HOME: Tips for designing a home office

A show of hands: Who works at home? Probably everyone reading this. The reality is, almost everyone does some kind of work from home, whether catching up on work emails, telecommuting or actually running a home-based business. 

Because we work so much at home, it’s more important than ever to have a proper space to work. So whether your home office is a spare room or just a corner of a guest bedroom, these tips will help you be more focused and productive — in style.

Define the space

If you don’t have a dedicated room for your office, it’s a good idea to delineate your work area to separate it from the rest of your home. Self-standing room dividers such as folding shoji screens can create an official “office zone,” so that when you cross that threshold, you’re in work mode. (Well, that’s the intent, anyway, at least until those YouTube videos of puppies meeting kittens start beckoning.) Open-back bookcases also make great room dividers — and as an added bonus, they’re functional. Painting your office area a distinct color can also help define the space, especially if it’s a corner of a bedroom or a nook in the kitchen. 

Put your walls to work

Make your walls functional. Apply chalkboard or dry-erase paint to a wall so you can write on it, or apply magnetic paint to turn your wall into a message center that will hold magnets. Magnetic paint is actually not magnetic (rest assured that your small pets will not fly across the room and stick to the wall if they’re wearing tags), it is a primer that contains metallic particles that will attract magnets. You can leave it as is, or paint over it. Chalkboard, dry-erase and magnetic paint all are available in the paint department of your local home-improvement store. Be sure to follow the directions on the label so they work properly.

Invest in a good chair

” target=”_blank”>Herman Miller Aeron chair

An extra dining room chair is fine for a home office that you use only sporadically, but if you’re going to spend any significant time in your workspace, get yourself a good, comfortable office chair. It should have plenty of cushioning as well as lumbar support, vertical adjustment and, preferably, wheels. Resist the urge to buy a chair solely on the basis of looks. You already break your back working, you don’t need to break your back sitting.

Ensure proper lighting

” target=”_blank”>Lux Brooklyn LED lamp

Lighting is an afterthought for a lot of people, but it shouldn’t be. Proper lighting enables you to work effectively without eye strain, and it also makes your home office a more inviting place to be. I recommend at least two sources of light: one overhead or floor lamp to provide ambient light, and a desk lamp that serves as a task light. If you do have an overhead light, make sure it’s on a dimmer so you can adjust the brightness. If you’re fortunate enough to have a lot of natural sunlight in your home office, position your computer screen so that you don’t get any glare.

Discover the wheel

” target=”_blank”>Go-cart desk from CB2

When you’re working, make those wheels turn — figuratively and literally. By choosing office furnishings with wheels or casters, you can easily move your workstation around to fit your needs. Being mobile allows more flexibility to change up your home office depending on the day’s tasks, and you’re less likely to damage your floors as you maneuver furniture. You’ll find wheels available on everything from desks and chairs to file cabinets and bookcases.

Choose the right desk 

As long as your desktop is big enough for your needs, don’t limit yourself to “office desks.” For those who need a lot of space, a former dining table could do the trick, or even an old door balanced atop two filing cabinets. I had a client who needed only a small space to catch up on paperwork and pay bills, so I made him a drop-leaf desk that extended from his bookcase. When he wasn’t using it, the desk portion served as a door on the bookcase; when he needed it, he just dropped down the door to the horizontal position, and it became a work surface. In my home, I like the flexibility of either working in my office or moving to the living room sofa for a change of venue, so I have a portable cushioned lap-desk for my Macbook. Whatever desk you choose, make sure it’s right for your individual work style.

Get organized

” target=”_blank”>Desk collection from The Container Store

Consider what tasks you will be doing in your home office and organize accordingly. Place the items you use most frequently within reach, either on the desk or on nearby shelves, and store less-used items out of the way. Go vertical with bookshelves all the way to the ceiling. And here’s one of my biggest secrets for organizing: Hide things. Put doors on bookcases and cabinets so things can be stashed away. Let a room divider hide boxes. Get storage ottomans that do double duty as seating and storage. I once was on a TV design show for which I had to make over a messy, cluttered home office in someone’s garage. After my amazing transformation, the episode aired, and my family members (who are my biggest critics — but that’s another story for my therapist) felt that I had cheated because I just moved all the clutter off-camera. The truth was, I’d hidden all of the clutter in closed cabinets and under tables. It was all there, you just couldn’t see it.

