Caleb Anderson says he has always been a perfectionist—a quality that’s often been accompanied by a tendency toward anxiety. Though a career in design was a longtime dream, fulfilling it didn’t set his mind at ease. “When I entered my design career, [my anxiety] just kind of amplified,” he says. “The demands of the profession and clients, operating in what can often be chaos in this industry—it was challenging for me, and I was very stressed and anxious.”
In 2018, the situation reached a breaking point. Anderson had internalized his feelings for so long that functioning every day became difficult, and his anxiety started to manifest in physical symptoms like insomnia and panic attacks. Worst of all, he’d begun to lose his passion for design, and the thriving career he’d worked so hard to cultivate.
In search of relief, Anderson embarked on a yoga retreat in Costa Rica. It was there that he met DeAndre DeVane, a fellow New Yorker who had recently transitioned from a corporate position in financial services to a career in the wellness and coaching space. The trip marked the start of the pair’s relationship, as well as the beginning of Anderson’s greater wellness journey. After returning home, they continued to explore different wellness practices, and over time, Anderson began to see the impact of his new habits on his life, work and relationships. “I became so passionate about it,” says Anderson. “It allowed me to become a healthier person, but I also feel that I’m more creative, and I have a greater ability to give and share with other people. It’s been pretty transformational.”
Last summer, Anderson and DeVane started brainstorming ways to help others integrate wellness into their personal and work lives more holistically. Through informal conversations with industry peers, Anderson began to identify a common experience—design professionals were feeling increasingly stressed, overwhelmed and burned out. He and DeVane set to work formulating an idea for a new kind of industry organization that would allow the pair to share the resources they’d collected over the years.
The result was Well-Designed: a trade organization that aims to facilitate wellness and learning experiences through industry-supported events, workshops and retreats. The enterprise is kicking off next week with its first pop-up experience at Business of Home’s Future of Home conference, followed by another event as part of What’s New, What’s Next at the New York Design Center. The organization’s programming is supported by partnerships with the likes of Benjamin Moore, Cosentino, Kravet and others.
Based on a membership model, Well-Designed will cater to design professionals at various stages of their careers, with programming to match. Student memberships will be offered through academic institutions, starting with a charter program available for students of the New York School of Interior Design. Programming will fall into three different categories: one- to three-hour events (virtual and in-person) focused on individual wellness practices; full-day workshops, held with small groups and led by various experts; and three- to five-day nature retreats with hands-on experiences.
Well-Designed’s content will explore practices including Ayurvedic nutrition, meditation, breath work, movement, sound baths, aromatherapy, yoga and creative exercises, with a focus on how to integrate such activities into the day-to-day lives of design and architecture professionals. A recent pilot program of a day-long workshop (the organization’s flagship offering) offers a case study: During yoga, the instructor’s guidance included tips for managing stressful, design-specific scenarios during the workday. The group’s aromatherapy session followed a similar format, with the expert recommending a deep breath with essential oils before a difficult client call or meeting.
In that case, DeVane notes, the aromatherapist also explained the science behind the practice, which employs the sensory experience of smell to relax the central nervous system—a key way to help participants learn not just how to engage in wellness practices, but also why they work. “It’s bringing in that relevant information, so that it’s not just, ‘Oh, this fragrance smells good,’” says DeVane. “Instead, this is actually what is happening in your body and in your energetic experience, and [we explain] how this is contributing to supporting you in a very known way.”
Beyond easing stress in members’ daily lives, Anderson hopes the organization can help raise awareness of how design choices can impact the health of both a space’s inhabitants and the world at large. The idea is a reflection of where his own wellness journey has led him—he’s currently enrolled in a healthy materials course at Parsons, and has hired a researcher and consultant to audit his material library and communicate with vendors to find more sustainable routes to design.
“When we get to this place of wellness, those conversations come from a place of authenticity—it’s not about greenwashing or marketing,” says Anderson. “As I have done this [wellness] work, I have been able to elevate my practice, my work and the impact of my work. Our vision is that by lifting people up in our design community, we will be able to elevate the industry.”
Underpinning the organization’s entire suite of programming, Anderson and DeVane say, is a push to encourage designers to engage in meaningful discussions that go beyond aesthetics and delve into the deeper territory of health and well-being. That’s part of the reason Well-Designed workshops include a module where participants are invited to share their experiences and insights. It’s also why, despite launching in New York, Anderson and DeVane hope to take their concept much farther as the organization grows.
“[I’m driven by] a longing for more meaningful and authentic connection in our industry. There are so many social events, so many cocktail parties and dinners—which are wonderful, but people aren’t really connecting in a deep and meaningful way, and sharing and opening up and being themselves,” says Anderson. “I wanted a community like that.”
To learn more about Well-Designed, visit well-designed.org.
Homepage photo: Caleb Anderson and DeAndre DeVane, founders of Well-Designed | Brittany Ambridge for Well-Designed