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Show Us Where You Live: How Deborah Wang Balances The Home and Office

Through her own lens, DesignTO’s Deborah Wang shows us how considered accumulation can make for great design

By Gregory Furgala
Photography by Deborah Wang

Several weeks into social isolation, Deborah Wang, artistic director of DesignTO and an architect by training, has realized that she and her husband, Will Elsworthy, an architect at Superkül (our 2020 designer of the year), could really use a second space in their home for work. With both now working from the home office of their West End Victorian, they’re occasionally forced to shuffle off to other parts of the house while the other takes a call. Suffice it to say, the current stay-at-home recommendations have been somewhat disruptive to their workflow.

A lone Hans Wegner Wishbone chair stands out against a set of grey Salt chairs. A George Nelson Bubble Lamp hangs overhead, and behind, a photo by Scott Norsworthy (who has previously worked with DL) and art by Jerome Nadeau. On the far left, artwork by Jessica Thalmann.

“It’s caused us to rethink of our individual spaces,” says Wang. “It works when we’re both not here, but now we need another space.”

A Muuto sofa sits next to a Tolomeo lamp by Artemide. A second photo by Scott Norsworthy hangs above it.

Wang’s rapid re-evaluation of her home isn’t par for the course. When she and Elsworthy moved in over a decade ago, they didn’t approach the space with the immediate purpose and execution typical of designers and architects. Instead, they let life aggregate around them, slowly accumulating and editing their collection of furniture and art over the years. The resulting space is now well-stocked with iconic pieces from sought-after labels and designers – George Nelson, Charles and Ray Eames, Artemide, Muuto – as well as greenery and artwork by local artists.

The two photos were taken by Wang. A vintage bench is paired with a fibreglass Eames rocker.

Their slow-design approach has made for some idiosyncrasies. Around the dining table, a lone, glossy blue Wishbone chair stands out amongst five grey Salt chairs. Behind them, half-height metal bookshelves filled with tomes on art and design stand in for a sideboard. In their office, an ailing fiddle-leaf fig – which has migrated throughout the home – is currently tied to the ceiling to prevent it from keeling over. Having emerged organically, those idiosyncrasies help personalize Wang and Elsworthy’s home. It’s lived in, comfortable and composed.

The office features practical standard and bracket shelving. The plant, a fiddle leaf fig, hangs from the ceiling by a cord to keep it from falling.

That balance wouldn’t be possible without the office, though. It’s a place, Wang explains, for all the stuff – documents, papers, bills – that tend to accumulate. It’s separate by design, and delineates spaces for work and relaxation both physically and mentally. “People have come into our house and said it’s very calm,” says Wang. “And part of it is removing stuff from those spaces and putting it in the office.”

Both Wang and Elsworthy grew up in homes with plenty of greenery. Now, plants make up a “living layer” in their own home.

With their working lives occasionally encroaching onto their home space, it’s unsurprising that Wang muses about the possibility of a second home office. “Right now it’s very ad hoc,” says Wang. She thinks a bookshelf with a small desk – likely something modular and versatile – would probably work well. With the extra time at home, Wang says it’s easy to consider how to improve her space and just what to add or edit. “I think a lot of people are feeling that way.”