Make it personal

” target=”_blank”>Money tree plant from IKEA

Remember, when you are furnishing your home office, the operative word is still “home.” Therefore, you should feel at home as you work. Fill your workspace with items that make you feel good — personal tchotchkes, family pictures, framed press clippings and even plants. According to a 2014 study published by the American Psychological Association, offices devoid of pictures, souvenirs or greenery are actually unhealthy work environments. You’ll be happier — and more productive — when your space is, well, happier.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Professional tips on clearing clutter and getting organized

There’s a post that’s going around Facebook right now about how creative people have messier workspaces. That certainly fits me. I would show you a picture of the desk I’m typing at right now, but it would ruin your image of me as the consummate style guru. (OK, that may not be your image of me, but let’s move on.)

And don’t even get me started on my closet. It is so packed with clothes, that I can squeeze a shirt in there — without a hanger. Feeling I needed some professional help to get rid of my clutter and get more organized, I consulted with Christel Ferguson of Space to Love, a Los Angeles-based interior decorating firm that specializes in organization and decluttering (” target=”_blank”>jonathanfongstyle.com.

Decorating to improve your love life

Admit it. The first time you visit the home of someone you’ve just started dating, don’t you love to snoop around the place to get some clue about this potential mate? You might look at the pictures on the wall, the books on the shelves, maybe the style of furniture to get an idea of their interests and tastes. But a home speaks volumes more about a person than that.

A home reveals your personality. It says where you are right now in life. And it reflects how ready you are for a relationship.

So what is your home saying about you? Is it saying you’re a real catch? Or is it telling the world you’re stuck in the ’90s? 

Even if your home is sending out distress signals, you can decorate and accessorize to invite love into your life. Here are just a few tips to boost your home’s romance quotient. Because when you make a few changes to where you live, you’ll be making big changes to how you live. 

Get rid of white walls

If you ask people why they have white walls, they’ll probably say, “I don’t have time to paint” or “I didn’t want to pick a color and then see that it was a mistake.” Think about it. Don’t these excuses sound like reasons people avoid relationships? Write this down and put it in your fortune cookie: If you can’t commit to a color, how can you commit to a relationship? 

You’re probably a pretty good judge of color already, you just don’t know it. Go into your closet and pick out your favorite items of clothing. What do you wear over and over again? Which outfits do people always seem to compliment you on? If you look so good wearing these colors, you’ll also look good with these colors surrounding you. 

Sampling colors on your wall doesn’t have to be risky. Many companies like Home Depot sell little jars of their paint colors that you can try out. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake. If you don’t like it, try another, and then another. It’s just like dating. If it doesn’t work out, just move on to the next one. And you don’t have to worry about hurting the color’s feelings because you didn’t call back.

Lose the clutter

Before you get into a relationship, you need to get rid of your emotional baggage. The same thing goes for the unnecessary physical baggage that’s cluttering your home. From the looks of all their out-of-date magazines, you’d think some people were dentists. Throw all the junk away. This goes especially for items that remind you of a past relationship. That stuffed bear your ex won for you at the arcade? Dump it. Those maracas from that party you threw together? Hasta la vista! From this day forward, you are starting with a clean slate, so let your home reflect that. Then you’ll be open to filling your home with new souvenirs, new memories and new relationships.

Get comfy

Male or female, everyone loves a softie. How inviting is your furniture? Does it allow people to kick their feet up and stay a while? Without having to make big purchases, just incorporating some pillows and throws with luxurious, soft textures can help make up for a lumpy sofa. Area rugs will warm up a space, especially if you have hardwood floors. And soft lighting not only makes you look better, it casts a glow that puts everyone at ease.

Buy housewares in complete sets

When you’re buying dishes, buy the complete set for eight with the salad plates and those cups and saucers you’ll never use. When you’re buying towels, buy the whole set with matching hand towels and washcloths. (And buy more than one set.) Why? First, it shows that you are now an adult. You’re not a college student anymore, so don’t accessorize your home like you’re still in a dorm. 

The most important reason, though, is because it used to be that people waited until they got married before they got these items (and usually they were gifts). But by owning them before you’re married, you’re telling the universe that you are comfortable as a single person. You have a life. You are not waiting to get married to feel complete. And, ironically, it’s usually when you accept that you’re already a whole person that you happen to find your other half.

