Raised by Iranian refugee parents in Australia and now living in London, Nasim is the Head of Design at The Office Group and tells us of her mission to create spaces that “allow people to move in their story” as well as her own bedroom, which is the optimum space for lucid dreaming.
RF: So to begin, your story. How did you even get into this world? Where did this innate desire to be like, "I want to get into design" come from?
I think one of the most important parts of my story is that my parents were refugees, and I think that it’s really important to tell because the current climate sees refugees in a particular light and for me as a child or a refugee, I'm like, come on, we're people and we're contributing to society. I came from a migrant family that was pushed out of Iran in the '70s, because of the religion we are. We moved to Australia as refugees, and that's where I was born. Growing up, I was always moved and attracted to art, always drawing and just thinking about symmetry. It was great that my parents recognized that, they could see that I was a bit different and they really encouraged that. So I pursued art a lot as a kid, and then I studied architecture, interior architecture, and I didn't connect a lot with it until actually I started working. When I started to work, I could see how art, architecture and real living connected.
But it was only when I started working when I could see how your work could impact people's lives and the way they live, the way they work, where they rest, where they eat, all of that. So that's when I really connected to design, when I could see the impact of it.
RF: How much do you think your formative years and your family's story led you to want to create spaces?
I think it was more about translating art into space. That was what interested me in that sense. It's my passion, I think, to put forward people of minority backgrounds and also think more about how people move in space and how to create a more inclusive space. So I think that's where it comes in. If I came from a super privileged background, I think I would be blind to a lot of people's experiences of space, but because I've experienced some form of otherness, I can help create a space that is more inclusive, I hope.
RF: Where do you work? What are your responsibilities? And what is it that you're trying to achieve?
So, I work as the Head of Design of The Office Group and I see it as setting the creative direction of our spaces. So we build and acquire buildings, and I work on how the design connects with the building, and connects with the brand.
RF: That's a big one.
My hope for what I do is that I'm able to push design boundaries and create really powerful spaces that move people in their story.
RF: When do you think you'll know when you do that? Because I have no doubt you'll do it.
I think it's not about accolades and awards and stuff. I think it's more the stories that people tell you when they go to visit your space. When it really moves people, when they're like, "Oh my gosh. I went to your space and I just felt this and this," or, "I really loved it because of this," I think that's super rewarding, the feedback you get from people. It's also nice to be published, but that's not the only thing.
RF: Maybe to your advantage, our relationship to space and work has completely changed with less people going into offices and probably encouraged to visit spaces that you're designing. What are the things you're taking into consideration now with this new spatial landscape?
I think one huge one for me is that, you're right, people aren't coming to work as often. You can get a lot of your focus work done at home, right? That's when you're the most focused sometimes, when you can create your own set-up and do your own thing. But that challenge then is creating a space that draws people in but also gives them something that they can't find at home and, for me, that's outstanding design. You know when you feel drawn to a space that you're like, "Oh, I want to go there. I want to leave my home because I want to be there"? I think that's the thing.
I'm not someone that discourages working from home. I think everyone should balance that. I love working from home as well. I love it because I can sit down, get my head down and do my focus work. Then I really do love meeting with my team and being face-to-face. It's a really joyful time for me. There's a lot more pressure now to create incredible spaces, I've got to say that. The pressure is on more than before.
RF: How so?
Because people have to leave their house and it's got to be for a good reason. We're doing a lot more than we did before. We just finished a building and we have everything you can imagine in there. We've got a cafe. We've got a wellness room. Spaces for prayer. We've got a gym. We've got showers. We've got a rooftop bar. You name it, we've got it, because we're really trying to create attractive spaces and spaces that people want to be in. So we're providing them things you probably can't have at home, right? No one has a gym at home and a cafe, but you like to be in those spaces. So we're trying to put more in now than before.
RF: Mm-hmm. What do you think are the biggest challenges you face at work within this new landscape of thinking
The biggest challenges now. I was going to say people are more demanding. That's not a nice way of saying it. I think they expect more, rightly so. Because if you've got a fully ergonomic set-up at home, you want the same thing at work. And you want privacy, and you want spaces to do your Zoom call. So I think it's just much more demanding than before of what people want, in terms of function and ergonomics actually. It's got to function. It's got to be high spec, high quality, and function amazingly. It's got to have the right acoustics, all of that stuff. It's much more demanding. So that's the biggest challenge at the moment. I really think it's less so about the design even. It's more about it's got to perform perfectly.
RF: That's interesting. What does your day-to-day look like? What does a day, in a sense, life look like? From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep.
I'll tell you my ideal day. So I wake up and I walk the dog. It doesn't always go like this. I'll meet the team. We'll look at some new products. We'll make plans for a new space together. I'll meet with the architects on my team and we'll go through some ideas. Architects, interior designers. And then in the afternoon we might go and meet one of our external designers, like, I don't know, Norm Architects, David Thulstrup, Universal Design Studios, and we'll talk about one of our spaces, and then my day will finish. That is a beautiful day for me. And trying to have some lunch.
RF: Do you have any routines or rituals that are sacred to you on your ideal days?
Yeah. I like the process. I used to drink coffee but I don't anymore, but I really enjoy the process of making something in the morning. So, for me, it's currently a matcha, and that's very time-consuming but I have to do it. So, properly doing the whole process. I think that is a must in the morning. I do like to pray and meditate, but I don't often have a lot of time for that... I also think sleep. Genuinely the right amount of sleep. I cannot function if I do not have the right amount of sleep. So that's also really important.
That's another thing I want to be honest about. I don't know if work is life. It's not. Work is great, but if you think work is life, you'll always be unfulfilled.
