Over the past six months, I’ve focused on building a better work culture at my interior design studio in Austin. As our firm grows into its next phase, I realize my role is also shifting. In addition to being an interior designer, I’m becoming a mentor and protector of my team to help each of them develop in their roles to achieve professional and personal growth. A big part of that success is rooted in the work culture at Amity Worrel & Co., and I’ve developed what I’m calling the Basket Method to help us create a more positive and nourishing work environment. You’ll be surprised how easy it’ll be to implement yourself.
Having the Audacity to Ask for Help
There’s value in recognizing expertise in any field and knowing when it’s time to call in the professionals. I planned to spend the calendar year examining each layer of the firm from the core out, starting from the financials and working to the company’s culture. I began my journey to the center of the Earth in late January when I traveled to Atlanta for a creative benchmarking conference to better understand the company’s finances. Being with other creative principals to examine and gauge our benchmarking goals, pricing structures, and costs was an insightful experience.
While at the conference, I met the Audacity team, a firm that helps develop and improve workplace culture and employee experience. It felt serendipitous to meet them just as I was starting to dig into the cultural layer in the months ahead. We began working together, and they’ve played a significant role in helping me understand the ways I communicate with and support my team, both good and not-so-good.
What continually inspires me in my interior design business is helping my team grow in their careers, expand their creativity, and better serve our clients. I take my role of client vetting very seriously, as I want to ensure the best fit for the ideal outcome. Making sure the folks we work with understand and respect our craft, process, and necessary time commitment to get it right. If I can do that while managing my own communication with the team and giving them the space to do their best work, I consider it a good day’s work. Working with Audacity has given me the feedback needed to help set the building blocks of the culture I want to achieve within our organization. Like any interior-design project, it will be a work in progress with a few surprises along the way!
Developing the Basket Method
While working with Audacity, I developed my own internal program to foster a more positive work environment called the B.A.S.K.E.T Method, or Building an Authentic and Spirited Kitten Environment Together. Let me explain…
When I began turning my attention to our office culture, a friend who runs a cat rescue in Houston happened to reach out to me. She had a cat, Adora, who was struggling to find a forever home. They tried a foster placement, but it was not a match. Adora isn’t too fond of dogs, children, or chaos. She tended to nip when manhandled, but it was clear she loved being around people (when they knew their place) and getting in some playtime on her terms.
I was taking in everything my friend had to say. She thought Adora would do well in an office environment where she’d be around adults who’d respect her space, be able to balance her playtime and alone time, and have plenty of boxes to curl up in for naps. Our studio seemed to fit the bill.
Putting All Our Eggs in One Basket
And that’s how Adora came to live with us at the interior design studio. We renamed her Basket upon her arrival into her new life. Basket was the name of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’ standard poodle they’d bought as a bet in the 1930s while living in Paris. Basket was followed by Basket II and Basket III. I love that story and fantasized about hanging out with Gertrude and Alice during their many Parisian salon gatherings back in the day. I’d always wanted to name a pet after their poodle(s), so this was the perfect opportunity. (Plus, we also worked in a pretty good acronym to justify this business decision.)
Since Basket moved in, I’ve seen the team rally around her. It turns out she plays like a puppy and never tires of a game of fetch and rewarding scratches on the head. Pets are a wonderful way to connect and even lighten the mood when projects go awry and tensions rise. Basket has a habit of hurling herself into a room with the comedic timing of Kramer from Seinfeld, which always sends us into a shared laugh just when we need it.
It’s been a rewarding and bonding experience to care for Basket, and it’s something that links us beyond the office walls. There’s always a photo or story of Basket being shared amongst the group. In addition to our loving design team, Basket also has a support team of caregivers hired to visit her over the weekend, holidays, and any time we will not be in the studio ourselves. So, there’s another level of connecting with community members and coming together around the latest Basket updates.
But What About Clawing the Curtains?
There’s something ironic about a cat living in an interior-design studio, surrounded by upholstered furniture, bolts of textile samples, and tempting floor-to-ceiling curtains. Basket is a good reminder that interior spaces are meant for living and all that comes with it. Things will get damaged from time to time, but the meaningful bonds and connections forming are so much more valuable and meaningful.
Some may see an office pet as a tired trope, calling to mind the early days of the millennial tech office boasting air hockey tables, beer on tap, and a pet-friendly atmosphere. Some even going as far as setting up office pet headshots to post on the website. At the risk of becoming an office cliche, I want to celebrate our cat Basket here. She’s quite lovable, photogenic, and a hoot to spend time with! At the end of the day, she’s brought a new sense of connection to our team, which is one massive step forward in developing the work culture I want for us all.
Maybe Basket’s charm will buy me some extra time as I continue to work on my communication flaws in the meantime.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.