Where I Work: bright designlab

For this month’s Where I Work, we head to Portland, Oregon to meet Leela Brightenburg, CEO of interior design firm bright designlab. Brightenburg founded the practice along with her partner, director of operations, Alissa Pulcrano, in 2009 and the pair have been running strong ever since. Just recently, they remodeled their Pearl District space to house their team of six women and to include an office, studio, and gallery that displays the works of local and visiting artists. Here, Brightenburg shares more about the new space, how she works in it, and some of her favorite projects. Take a look.

What is your typical work style?

My work style is a mix of scheduled and random. I try to have a good work life balance (and leave work at the office), so generally I have a pretty regular work schedule. Not to say that late nights, early mornings and other events don’t come up – that’s part of owning a business! I find I am most creative when not locked into a schedule, so I also try to allow some freedom and find space within that framework.

What’s your studio/work environment like?

I would say our work environment is a clean with a controlled, somewhat beautiful, mess. There are piles of materials (tile, fabrics, etc.) in constant rotation for the projects we work on and that can get… let’s just call it, visually dynamic. We are lucky to have a space in a 1911 building with high wood ceilings, brick and lovely old windows. We have music playing constantly in the background; it can be anything from alternative to punk to hip hop, depending on the day. Watts (the office puppy) is a recent addition and is usually running around checking in on everyone, or causing trouble if he can find it.

How is your office organized/arranged?

We have a small gallery (bright box gallery) at the entry to our space, it allows for the public to feel welcome to meander in and features a rotating selection of artists. Our ‘working’ design office is open with two main workspaces located on either side of the gallery. I work at a standing desk in the smaller front office area with my business partner. Our front office also includes a meeting space, as well as a few display/pin-up areas to hold bits of inspiration and things we are working on.

How long have you been in this space? Where did you work before that?

We have been in the space for 6 years now. The space has taken many iterations along the way, as the business has grown from just the two of us to a team of 6. Before we renovated and moved into this space, we were working out of my business partner’s basement. The gallery is a new addition that has added a really nice element of privacy for the workspaces. We were lucky and moved into the neighborhood at a time when everyone was leaving and closing businesses because of the recession. Now the area is booming and has become a bit of a design district, which has been fun to see and to be a part of.

If you could change something about your workspace, what would it be?

Hmmm. That’s a tough one, as I feel really lucky with what we have. The one thing that I would add would be a soundproof meeting room. Sometimes there is just a need for it!

Is there an office pet?

Yes! Watts, my rescued puppy (now 6 months old). He comes in a few times a week and brings a lot of spunk.

Do you require music in the background? If so, who are some favorites?

I like to have music in the background, it keeps me moving and focused. I like quite a mix, but if I have a choice I always choose hip hop – A Tribe Called Quest, Talib Kweli, The Roots, Common, Wu-Tang.

How do you record ideas?

I use notebooks – lots of them, and random bits of paper here and there to sketch things out.

Do you have an inspiration board? What’s on it right now?

I tend to have a variety of inspiration collections rather than a board – some digital, some physical. I like to ponder a mix of objects as well as photos of spaces, places and things.

What is your creative process and/or creative workflow like? Does it change every project or do you keep it the same?

It varies depending on what the project is (our projects come in a wide variety of scopes), but I always start with developing a concept and inspiration for the general feel for the project and go from there.

What kind of design objects might you have scattered about the space?

Ceramics, fabric, tile, pieces of wood, paint swatches, light fixtures and a wealth of design magazines.

Are there tools and/or machinery in your space?

Just our computers which are essential to the process these days. Oh, and measuring tapes, of all forms, both the old school along with the new school (lasers).

What tool do you most enjoy using in the design process?

I most enjoy hand sketching and getting away from the computer (when I get the chance). I come from a background of making things with my hands and love when I can attach a physical aspect to the process.

Let’s talk about how you’re wired. Tell us about your tech arsenal/devices.

I work on an iMac with a broad spectrum of programs, and an iPhone as you might guess. Other than that I try to keep things analog as I prefer to unplug whenever I can.

What design software do you use, if any, and for what?

AutoCAD for drawings and drafting, and the Adobe Suite for graphics, presentations, custom design details, etc. We also do some 3D modeling.

Is there a favorite project you’ve worked on?

Choosing one favorite is impossible for me. Here are a few that I really enjoyed getting into: Plywood treehouse (above), Overlook, Bohemian Modern Kitchen.

Do you feel like you’ve “made it”? What has made you feel like you’ve become successful? At what moment/circumstances? Or what will it take to get there?

I feel successful and grateful for all we have accomplished, but I don’t feel like I have “made it” yet. I’m searching for how far we can go and what impact we can have in the greater world. I think gaining an understanding of what that means will lead to feeling like I’ve “made it”.

Tell us about a current project you’re working on. What was the inspiration behind it?

I am working on a number of different projects: A whole home remodel that is a mix of historical and funky modern elements, a restaurant focused on plant-based pizza, and new build modern mountain house, to name a few. For each project, the building and my clients are the greatest inspiration, I love figuring out how to make it unique to its sense of place and to the personality of the people who will live or work there.

What’s on your desk right now?

A stockpile of pens, business and design books, files, a mini Prouvé chair model, and empty space ready for me to jump into the next project.

Do you have anything in your home that you’ve designed/created?

A number of pieces of furniture, along with a full master bath remodel that we completed at the beginning of last year. I always have a random mix of art projects that I’m working on as well, I like to have them rotate through as I think about them and then move on to the next.

Caroline Williamson is Editor-in-Chief of Design Milk. She has a BFA in photography from SCAD and can usually be found searching for vintage wares, doing New York Times crossword puzzles in pen, or reworking playlists on Spotify.