Ask a De­signer: the evolv­ing home of­fice

The Progress-Index - At Home - - ASK A DESIGNER - Melissa Ray­worth

Maybe you dash off work e-mails while mak­ing din­ner, or you squeeze in a half-hour of work on a spread­sheet be­fore bed­time. The line be­tween "at work" and "at home" has be­come a blurry one for many peo­ple, and for oth­ers it has dis­ap­peared en­tirely. That makes a home workspace more nec­es­sary than ever.

Not ev­ery home in­cludes a spare room avail­able for use as an of­fice, but de­sign ex­perts say that's not a prob­lem: To­day's stream­lined tech­nol­ogy means that just about any space can be trans­formed into an ap­peal­ing and or­ga­nized area for work­ing.

"Walk into any cre­ative cor­po­ra­tion and you'll find the CEO sit­ting right smack in the mid­dle of a large, open space along with al­most ev­ery other key player," says de­signer Brian Pa­trick Flynn of Flynn­side Out Pro­duc­tions. "This re­laxed, in­for­mal at­mos­phere has be­come the norm, not just in cor­po­rate set­tings but also in the home."

Here, Flynn and two other in­te­rior de­sign­ers — New York City-based Young Huh and Danielle Cold­ing — of­fer ad­vice on cre­at­ing a home work area that's both prac­ti­cal and in­spir­ing.


With to­day's smaller com­put­ers and wire­less con­nec­tions, there's less need for a boxy desk­top and con­nect­ing ca­bles. A desk built into a wall of shelv­ing and cab­i­nets can of­ten serve as a fully func­tion­ing home of­fice.

So un­less your work re­quires to­tal con­cen­tra­tion and si­lence, don't give up an en­tire room even if you have one avail­able.

And built-in pieces don't have to be ex­pen­sive.

"I turned dead space into a mini-home of­fice by con­fig­ur­ing Ikea kitchen cab­i­nets and a lam­i­nate coun­ter­top as a tall work­sta­tion," Flynn says. "You can as­sem­ble it all your­self and have the counter cut to size at a lo­cal home im­prove­ment store." Once the pieces are in­stalled, "it looks ar­chi­tec­tural, al­most like it's al­ways been part of the home."

Or in­stalling these items in a bed­room closet cre­ates a mini-of­fice that can easily be closed off for pri­vacy.

In a New York City apart­ment, Cold­ing opened up the wall be­tween the liv­ing room and a small bed­room that had been used as an of­fice. She filled one wall with built-in shelv­ing, cab­i­netry and a desk­top, so the now-larger liv­ing room still of­fered a com­plete workspace. And she added a Mur­phy bed

along that wall so the room could still ac­com­mo­date an overnight visi­tor.

Another op­tion: Buy a “sec­re­tary,” a large piece of fur­ni­ture with doors that con­ceal shelves and draw­ers.

“I love us­ing sec­re­taries be­cause they have a drop-down table­top that al­lows you to work, and draw­ers for stor­ing things,” Huh says, “but then you can close ev­ery­thing up when you are en­ter­tain­ing or want to hide your work mess.”


Of­fices out­side the home are of­ten dec­o­rated in neu­tral or drab col­ors. But Flynn rec­om­mends bold or bright hues and fun pat­terns for home workspaces.

“There’s some­thing invit­ing that draws you in and even ex­cites you about get­ting some work done if the over­all look is fun,” he says. In a small space, white walls can help. “All white can make any cramped ‘bonus room’ in­stantly feel like a light and bright home workspace,” says Flynn.

Huh says dark or in­tense col­ors also work in small rooms be­cause they can make it feel like the walls are re­ced­ing rather than crowd­ing you.


Start with a main space in a liv­ing room or fam­ily room where you keep files and items like a printer and land­line phone. Then cre­ate con­ve­nient min­is­paces else­where in your home with just a small work sur­face, a chair and charg­ing ca­pa­bil­ity.

For ex­am­ple, Huh sug­gests re­plac­ing your night­stand with a tiny desk and chair next to your bed. In­clude a power strip and ex­tra charger. And don’t for­get the ana­log op­tion: Keep a pa­per and pen for scrib­bling down bril­liant ideas that strike you dur­ing down­time or when you wake up.

In the kitchen, add a fam­ily work­sta­tion for e-mails, sched­ules, bills, etc.: “It ends up be­ing the most-used area in the whole house,” Huh says. “I usu­ally in­stall a bul­letin board or mag­netic board above the work space, and a drawer to hide pa­pers, pens and an emer­gency Band-Aid or two.”

Be sure each space has am­ple light­ing, es­pe­cially if you’ll be work­ing at night.

“Lay­ered light­ing is ex­tremely im­por­tant in a work space,” Cold­ing says. “You want a com­bi­na­tion of over­head and task light­ing.”

And, she adds, “late at night, a great desk lamp is in­valu­able.”


For a desk that will be in­te­grated into a liv­ing room or bed­room, look for pieces “that don’t look like they be­long in an of­fice,” says Huh. “Noth­ing from Sta­ples or Of­fice De­pot. For a bed­room, con­sider a Par­sons desk or a mir­rored desk, be­cause it’s sim­ple, and clean lines look like a van­ity ta­ble.”

A stream­lined desk will look great in a mod­ern liv­ing room, but Cold­ing says con­trast can be strik­ing: “I do veer more mod­ern with my se­lec­tions,” she says, but “there is also some­thing to be said for mix­ing in a re­ally lovely an­tique desk into a more mod­ern set­ting.”

All three de­sign­ers rec­om­mend choos­ing items that ex­press your per­son­al­ity and de­light you.

“The key to cre­at­ing a good home workspace is to make that space feel as though it’s not re­ally even meant for work­ing,” Flynn says. “Keep it dec­o­ra­tive and fun and prac­ti­cal, and you’ll never re­ally feel like you’re ‘work­ing’ when you’re work­ing from home.”


In this photo pro­vided by Brian Pa­trick Flynn, the de­signer Flynn in­stalled a desk­top and plenty of shelv­ing for stor­age and or­ga­ni­za­tion to turn this closet into a fully func­tion­ing home of­fice space that can eas­ily be hid­den away.


In this un­dated photo pro­vided by Brian Pa­trick Flynn, this home of­fice de­signed by Flynn, with bold col­ors and geo­met­ric pat­terns brings a cre­ative, up­beat en­ergy to a very func­tional workspace.

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