Natalia Sánchez Echevarria designs offices for work, homes for families, and interiors for retail. Her company Spatial Code is one of Copenhagen’s most visionary interior design studios, and Natalia is on a mission to make room for life, both for her clients and for herself. Here, we meet Natalia for a chat about her passion to create spaces for better work, the requirements of modern employees, and working with herself to be able to put in an even greater effort at her own company.
Natalia, tell us what a good, modern workspace is?
“A place for great work considers the fact that all of us have different needs to perform. How you create your best work is not necessarily similar to the colleague next to you. Since age six we’ve learnt that work happens when we sit on a chair at a desk in front of a screen. But productivity and the way we become productive relies heavily on your personal demands: Some people need a chair and a desk, others need a sofa, some want silence and some want noise.”
And as a company, how do you embrace that?
“First of all, you involve your employees in why and how you want to solve the interior design puzzle. Modern work culture is not about the number of hours in the office, but the amount of quality in the hours. The more your employees relax and thrive, the more they prosper. And this could, depending on your current office, mean creating high tables, sofas, lounges, contemplating rooms, and so on.”
I guess it also comes down to if you work for Deloitte or a small tech startup?
“Absolutely. Our needs are very individual. But we always strive to create a flow through the office space where all zones consider the relationship between the human and the work life. In my work, it comes down to asking the right questions and finding the real problems to solve. It’s hard to focus over here? You have a high staff turnover? Ok, then we need to look at this and this.”
Lots of interior design companies offer that. Why should I choose you?
“Correct. Human centered interior design comes in many ways and is nothing new. What we try to add is an extra layer of identity. Interviewing the staff and listening carefully to their needs and ambitions, we create spaces that make them proud to be there and wanting to actually stay and get down to the nitty gritty every single day.”
And then I get you, I guess?
“Absolutely. You get my attention to details and my knowhow of bespoke furniture which I almost include in every project. I’ve worked with smiths and carpenters for many years, I know their way of working. I take great pride in an uncompromising approach to projects, whether it be paint jobs, woodwork, or surfaces.”
It’s a kind of storytelling one could say, just a different way of doing it?
“Indeed. I’ve always been telling stories, whether it was in tech companies, in advertising or in campaigns. Films, storyboards, concepts. Now, my output is just a bit different; it’s physical spaces you live and work in. Spaces that actually reflect their identity, both as a company and as the individuals that make up the sum of the company. One thing is what you say on your website or when others write about you. Another thing is how your spatial look and feel is. I like to say that our key competence is to elaborate and materialize our client’s identity.”
Let’s talk a bit about you. What has been your way into interior design?
“I’ve always moved freely between industries. But with interior design I’ve found my shelf. I used to study Film and Media at University of Copenhagen while working in advertising on the side. While studying, the personal computer became more and more widespread, and it quickly caught my attention. I took as many classes as possible, often weaved together from different faculties such as information technology or media. Nobody really knew what to think of this thing called computers, and no-one knew anything about the potential of technology, so it was quite straightforward to become an expert in so-called human computer interaction.”
You saw the potential?
“Indeed. In Denmark back then there were two quite big tech companies and everything quickly became a craze. I was part of the innovation department and my role was to think of new ways of utilizing technology: “So, now we have bluetooth technology. How do we use it and what’s the potential?” I was employees number 58, within a year and a half we were 258, and a year later we went bankrupt. On to the next one.”
Sounds like a busy period in your life?
“It was. My next job was in a digital agency working on a campaign for a multinational telecommunications firm. The account was huge, the workload was enormous, and I became pregnant. My doctor told me that if I wanted to keep the baby, I should let it all go and simply lie down.”
So that’s what you did?
“That’s what I did. And made two decisions that formed the rest of my life. Moved to Barcelona with my then-husband. And followed my passion, which was interior design and is what I still do to this day.”
How did you know it was your passion?
“I always knew I had a knack for it. Decorating and designing interior and spaces was a pastime in my younger years, but I never sat down and tried to define what I did or why I did it. My father was an architect, but he left when I was three so I don’t have a story of me sitting on his lap, learning. It just came naturally, passionately.
In Barcelona, for the renovation of our new home, I did a book complete with floor plan, drawings, mood boards, color scheme, materials, and all imaginable details. I submitted the book as my application for Interior Design at the University in Barcelona, and was admitted after a long process of tests and drawing challenges. From there on I moved closer and closer to interior design, finishing my masters degree at the Royal Academy of Design in Copenhagen.”
“I’ve always moved freely between industries. But with interior design I’ve found my shelf."
– Natalia Sánchez Echevarria
What’s a working day like for you?
“It’s always like never before.”
Every day is different.
“Completely. It depends on the project of course, but I’ve also changed quite a bit over the course of the last year.”
Tell me about it.
“I was the classic business owner involved in every single aspect of the company. HR, new business, all projects, development, sales, contracts and so on. Because it was natural for me to have a voice everywhere, I also got asked constantly about all sorts of things. I did not delegate enough and wanted to know about every part of every process.”
“It was killing me. The alarm bell started to ring when I began making appointments without updating my calendar. After a couple of episodes where guests turned up in the office without me knowing it, let alone being prepared for it, I knew something had to change.”
I guess it also affected your wellbeing outside of work?
“I’m usually a very energetic person, but I had weekends where I just wanted to lie down on the couch and do nothing. It was atypical for me, and had it not been for me yoga routine I would have been completely detached from my body.”
So what’s changed?
“I began to take better care of myself before looking after everyone else. For a long time I was eager to take the company to the next level in terms of story telling, market offering, and positioning. But I soon realized that before working with the company and the employees, I needed to get things straight with myself.”
From what you’ve told I guess you had to let go?
“Yes. I quite quickly realized what I needed to work on with myself and with the company. And that I had to delegate, not be afraid of sharing responsibility, and first and foremost take care of myself before others.”
Has it improved your work life?
“Yes! I have been very open about my proces. Together with my employees I’ve defined their roles and responsibility areas in the company, so today everyone knows what they’re supposed to do, what we expect from each other, and most importantly, that I constantly encourage them to take decisions and move forward instead of waiting on my take on things. We’re still learning, but things are moving fast in the right direction.”
Natalia joined the Headlight Program in 2018 and continues to be a part of our ever-growing community of alumni who wants to change work for the better. If you want to know how Headlight can play a role in your worklife, do not hesitate to get in touch.
© 2020 Headlight Journal. All rights reserved.
© 2020 Headlight Journal. All rights reserved.