Nina Tolstrup

Multi-faceted Nina Tolstrup trained as a designer at the prestigious Les Ateliers School of Industrial Design in Paris and has a BA in Marketing from the Business School in Copenhagen. She is currently designing products for companies while also taking a pro-active approach designing, manufacturing and selling her own ranges under the Studiomama name. Here she shares the joyous interweaving of work and family at home and on the weekends.

I have my studio at home and a workshop down the road. I love the area in which I live, it’s in the heart of the East End, situated close to Brick Lane flea market and Columbia Road flower market. I love the atmosphere and characters you find as well as the odd bits of bric-a-brac. I am by nature a collector and cannot help arriving home with some strange artifact that I’m sure will come in handy one day.

Our live-work space is hidden away from the densely urban populated area in a very narrow cobbled street. According to our local pie and mash shop owner, who holds the collective memory of the neighborhood, it is a former sausage factory. When we acquired the space an artist had been living there and it was a raw shell. I worked on developing the space, it was a labor of love! It is unusual in many ways, and somehow secluded in this urban melee. It would be nice to have more space as we are constantly accumulating bits and pieces and the space is becoming increasingly cluttered.

I love working from home but it also means that there is little separation between work and family life. My studio is part of our open space living room and kitchen. I can’t claim that I’m juggling the work, life and family situation very well, but being a designer helps a lot - when the kids comes back from school they find the tables and floor full of drawings, paper models, glue gun and scissors and they join in as if it had been set up for their playtime.

It is a bit trickier when I’m working on the computer — as the kids are always happy to get on a computer in the studio the good thing, I guess, is that at least I’m around and the kids can participate in or follow what I’m up to. Weighing it all up, I can’t imagine working in a different way.

The perfect work-life balance does not exist; I’m always working or never working, depending on who is doing the judging. My kids do not think I’m ever working. How can you call making doodles in your sketch book work? Or cutting shapes in paper and cardboard? Achieving balance in our family life is dependent on our weekend chalet on the beach. This is the one place in the world where I can’t work. I fish, cook, play, swim, sail in my canoe and socialize with friends. This stream of unconscious stuff fuels the soul and body. It is kind of magical but also puzzling how places can define moods and energies.

The chalet is a simple timber construction sitting on steel frame, clad with cedar shingles on the exterior and roughly cut pine on the interior. Every time I enter the smell of the pine hits me, and serves to evoke the nature of the place. Here time takes on a different dimension: even being there a short time somehow feels longer and you leave feeling recharged. There is never any plan, but always things to do. I feel a strong connection to the place and the bleak landscape which has its own strange beauty.

I love to see the changing seasons and the contrast of light during the course of the day. The sea is often out for hours, uncovering mudflats for us to walk on. We have learnt to forage for food, collecting seaweed and salt as well as cockles and mussels.
I love this contrast between the dense urban living and the open, spacious, visceral nature of the coast. I feel that this relaxing state of mind stimulates and nourishes the soul and in turn stimulates creativity.