Having worked from home for seventeen years, I’m always interested to see how other people create their work spaces. To me, the space you work in is hugely important. We’ve all done it – settled at a kitchen table or set up a desk space in a cubby hole or box room – and while that’s fine if you’re only looking for a very part-time arrangement, if you’re spending most of your day at work, what it looks like and what it feels like really matters. When you have the opportunity to design your own work space, why not make it good? Indeed, why not make it great?
Photographer Susan Burnell designed her crisp white studio space alongside her family home outside Edinburgh. Susan specializes in interiors photography and is also the founder of SOOuK, the online design shop that sells everything from super-cool prints to textiles and bags. If you follow Susan on Instagram or Pinterest or on Steller, you’ll recognize her eyefor minimal graphics and monochrome styling, and this aesthetic flows into her home – originally a farmhouse that Susan and her husband James rebuilt and extended – and, naturally, into the studio where she spends her days.
I’ve worked with Susan on several magazine features over the last few years, and when we sat down to chat about the design for the studio, I expected to hear how the process had been a breeze. After all, having seen so many refurbishment and build projects, surely her own experience would be a good one.
The reality was very different, however, as this project threw some major challenges at the couple – all of which they tackled and overcame to create today’s inspiring work space.
Why build a home studio?
I used to work from a studio in the centre of Edinburgh, but when we moved out of town, and especially after we had our sons Leon and Doran, I wanted to be based closer to home. When we bought our house it was always with the plan to have a home studio as there was land at the front of the house so there was space to build on, and we have a large garden at the back so we weren’t intruding on that. I’d originally intended to have the studio integrated with the house, but I’m really glad we decided to make it separate as it’s important to have that work/home separation.
How did you go about planning the design?
We redesigned the house and designed the studio at the same time. I already knew our architect Adam Toleman of Arka Architects, and we clicked as soon as we started working together. The height of the space was dictated by the photographic backdrops, and I needed a bright space with balanced light so I chose white floorboards and white walls, with windows on the north and west elevations.
Why add the kitchen and shower room?
The kitchen was a late addition as I wanted to work here without needing to pop back to the house, and it’s handy for clients. The shower room is the same – it’s really practical. We also wanted to use the studio when we have friends staying, so the kitchen and shower room make the studio self-contained.
Where did you find your design inspiration?
We had scrapbooks of magazine cuttings for the house – basically it was a 6-year scrapbook of ideas and the studio was part of that concept. Launching SOOuK was really inspired by the build as I was spending all this time thinking about interiors. For me, it’s a passion. I love interiors; I’m completely obsessed. I’m always taking photos of things I like on my iPhone. The colourful tiling in the shower room was inspired by toilets in an art gallery in Edinburgh.
What were the challenges of this project?
We had a fantastic builder when we were altering the house, but we decided to build the studio using structural insulated panels (SIPs) so we worked with a different builder. We were a bit too trusting. We paid about half the cost up front to get everything made, but then the builder stopped answering our calls. Basically we lost all the money. It was devastating, and coming on the back of building the house, I’d been waiting all this time to get the studio up and running, which made it worse.
Who did the work in the end?
We were left with half the original budget to do this – the total cost, including all the fittings, was £25,000 – so James built most of it, having never done anything like this before. He got books on everything! We had help when constructing the wooden structure, and we had individual tradesmen in to help at weekends, but James did everything else. He laid the concrete slab with some of his friends; he even did all the roof tiling. He loves a challenge but it was exhausting – particularly as he has a demanding full-time job.
The whole project lasted over six months. We’ve watched these TV programmes for years where people have taken on build projects that have gone wrong and thought, why would people do that…? And here we were, having done it ourselves and there was no going back!
Did you have to make compromises?
The building was meant to be timber clad but we couldn’t afford that, so we finished it in white render. I think it ties in well with the house though, especially with the dark grey windows.
How did you go about furnishing the space?
I’ve mixed in a few design classics, like the Eames DAW Armchair and the Paulistano chair, and the Anglepoise Type 75 desk
lamp, with practical pieces from Habitat and IKEA, and this space is a great canvas for some of the pieces from my own online shop SOOuK, like the prints or the Ampersand light, which is a favourite of mine.
Is there anything you’d like to change?
We’d like to add a window seat in the east wall – a large window that would hang out over the field. We look out onto this
field of wheat and it seems a shame not to be enjoying that view every day. We have fields on three sides – it’s an incredible location.
What’s this like as a space to work in?
I love it. It’s calm and quiet if I’m working here on my own, but also when people come in for the first time there’s always a big reaction, and it’s a space people feel relaxed in. I’m not precious about it at all, especially when there are kids around. This is the perfect space for me to be working in, and there’s a great sense of achievement in having made this happen as well.
All photography by Susan Burnell.