This article originally appeared on forbes.com

Tamara Schwarting is the CEO of 1628 LTD., a curated coworking community of independent professionals and the professionally independent in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is also an executive level consultant in business processes and supply chain purchasing. Read more of Tamara’s articles here.

This article was written in collaboration with Meggie Bailey, a Fine Arts Major at the University of Cincinnati DAAP. Meggie is spending her winter term as a Co-Op at 1628 studying the various aspects of art curation.

Designing a workplace that inspires

by Tamara Schwarting

For many, offices have become more and more impersonal and sterile places of obligation. The traditional office setting often doesn’t inspire occupants to become the best version of themselves. With a little more intentionality in workspace design and organization, we can help bring extra inspiration to our employees, our clients, and ourselves. More than that, we can create a work environment that stimulates not stifles, and becomes a destination for people looking to join a community of the inspired.

What creates an inspired workspace? For me, artwork has always been a source of inspiration. Though not an artist myself, I seek to surround myself with beauty that engages my heart, senses, and mind. Art, aside from adding visual quality to a space, is an important cultural tool, an avenue for new ways of thinking.

When designing my business, aesthetics was a top priority. After all, surroundings can inspire creativity. Fueled by his research on the subject, Dr. Craig Knight, a psychologist and professor at the University of Exeter, is an avid proponent of the positive links between aesthetics and productivity. According to Knight, “aesthetic in the truest sense means energy-giving which is what a workplace needs, rather than a bland, industrial environment.” A unified aesthetic where every design choice was made with a purpose can make a significant difference. Details create the experience, so, everything in our office, from the colors of the walls to the choice of coffee tables were intentional—nothing was purchased without considering its fit into the overall design.

Inviting collaboration, featuring artwork

For my workplace, the design is dynamic. We treat the office as a gallery with quarterly art exhibitions. We have partnered with local artists and arts institutions to provide the artwork. This use of the space creates a cultural center where those within the space can share insights through dialogue. Treating the space like a gallery keeps it interesting, and builds intrigue around the business, while avoiding the costs of building a private art collection. The rotation of artwork brings a welcome element of surprise and change when our space is transformed with fresh art. The classic mantra to “fill your home with things you love” is translated into our workplace design concept. Unique artwork invigorates the space with personality and cultivates a customized, appealing environment for the clients. Our workplace is also designed to provide the liberating option to work in both communal and private spaces, unlike a typical static office environment. All the spaces are structured to support both comfort and engagement.

The gallery-like aesthetic is good for my staff, clients, and for the community at large because it provides one more space for local talent to feature their work. Using my office in this way I’m also able to act as an advocate for the arts community. To make this a reality, early on in my business, I contacted several arts and cultural organizations in Cincinnati to form partnerships. I’ve been pleased to host exhibitions of some of the best pieces from their collections.

Like a traditional gallery, I open my office to the public for openings when new artwork is installed. I’m cultivating a relationship with the art community, providing exposure for the artists and a gathering place for art-lovers, while at the same time building brand awareness for my business.

Harmony by design

Not every business model lends itself to the same aesthetic as mine, but every business owner must consider the design of their space and what it communicates. So, what do you want your workplace to say?

Some questions to think about to get started creating a design-inspired office environment:

  • What resources do you already have within your space?
  • Who do you know in the creative community?
  • What is your brand identity, and how can your workspace reflect that?
  • What do you want your business surroundings to communicate to potential employees and clients?

There is plenty of help available for those crafting a space that’s both professional and inspiring. Building connections with local resources can start by simply enlisting a creative colleague, or by contracting with a local interior designer or florist. Some businesses may have the budget for custom furniture or fixtures, or, you may choose to find a local partner willing to loan or rent artwork for the walls and entryways.

Let the design of your space speak for you and to you. If you are intentional about the design you’ll never be wasting your money (or your wall space). With your businesses mission and culture in mind, it’s possible use your workspace to drive enthusiasm and stimulate inspiration through intentionality.

Interested in reading more on the topic?

Spaces for Innovation: The Design and Science of Inspiring Environments, Kursty Groves Knight and Oliver Marlow, Frame Publishers, 2016

Creating the Productive Workplace: Places to Work Creatively, Derek Clements-Croome, Routledge; 3 edition, 2017

https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2016/jan/21/art-works-how-art-in-the-office-boosts-staff-productivity