December 18, 2018

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