Organizing Space

Organizing Space

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When I think about the power of physical space over how we feel, my mind jumps to the design of government buildings. 

The Louisiana legislature is in session right now, and while I haven’t been down to testify this season, I have made a few appearances over the years. One time, I testified at a House Education Committee hearing with my then-infant daughter strapped to my chest in a sling.

Over time, I’ve become a person who is quite comfortable with showing up and telling my elected officials about themselves. 

Of course, that space was designed to welcome me -- I’m white, middle-aged, affluent, able-bodied and college-educated.

I recognize that not everyone is so comfortable within those walls. It’s formal. You go through security. The lobby is breathtaking, and then you’re led through these little hallways until you find yourself in these tiny little rooms filled with furniture you’re not actually supposed to sit on.

And I don’t. 

That’s the power of interior design and its impact on our mood and behavior.

In this episode of Margins, Elena and I talk to two masters of organizing space around them: chef Katie Juban and architect Katherine Darnstadt. Check out what they have to say.

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Mise en What?

Did you know that pretty much every restaurant kitchen is organized in the style of the French military? From Taco Bell to the fanciest white tablecloth in town, the guiding principle in play is called Mise en Place -- which means “everything in its place.”

I first heard the term from my friend Katie Juban, a long time professional chef. To her, mise en place is all about routines, cleanliness, and organization. Kitchen newbies often buck at how strictly they’re expected to (literally) fall in line, but it’s not even a little bit negotiable for Katie: Keeping your cooking space tidy and clean signals that you do your job safely, efficiently and with integrity. “If you can't be bothered to take those little pieces of attention to detail, then why would I trust you with my truffles and my caviar?”

Off the clock, though, Katie freely admits that turns that part of her brain off and rebels a bit.  “I’ve always had this very stubborn, proud, oppositional defiant thing where because I have to be that way at work and just hyper-organized and hyper mise en place and everything thought out 10 steps in advance … When I come home, it’s like, no, I’m throwing my socks in the fucking corner.”

“If you're mentally not set up, it doesn't matter how well the physical space is organized, you're not going to get there.”

Building Equity Into Our Physical Spaces

Have you ever walked into a new space and felt completely at ease? Have you ever felt unwelcome? Perhaps your reaction was caused by the people in that space? Or was it the design of the space itself? Our guest Katherine Darnstadt has made it her life mission to design spaces that are built with a focus on equity through her company, Latent Design.

It’s a big mission, but one she argues everyone can contribute to. “As architects and designers, [we want to] make all neighborhoods safe spaces for anyone to feel they could enjoy without being over-policed, without being unsafe, and being joyful in it,” she says. “And I think if everyone thinks about their space and their neighborhood and can bring forth and feels comfortable bringing forth ideas, that’s one step to getting more positive advocacy in the built environment.”

“If everyone kind of thinks about their space and their neighborhood, and feels comfortable, bringing forth ideas, that's one step to getting more positive advocacy in the built environment and people feeling like they have access.”

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Mary Ellen Slayter is CEO of Rep Cap. Before creating her own content marketing firm, she served as director of content development and a senior general business and finance editor at SmartBrief, a leading publisher of e-mail newsletters. Before joining SmartBrief, she spent 8 years at The Washington Post, where she authored the Career Track column and worked as an editor in the business news department. You can find Mary Ellen on Twitter @MESlayter.

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