RF: So, talk to me a little bit about that because one of the areas of questioning I have is around the last two years and how we've reflected on it and what we've learned from it. So obviously I'm curious if that's something that has popped up in the last two years and, if so, tell me a little bit more about it. Where did that come from?
The whole world stopped, right? But you're right, we were all just running and working and running and working, and not questioning anything that was happening. I feel like it just made everyone stop and now we consider things like the future of humanity and what we're doing and how our actions affect the world. Things like the Black Lives Matter movement started at this time. So it really did something to humanity, didn't it? We all woke up from being zombies in a way.
It was an awful time and I don't think it was easy for anyone, but I do think that there is light and we can see the good things it did as well. That was one thing for me personally. I was driving myself down into work, not elevating or thinking about what I was doing or anything like that. It gave everyone a year to reflect on their purpose. A super powerful time.
RF: What did that do to your ideas around your dreams and your own future? Obviously you have a great job for a cool company. How did that shape beyond where you are now?
Yeah. I'm still trying to figure that part out because it makes you realize that work isn't life and that you have to find spiritual connections beyond work life. It made me realize that we also have souls and your soul needs to be nurtured and thought about.
RF: What does that even mean in terms of your job then, right? Because you're asking some very big existential questions, which is, what is your soul, spiritual connection? Just to kind of riff off of that…it's like what does that look like in this new realm of workspaces? Obviously good design, but what does that actually look like in terms of a space?
I've thought about this and I don't think you need to go become a monk and live in the mountains and not speak to anyone. I don't think that's spirituality, because the tests and the difficulties that come to you in your life is what makes you grow and spiritually connect more with whatever you're connecting with. It just means that your work should be done in a service orientation, I think. You start to see your work as a means and a channel to make the world better.
So, every little step you do, anything you can do... Like, for example, I've spoken a lot to you in the past about using young makers and designers. That, for me, is a simple service. I work for a large corporation and have the space and abilities to connect young people and people that could use a platform, why don't they use my platform for the company I'm in? So it just makes you realize that everything you do, no matter where you work, is an opportunity to help others and be serving humanity.
RF: I'm more curious to explore what home means to you, because I've always found it really difficult to just grasp. So I'm curious to hear your opinion of what home is and where it is because of your upbringing in Australia.
Yeah. I've thought about this a lot over the years because also when someone asks, "Where are you from?" It's so difficult to answer. I was born in Australia. Do I feel Australian? Did I ever feel Australian? Yes. But then I wasn't fully accepted as an Australian because I was Iranian. So, if someone were to ask me when I was in Australia, "Where are you from?" I would've said, "I'm Iranian," because you're always from somewhere.
If I went to Iran, they'd be like, "You have a weird accent and you can hardly speak the language. You're speaking like a child."
So I'm not Iranian really. And then I'm here now. This is actually what I love about the UK, it's truly diverse. You know?It's really diverse, and people get it. Actually, I don't often get asked, "Where are you from?" because everybody knows that you're not from there. So they're not making an assumption at all. But that's not about home as such.
I don't know. I would like to see a world where you feel home everywhere, to be honest, where there are no borders and you're just like home all the time because Earth is your home.
RF: From your point of view, what do you think makes a good home then?
Love. A space where you are accepted as you are. That there's unconditional love and you can be fully yourself. So, often that is with friends, really good friends, and your family. But in terms of the physical space... I'm just looking around our apartment. I really like our apartment. It's just filled with objects that are memories, beautiful memories, that we find aesthetically pleasing. That's the combination of what our home is.
RF: When you think of your most cherished items or memorabilia or bits and pieces of the house, do you have any favorite ones?
Yeah. Do you know what? This painting behind us is by an Aboriginal artist in Australia called Otis Carey. I would 100% take this because it is so beautiful.
I just got these chairs from David Thulstrup and I really like them. We've got a recycled plastic table in our kitchen by Dirk van der Kooij and it is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in my life. It is so gorgeous. Those three items I love.
RF: Do you have any rituals or routines that are specific to your bedroom? Because everyone has a different relationship to their bedrooms. I'm also curious, how would you even describe your relationship to your bedroom?
Our bedroom is so awesome because we've taken our clothes out of it. We've taken everything out of our bedroom except the bed, and we did this intentionally to make the most restful space. Then we also painted it a different color to everything in the house, like a really warm, buttery color. We have no phones in the bedroom. We don't ever have anything electrical, besides one clock for an alarm. It's completely bare. It just has basics. It just has a bed. It literally has a bed and with nightlights for reading.But also the ritual that I like to do is listen to a meditation to fall asleep. Just turn it on and I pass out.
RF: That's cool.
I think that the bedroom is such a sacred space and should be respected because you spend so many hours of your day sleeping. I'm a big believer in committing to a really good mattress, pillow and bed because it's just so important. So I have this cushion pillow. It's so good. Memory foam. Oh, my Lord! I just love it so much. I can't sleep without it now. It's my favorite thing.
RF: Whenever you're lying in bed, are you ever kept up at night thinking about the world?
I'll tell you something really interesting about me and sleeping. I've been lucid dreaming since I was a kid and I'm really good at it.
So I can be fully conscious in my dreams and go wherever I want and do what I want. I can enter and exit my dreams and I'm fully conscious in them, like a lot of the time. Not always. But it's very nice. I'm just like, "Oh, I'm going to go to Italy today," and I will just go to Italy in my mind.
RF: Wow that’s so cool!
It's nice. It's really good. I'm really grateful for that gift actually. It's very cool. It's just a practice actually. You keep practicing it and you get better and better.
RF: That's your superpower.
It's pretty cool that it's my superpower but it's just for me and no-one else can benefit from it.