Liquid Interiors upgrades its office to one that considers both the environment and staff wellbeing. Rowena Gonzales gives Tamsin Bradshaw a tour.
When Liquid Interiors was forced to move offices, the move not only presented challenges for the environmentally driven interior design firm, but also new opportunities. Here was a chance to apply all that green thinking in the firm’s own workplace, to test new ideas and create a space that would be all about sustainability, wellbeing and hopefully, improved productivity.
“Part of our theory is that you spend most of your time either at work or at home, so these are the two spaces we really want to have an impact on,” says Rowena Gonzales, Founder and Creative Director of Liquid Interiors.
For their own Hong Kong office, Liquid Interiors found a new, 650-square-foot space at 103 Austin Road, in Yau Ma Tei. In the construction and move process, the studio managed to divert 95 percent of the demolition waste from their old workspace. “We reused things, or we donated or sold them,” explains Gonzales, who also recycled much of the wood from their previous office. “The wood we weren’t able to recycle, we sent to the Eco Park in China to be shredded into wood pellets.”
In the new space, Liquid Interiors manages waste, too; closely monitoring how much paper, glass and plastic staff use, as well as how much rubbish they dispose of. The studio works with HK Recycles, a recyclables collection service that provides reporting on how much waste is collected from your organisation, plus the carbon emissions you save by recycling this way. HK Recycles is also socially responsible, working with Caritas Hong Kong to provide jobs for the city’s disadvantaged.
To create a healthy environment for staff, Gonzales and her team kept three things in mind: “Light, air and acoustics,” she says. “You can use things like light to give you energy rather than always drinking coffee,” says Gonzales. “We didn’t put up any partitions: that way, everyone has access to natural light. We used sheer window coverings you can close if it’s too sunny, but that still let the light in.”
The meeting room, which receives plenty of natural light thanks to bifold windows that open onto the pantry. Liquid Interiors often holds stand-up meetings, which Gonzales says are often more efficient than sit-down ones
Other lighting tools included using uplighting as well as downlighting – “It’s softer and less glaring” – and a circadian lighting system. “When the sun rises the air is blue-ish. During the day it’s white, in the evening, it’s more yellow,” says Gonzales. “We naturally use more yellow light because it’s more comfortable for our eyes. But we have this white energy light, and if you turn it on, it wakes you up, because it’s like the white light you get during the middle of the day.”
As for air, the Liquid Interiors team took into consideration both indoor air quality and thermal comfort. “We have two air quality monitors: the Aware is a good option for people who don’t want anything built-in. You just plug and play, and it’s a clock, too. The other one is connected to the ceiling – you can tie it into a home automation system if you have one,” says Gonzales.
Liquid Interiors uses these in conjunction with an IQAir purifier, and a fresh air system that pumps fresh air into the office when necessary (this can be switched on and off manually). “When you get sleepy in the office, it’s generally because there’s too much carbon dioxide in the air,” the designer explains.
The pantry, complete with an edible garden, allowing staff to enjoy herbs and microgreens with their food. The printer on the right uses mostly recycled paper and scores high in terms of energy ratings
“Aside from the fresh air system, indoor air quality is about the materials you use,” she continues. “It’s not just about low VOC paint. All the glues we used behind the wood veneers, and all the varnishes are low VOC. Even our vinyl flooring is a low VOC vinyl.”
As for thermal comfort, the team regularly adjust the office temperature in order to optimise productivity. “According to a lot of studies, the optimal temperature is 21 to 23°C,” says Gonzales. Studies have found that if a workspace is too hot, staff will get drowsy, while they will get distracted if it’s too cold.
Sound absorption is vital to the healthy office, too. “A lot of offices have carpet flooring, but because we wanted ours to be easier to clean, we chose wood. So we needed other things to be absorbent,” explains Gonzales. “Even the plants help to diffuse sound and the curtains are soft, absorbing sound.”
Plants are an important part of this new workspace. “We installed the IQAir, but so far we’ve had more impact by putting in plants – because it’s a visual thing. It’s perceived wellness,” says Gonzales. “I know that in the long-term, the IQAir will help, in that it will reduce the spreading of virus. But people aren’t looking at the benefits of plants enough. They reduce stress by providing extra oxygen. They’re energising and calming at the same time, and they help with humidity.”
According to Gonzales, the combination of these and other eco- and wellness-oriented features has had an impact on how staff work, just a few short months after moving in. “We feel like we already see the difference in productivity,” she says. “I’m seeing less sick days now that we’re in our new office.”