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With all of us conducting business from our counters and sofas these days, having a dedicated home office is on everyone’s wish list. Case in point: Havenly, an online interior design service, says that requests for home offices skyrocketed from 6 percent in 2019 to 26 percent today. And since February requests have gone up 160 percent.
“It all jumped the week of March 16, when the world went indoors,” says Lee Mayer, CEO of Havenly. “Even when we can go back, more people will work from home than ever before. So having a space you can be productive in will continue to be super important.”
Designer Jessica Becker, owner of design studio Burrow & Nest, agrees that the time is right to carve out your own private spot. "Many people need the relief of going home to recoup," she says. "So now that we're not at the office it's important to compartmentalize work and be able to shut the door on it, so to speak, at the end of the day."
It’s also about looking at the bright side. “No matter how tiny your space is—unless you’re used to a C-suite—home is definitely better than a desk or a cubicle,” says coastal Georgia interior designer Elaine Griffin.
When it comes to figuring out where to work, it pays to think outside the home-office box. “We had a client who wanted us to turn an oversized bathroom into a home office,” says Mayer. And Griffin gets creative with video calls. “I place my laptop on an ironing board to get the proper height—it’s way easier than setting up stacks of a gazillion books,” she says. Another of Griffin’s video-chat secrets? She places a white sheet on her lap to reflect the light and provide a flattering all-over glow.
Wherever you decide to get down to work, it’s important to do everything you can to raise your spirits. “When working from home, it’s hard to not feel like it’s Groundhog Day,” says Mayer. “To keep things interesting, light a different candle, play different music, or wear a different lipstick.”
To make the juggle less of a struggle, we tapped these top design pros for their very best tips on creating a home office in the most unlikely of places. Here’s how to make it all work.
Corners and entryways
“When contemplating your work-from-home location, start with the corners—they’re typically the least-furnished parts of a home,” says Griffin. “From there, check out niches like foyers.” An entryway is a great spot for a narrow console that you can top with a laptop. Hang a mirror to maximize light and make the area feel bigger. Just remember: “Clutter is the enemy of small spaces,” says Mayer. So think vertical. Install shelves above the desk as high as you can go.
“If you have a formal dining room that you don’t use regularly, it’s a great place to spread out,” says Becker. Just keep in mind that in a common area like this, storage is crucial. “Consider closed bins or pretty baskets that can easily slide under a table,” says Mayer.
Countertops make excellent work surfaces, snacks are close at hand, and there’s excellent task lighting here—but just make sure seating is comfortable for the long haul: “You don’t want to sit on a backless stool all day,” says Mayer. And keep things tidy. Wipe down the counters, do the dishes, and pack up your laptop each night so you can enter the next morning feeling fresh.
Prop a desk with decorative items that make you smile: flowers from the garden, a few favorite books. “Hang an inspirational quote above the desk and go for pretty organizing accessories so you don’t disturb the zen of your living space,” says Becker. Desks don’t have to take up precious real estate, either. “If your sofa floats in the middle of the room, pull up a desk to the back of it,” says Griffin.
Think of alternative ways to convert existing furniture. Becker turned an old TV armoire into a home-office helper by building in extra shelves for a printer, paper, and file bins. And it makes sense to buy pieces that can be repurposed if and when you go back to the office. “Consider a narrow console that can later be used in the entry as a catchall,” says Becker. “Or a small writing desk that can double as an end table.”
The worst is when paper piles invade your life—so hide them. “File cabinets nowadays go well beyond the antiquated metal versions of the past,” says Becker. “Choose a nice wooden option that looks like a piece of furniture so it blends seamlessly into your space.”
No room for a desk? “Create a ‘work nook’ instead with old-school TV trays,” says Griffin. “They’re typically about 20 inches long; line up a pair and you have Instant Office Central.”
Under the stairs
That underutilized hollowed-out area under a staircase is just begging for shelving, a desk, a chair, and a file cabinet. If you’re building your own desk from a piece of wood, save your back by making sure it’s at the proper height—around 30 inches from the floor. The problem with these nooks is typically a lack of light; solve that with table lamps and a sculptural pendant.
How to have calm rather than chaos? “Create very distinct school and fun zones so there’s a separation between work and play,” says Mayer. Opt for a kid-size desk, and “put up a play tent or even just a designated area with masking tape that kids know not to cross over until you say so!” says Mayer.
Sure, they’re not the prettiest places—but they’re private and away from household noise. “For a cozier feeling, cover anything unfinished with cloth or a tarp,” says Mayer, who adds that Havenly recently did a basement-turned-office project for a client who wanted a beach scene behind the desk. They hung large-scale art. Other ways to brighten the space? Put an old rug down to demarcate a work zone and add comfort underfoot. And go toward the light—place the desk near upper windows to grab any sun you can.
Becker has created what she calls ‘tuckaway offices.’ “The closet door closes to ‘tuckaway’ messes, leaving the room otherwise undisturbed. Dress up the space by painting or wallpapering the interior, or use cork tiles,” she says. “This allows you to pin up notes and it’s great soundproofing, helping to cocoon you in a quiet area so you can concentrate.”
It’s worth the effort. “Don’t get lazy—remove the trim and get out the spackle and paint so it feels like an alcove rather than a space that got converted,” says Mayer. If you don’t have lights in the closet, use battery-powered table lamps or stick-up versions. And if you want this spot to feel like an extension of the room, consider removing the door. Inspired to create a home office of your own? Get help from Havenly for just $69 (was $99).
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