Lorena Couto is an interior architect, currently working as the Director and Lead Designer at Casa Alchemy, an interior design studio focused on sustainable and ethical design.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I graduated as an Architect and Urbanist but I have been working with Interior Design for 14 years. I had the privilege to work for big names of the design world until I opened my own studio in 2011, at the age of 25. The business evolved until Jenifer Rodrigues and I launched Casa Alchemy.
After I did my Master’s in design thinking, I realised that designing beautiful and functional spaces is simply not enough.
We need to hold ourselves accountable for the industry’s impact, be ethical by making sure of the integrity of each source and process, and work with a bigger purpose.
Casa Alchemy was born out of the need to take more responsibility on the practice of design.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
Every day is different and I think we only lead one life, so I don’t have days that are only dedicated to work or only dedicated to leisure.
In theory, I only work 3 times a week and I call it a perfect life balance now that my two kids still under two. So, if you would like a workday run, this is how it goes:
It all starts the night before when I leave everything set for the next morning to run smoothly. That allows me to take the kids to the childcare early with not much fuss at all.
I wake up at around 4:30 am to look at my vision board, meditate, dress up and set my goals for the day. When the kids wake up, I can quickly drop them off, grab a cup of coffee while I read my goals for the day and make the small arrangements left for the expectations to be met. Then it’s all about being as productive as I can with my time.
On the occasional days that I can clear my mornings, I allow myself to go for a swim after the drop-off and I do my coffee and goals at the beach. Then, it’s the same, work as much as I can.
Focus is the key.
I do meetings with clients on site, restaurants or places I want to go. It’s not only as efficient as meeting in an office, but provides more experiences and design is all about being inspired by the experiences you have.
I finish my workday when my husband gets home with the kids and I make sure they are the priority from that moment on.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
I gave up having a payed office space in 2013, and I strongly advocate for working remotely. As a creative, I like to work from places that inspire me.
If I ‘m working alone, and it’s one of those days I have to create the concept design, I take my laptop to places where I can either connect with nature or see a lot of people passing. It might sound strange but the noise and movement of busy places enhances my focus and keep me motivated.
If I have a staff meeting or have to work alongside my designers, I have a dedicated space at home where we can work as a team.
I honestly don’t know why many companies are stuck in a culture that they have to spend a lot to maintain a work space and also make their employees commute. I gave that up because it made me feel confined and when I did, I experienced the freedom of remote work.
On another note, I am loving to see how much the environment has recovered with only a few weeks of commuting restrictions during the Corona virus outbreak.
Shouldn’t that be a lesson to be learned? Why do so many people want to go back to “normal” if a better option was already tested efficient for many businesses?
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
Delegate. Many business owners have a hard time trying to do everything by themselves or controlling what their employees are doing. There is simply not enough time on the day to do everything by ourselves and work-life balance goes out of the window.
Delegate and trust your team, but don’t forget to check in constantly. This is very important not to miss out on deadlines or run things too loosely. And make sure you hire like-minded people who share your passion and work as hard as you.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
Yes, big transformation in 2020! The best year to re-think things over. We were given the best gift of all: time. I still can’t believe the opportunity we had when the world stopped and we found time to put things into perspective.
I have started to: wake up before the sunrise. Work on my wellness before the day starts.
I have stopped: wasting my time thinking I was decompressing. I’ve learned that it is not only food that nourishes us and I chose to only feed myself with good things.
I gave up everything that is not constructive like watching TV (unless is a cultural lesson or something really uplifting). Instead, I use this time to acquire a new skill while taking my mind off work. Now I am learning to play chess, for example.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I love TED talks because they are short and we can select by interest. Pretty much anything that talks about design futures interests me and if I have time, I listen to one after another.
At the moment I am reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, and loving it, since my approach to design is always to go back to the roots of human behaviour and question why we do things the way we do and how things could be done differently.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
I need my computer to work on heavier renders and my phone to work on the go and photograph references during the day. I try to be less connected to technology and more connected to people and the present as much as I can, even though it is hard to control myself at times.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Jacinda Ardern. What a woman! I admire her strength and motivation to be such an achiever on her personal and professional life.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Change your habits to whatever makes you self-motivated and don’t look at week days and weekends differently, otherwise you will be living 2 out of 7 days. Not fair to you and not fair to the world, that doesn’t get the best of you. Here is what’s important to me.
Reset your system: add something that will completely reset your mindset and energy to be ready to face the challenges of the day. This is what swimming in the morning does for me.
Have fun: make time for a hobby at least once a week. I play soccer, sculpt homewares with clay, or spend some time doing an art piece. This is usually late, after everyone is in bed.
Keep motivated: I never get Sunday blues, quite the opposite, I am usually so excited for Monday to come. Monday’s smell like fresh starts and new opportunities to reach goals.
My favourite part is the silence of the house after everyone is gone, when I have some peace and quiet to hear my thoughts, plan and act towards my personal goals.
Prioritize people: as much as work is great, nothing will ever be more important than the people in our lives. There is no meeting important enough to make me reject a call from my family.
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