient, but it’s also cozy, inviting and inspiring.”
Three years ago, Leah’s company was headquartered in the den of her house. The rapid growth of her jewellery business, Leah Alexandra – as well as her desire to augment it with a bricks-and-mortar shop – prompted her to hunt for a workspace away from her home. “I searched online, and it was frustrating,” she says. “At best, the places I saw were uninspiring; at worst, they were depressing.” But then she spied a posting for an 870-square-foot space in Vancouver’s bustling Gastown neighbourhood. “It was zoned as a live-work space, so it had a kitchen, bedroom and bathroom, which appealed to me more than a ‘regular’ office,” says Leah.
The unit, one of eight in an 1893 heritage building, exuded potential, and its less-than-perfect aspects – dated finishes and murky green walls – were eclipsed by the good stuff. “I fell for the original exposed-brick wall, impressive windows that flood the space with light, Douglas fir floors and the open layout.” Leah purchased it after just one viewing and immediately began plotting its transformation. “I envisioned Scandinavian serenity: white walls with brass accents first and foremost,” she says. “I wanted a practical design that didn’t compromise on beautiful details.”
Six weeks of renovations were required to knock the place into shape. The kitchen, which was ripped back to the studs, saw the biggest transformation. Here, Leah freed up valuable floor space by ditching a cumbersome centre island that had an oven awkwardly placed beside it. Instead, she introduced an L-shaped bar with seating and built-in appliances. “I wanted my team [she has three employees] to have somewhere to comfortably prepare and enjoy lunch as they would at home.” Pendant and pot lights were installed, while white walls were a fresh alternative to the existing drab green.
When it came to the furnishings, Leah avoided the predictable. “I steered clear of the typical office aesthetic at all costs,” she says. The lounge area off the kitchen, formerly a bedroom, exemplifies her determination to assert a home-away-from-home vibe that is also entirely practical for staff and clients. Instead of a table and chairs, there’s a corner sofa and unexpected accents like cheery toss cushions, a brightly hued area rug and graphic artwork.
Leah then brought this warmth into the workstations without a speck of industrial grey in sight: The desk surfaces are either bright white, channelling the Scandi look she favours, or fashioned from reclaimed wood. “This place is versatile and timeless, much like my jewellery,” she says. “It’s somewhere my staff and customers like to be.” That’s true for Leah, too. “Getting the keys to this space has definitely been the greatest accomplishment of my 11 years in business.”
Antique-look schoolhouse chairs pack a colourful punch in this Vancouver workspace, while the reclaimed-wood table echoes the casual warmth of the original wood floors. “I think every office should have a large table for communal tasks and meetings,” says owner Leah Belford.
Crisp white with bright pops of colour shift Leah’s office into style overdrive. “I love working here,” she says.
Leah ditched the space’s old beige cabinetry in favour of black-painted maple with elegant brass pulls. The new L-shaped bar cleverly delineates the kitchen from the workspace while maintaining an open feel that’s furthered by clear bar stools.
Hard-working materials like the Caesar-stone countertops and a subway tile backsplash stand up to everyday wear and tear, and can be easily wiped clean.
The functional gas fireplace cozies up the office on Vancouver’s rainy days, and its high-impact wallpaper strikes a dramatic note. The antique cabinets hold jewellery-making supplies and finished pieces.
Outfitted with creature comforts like toss cushions and throws, the lounge area is part meeting space and part rejuvenation station. “There’s no excuse for ugly, utilitarian furniture in an office,” says Leah. “Comfortable furnishings and little touches like artwork and accessories can have such a positive effect.” A fuchsia rug brightens the neutral tones; the geometric table base, which resembles a multi-faceted gem, makes a witty statement in a jewellery design office.
Not sure how to tackle your chaotic space? Leah shares her top five office organizing tips:
1 Get vertical
"The pegboard above our work surfaces is a major space saver. It’s so helpful to have the things you use the most at your fingertips without cluttering your desk."
"Buy a label maker. Never underestimate the power of labelling – it makes finding everything you need so easy."
3 Colour block.
"Have a calendar where tasks are listed on small colour-coded Post-it Notes. Being able to move the tasks around to different days – and toss them out when they’re complete – is very effective!"
4 Add inserts.
"I like to separate smaller items in drawers to keep everything tidy. You can buy drawer dividers, or make your own out of cardboard pieces, or repurposed boxes or small jars."
5 Pin it up.
"I love a pin board because all the collected inspiration becomes its own piece of art. It can also be a useful spot for posting paperwork that needs to be dealt with."