We spend so much effort on new hairstyles, clothes and teeth-whitening kits when we hit the dating scene that we forget it’s our homes that are the true reflection of ourselves. So the next time a date comes over, remember that your home is an open book.

Make it a book with a happy ending. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls that Wow,” ”Flowers that Wow” and “Parties that Wow,” and host of “Style with a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects on

Generation Next — a new vision for the Jewish future

This speech, by writer/editor/blogger Esther D. Kustanowitz, was delivered at the 2007 General Assembly convened in Nashville by United Jewish Communities as part of the “Next Generation” plenary. At the plenary, a range of young Jewish and Israeli activists, bloggers, an Oscar-winning filmmaker and others described their visions of community building and the power of the collective.

When I moved to New York in 1994, my community centered around my friends from Camp Ramah and the people I met in synagogue. We used e-mail, but mostly we relied on an ancient device known as “the telephone.” A few of us were experimenting with some new-fangled thing called “Instant Messaging.”

Today, you can forward an e-mail, a Web site or a YouTube video to hundreds of people, creating a network based on a shared experience or affiliation. The Jewish world has always operated that way — the community mobilizes to address an issue or to fill a need.

Today’s technology has altered the modes and frequency of connection, and today’s Jewish 20- and 30-somethings, perceiving gaping holes in the community’s agenda, are seeking each other out using the full power of technology. Web sites, blogs and social networking sites are thriving. It’s a grass-roots uprising.

There is a lot of concern over the development of this kind of vast online community network, largely because of the generational technology divide. But what’s clear is that Federation professionals, volunteers, donors, and publications that want to stay relevant to “Generation Tech” need to significantly increase their techno-literacy.

People also perceive the emergence of online life as a threat to in-person relationships and connections. But our online world does not replace our offline life. Expanding our personal and professional connections; cross-pollinating our projects with others, our initiatives emerge strengthened and energized, and new ideas keep us active and inspired, on- and offline.

Today, the “social” in social action, social entrepreneurship and social networking enables everything else. The power of the collective — not of one organization or charismatic leader — enables change. The collective transforms one idea into something more valuable.

Facebook, for example, had a simple concept: to create a Web site that replaced the traditional college “face book,” the directory of new students. The company, recognizing that the product could probably use a few tweaks, encouraged the users’ input. Call it a different kind of tikkun olam: Facebook users fixing the world of Facebook.

A friend recently remarked that Jews, particularly, are in love with Facebook-wondering who their friends know and which of their friends’ friends they’re already friends with. This is because this activity is a new, easy-to-read iteration of our favorite pastime: Jewish geography. (“You know David from camp? I went to college with David!”)

Jews, living in dispersed locations for thousands of years, have learned how to harness the power of the network as a survival instinct. You need a place for Shabbat? Or an in with David’s cousin Murray, the hotshot lawyer? Or maybe, you’ve got a nephew who’s just perfect for me or some other Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel or Leah? Jewish geography. The friend (or relative) of my friend (or relative) is my friend. Or a relative.

This is the power of the network. As Jews create communities online, large and small, political and social, community becomes more true to the word itself: call out the obvious “unity” at the end of the word, and you’re left with “comm,” which I like to think stands for “comm” communication and commitment. This enigmatic “new generation” is not any less committed than the previous one; we’re just communicating that commitment differently. And to be relevant to the new media generation, old-school organizations have to embrace new modes of communication and new models of commitment.

When I was asked to do this session, I was curious how many of us “new generation” types were on Facebook and attending the GA, so I formed an online group — “Going to the GA in Nashville and Under 45” — today, there are over 140 members.

My generation is not emotionally tied to the traditional structures that served as their parents’ main connection to Jewish community, because we don’t have to be. We are creating our own online and offline publications, initiatives and minyanim, in reaction to having examined what does exist and finding that it doesn’t fill our needs. For example, I’m on dozens of mailing lists and read about 50 blogs a day. I read lots offline too, but most of the programs and events I find out about through Facebook, blogs, e-newsletters, or e-mail. I can’t tell you the last time I attended an event that didn’t have a Facebook profile.

Online, I’ve become involved in opportunities I never would have known about otherwise. I am a team member for the Jewlicious Festivals, an celebration of all things Jewish attended by hundreds of college students each year. I’m involved in the ROI Global Summit for Jewish Innovators, an annual Jerusalem gathering of 120 Jewish leaders in my age cohort from around the world. And through my involvement in PresenTense Magazine, a content-laden magazine for Jewish 20- and 30-somethings, I’ve also been able to experience a broad swath of Jewish life in the here and now. I’ve also experienced new permutations of Zionism, through this summer’s PresenTense Institute for Creative Zionism.

