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Name: Calin Balea
Location: Bucharest, Romania
Occupation: UI, UX, and Brand Designer
Room size: 12 m² (129 ft²)
Cost of setup: ~$4K (not accounting for room decoration. That was done as part of the design of my entire apartment, so it’s hard to isolate.)
Social media: Twitter
Hello! Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m a digital designer with over ten years of experience.
For the past six years, I’ve been working remotely for clients from the US and Europe. Recently I founded a design studio — contrast.studio.
I studied finance in college but never practiced.
I started playing around with Photoshop in high school and got more into it when I wanted to create marketing materials for a side hustle when I was about twenty.
It snowballed from there. After I graduated, the first real job I landed was at an advertising agency in my hometown (Timișoara, Romania), and the rest is history.
Right now, my main goal is to expand my studio business and assist even more founders in creating engaging and user-friendly products.
I’m currently collaborating with two companies and hoping to partner with 2-3 more in the nearest future. To maintain a high standard of excellence, I am keeping the number of client seats limited.
Take us through your setup
|LG HDR 5K
|The mount that came in the box
|Monitor light bar
|Baseus Monitor Light Bar
|MacBook Pro 14 2021
|AirPods Pro, Surface Headphones 1, and a pair of AIAIAI
|Logitech MX Master 3
|ErgoHuman V2 Elite Plus
|Generic/no brand, black leather
|Logitech Brio 4K
|Apple iPad Pro 2021
I created my home office to increase productivity and work for long hours without distractions.
A crucial factor was having a well-lit room without glare on my screens caused by natural light.
I can’t take much credit for the design of this room. It was done by ISRA Design, the skilled interior designer responsible for styling my entire apartment.
My only contribution was to provide a clear creative brief, with reference photos and a list of things I needed for my office.
The concept, inspired by sunset colours, includes orange accents.
To complement such a strong colour, they used a lot of natural materials (wood, marble) and neutral colours.
Their creative process took about two to three months from the initial visit to the final 3D renders.
I encountered some problems during the implementation process. Initially, I tried to cut costs by hiring a less expensive contractor.
However, they did not follow the plans and performed poorly, causing a great deal of frustration.
Eventually, I had to hire another team to complete the job. As for the furniture, I collaborated with a friend, and that went well.
Looking back, if I were to do it again, I would choose the best contractor within my budget and avoid the stress of managing a subpar one.
In hindsight, this might have even saved me money in the end.
My office has three distinct areas: the desk, the bench, and the workout corner.
The desk is my primary workspace.
The bench, over two meters long and situated beside the window, is ideal for stretching and relaxing.
This space is a great reading spot with a view.
The workout corner houses my treadmill. I use it for light workouts during busy periods.
I enjoy my new office, but it’s incomplete.
I’m considering adding accessories like a phone and headphone holder and a desk-edge monitor arm for better organisation.
I need to improve my video call and recording setup and am currently exploring options.
What’s your favourite item on your desk?
It’s not a fancy piece of tech, and it’s not on my desk; it’s on the shelf behind me.
It’s a mold of my wife’s and my hands holding each other.
It holds sentimental value and reminds me of my priorities.
I got it from a local store for about $40.
The kit includes a bucket, two powders, instructions, a circular wooden base, and some paint.
The first powder, when mixed with water, forms the substance for the mold.
After mixing, you immerse your hand in the bucket and wait five to ten minutes for it to harden.
Once set, you gently remove your hand to preserve the mold, then pour in the second substance.
After 20-30 minutes, you flip the bucket, peel away the rubbery substance, clean and paint the mold, and attach it to the base.
What apps or tools do you use to get things done?
My bread and butter are Figma and Webflow, with other essentials like Photoshop and Illustrator as secondary tools.
I’ve been using Figma almost since its beta release.
It’s been interesting to witness its development. It has greatly simplified and empowered my workflow.
Designers who previously used Photoshop or Illustrator for UI design know the struggle.
Figma makes the UI/digital product design process more efficient.
Additionally, I rely on Todoist as my primary task organiser. It’s all I need — a simple, prioritised task list.
To manage my time and focus, I use an app called Flow.
It serves as a Pomodoro timer, allowing me to set the duration of work sessions, short breaks, and long breaks.
This method helps me stay concentrated and take breaks to avoid burnout by day’s end.
What books, blogs, or podcasts recently caught your attention?
I sometimes listen to content on YouTube while working, unless my tasks require deep focus.
Here are some channels I’ve been enjoying recently:
- Wealthion — for financial commentary.
- Peter Zeihan — for geo-political commentary.
- Y Combinator — for quality insights about start-ups.
- UpFlip — for success stories of non-tech entrepreneurs.
I like these channels because of the quality and depth of the information presented.
Any tips for other makers who want to improve their workspaces?
Natural light is essential.
It affects your mood and energy levels, especially if you’re spending long days in your office.
If you have a choice, invest in getting a well-lit space before spending on fancy tech.
On the topic of natural light: make sure you design the layout of your office to avoid screen glare and avoid having a strong light source behind you that can look bad on video calls.
If the space allows, design a place in your office to stretch out and relax but still be in “work mode” — a couch, for example.
Why not use the couch in your living room?
Because you’ll be tempted to do all kinds of other things instead of returning to work.
Working from home is a blessing but can also be a challenge in staying disciplined and focused.
What does your typical day look like?
I usually wake up without an alarm clock.
Right after waking, I drink water to rehydrate and expose myself to direct sunlight.
I enjoy walking onto my apartment balcony to look into the distance and soak up some sun.
This routine helps me wake up and regulate my circadian rhythm.
Before starting work, I check my calendar, email, and to-do list. I use Todoist for a simple, prioritised list of tasks.
I take a few minutes to set daily priorities and add them to my list, typically aiming to complete three high-value items.
While working, I often get so engrossed that I forget to drink water or leave my desk.
To counter this, I use Flow — the app I mentioned earlier — with 45-minute work sessions and ten-minute breaks.
Currently, I divide my day between client projects and developing my studio business, but there is no fixed time allocation.
Client needs are my priority, but I also dedicate time to my business and health.
My routine includes a morning work session and an afternoon session, with lunch and a workout in between.
At day’s end, I strive to disconnect, which can be a challenge when work is nearby.
Setting a firm time to leave the home office helps.
It might feel critical to finish every task, but the world won’t end if something is left undone.
The impact on health, focus, and other priorities isn’t worth the cost, especially over time.
Your tips for working from home?
Here are my top five tips:
- Put in place a schedule and boundaries. It’s necessary to stay focused because you are at home. Get your family members on board and stick to them.
- Make time to connect with people — current clients, past clients, mentors, colleagues, etc. Working from home can push you to become isolated, but maintaining a warm professional network is essential for your career or business.
- Improve your writing skills. Working from home, you probably communicate asynchronously most times. It’s very annoying to read a message and not be able to fully grasp what the sender is saying. This slows down everyone and makes you look bad. Learn to express yourself clearly and concisely. Also, use Grammarly to tidy up your writing.
- Dress for work. Don’t work in your PJs, even though they’re comfortable. Even if you don’t have video calls, this puts you in the right mindset to stay focused.
- Set clear goals. Each day, outline your tasks and objectives. Prioritise your most important work and tackle it first. Tools like Todoist or Notion are great for that. This helps you measure if you’re staying productive.
We’re a reader-supported publication. This article might contain affiliate links. It means we may receive a commission if you click a link and buy a product that our maker has recommended. The interview was done independently.