Today’s Jews in my generation aren’t connecting to Federation the way our parents did. And I know this relationship, or lack thereof, troubles you. So view yourselves through our eyes. Are there campaigns, events or initiatives in your community that do draw participation from our age cohort?

Our generation lives generously, but gives differently: in measure, in method and in means. We need to feel the return on our investments — of both time and money — in our hearts and souls. And for those of us who are single or not parents, the community needs to expand the definition of commitment beyond Hebrew school tuition: just because some of us aren’t engaged to be married doesn’t mean we’re not engaged in pursuing a Jewish life.

Because our ideas, our commitment and our initiatives begin online and bleed into real life, Jewish organizations that seek new, younger members must commit to it not only in mission, but in action, supporting and forming partnerships with younger, innovative initiatives, not hoping to subsume them, but to work together with them.

By managing these kinds of creative partnerships effectively, and mobilizing our global Jewish social network, we will forge a future that is strong, vital, and a source of creative inspiration.

Her Yen for CinemaSparks Film Fest

While spending five years in Hong Kong, Terry Paule turned
to movie watching as an accessible medium that helped her stay current with
trends in the United States and elsewhere.

Her newfound appreciation for cinema is the catalyst behind
this month’s Pacific Jewish Film Festival, the county’s newest weeklong venue
for specialty movies. Previously, the county has supported niche film fests
about Persia and Taiwan, a discontinued event in Laguna Beach that emphasized
animation and the longest running in Newport Beach, which focuses on work by
new filmmakers.

Paule suggested a Jewish film event at a dinner party not
long after she and her husband settled in Laguna Niguel to accommodate his
transfer by the Walt Disney Co. to Anaheim’s Disneyland resort from general
counsel in Hong Kong. While Paule joined Irvine’s University Synagogue, she
still hungered for nearby weekend cultural events, like those she regularly
patronized while living in Los Angeles before moving abroad.

“With 80,000 Jews, you would think we could fill a house,”
Paule said, pointing out that the 2,000-family Jewish community of Hong Kong
organized a Jewish film festival in 2001.

Paule, 53, an administrative law judge who hears
unemployment and disability claims, grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich., which had a
tiny Jewish community. The synagogue and its 100 families were the nucleus of
her alife.

Paule recalls what she now recognizes as an undercurrent of
anti-Semitism, such as the time that a kindergarten teacher asked, “Are you the
immigrant’s daughter?” To keep a kosher home, her parents ordered meat that was
delivered by Greyhound bus. 

“When you grow up in a community that isn’t Jewish, you
don’t take it for granted,” Paule said. “There was no federation, no JCC.”

Undaunted by the prospect of creating an event from scratch,
Paule believed that all Orange County lacked was a spark of inspiration. “I can
do this,” she told herself.

Research was hardly onerous. She went to Jewish film
festivals around the country and saw in San Francisco’s the model she hopes to
emulate. The nation’s oldest festival lures a diverse movie-going audience,
many of whom are unaffiliated with any Jewish organization. She also saw films
that moved her by evoking her own experiences.

“So many of the films are about the Diaspora,” Paule said.
“It was so different being a small minority.”

As in Michigan, Paule’s experience in Hong Kong was that of
a minority, but with a unique twist.

She joined a Jewish community initially established by
Sephardic opium dealers from India and Iraq. Their original Sephardic temple
was built in 1900 in a building that became an apartment complex.

More recently, as China opened its borders and a war raged
in Vietnam, Jews from France and the United States arrived. Many married
non-Jews, whose children could not become b’nai mitzvah in the Orthodox shul.

In one of the world’s most densely populated cities, the
elders agreed to an unusual real estate deal to accommodate a Reform rabbi.
Selling the upper floors of the synagogue property, the elders retained the
street-level shul, two apartments for two rabbis, space for a joint-use
community center and shared access to the pool and gymnasium with apartment residents.
The deal generated $200 million, now held in trust for the benefit of 2,000

Paule recalled fondly a Purim carnival in the Hong Kong JCC
that was attended by Orthodox and Reform congregants. “Both came,” she said.
“That’s what made it so rich.” — AA