Tumblr-er Natalie wrote:
Hi Justine! Just wanted to let you know how much I LOVE your blog! Thanks for all of the time and work you put into it for all of us :-)
I am a female twenty-something in America looking to set up a home office for creative endeavors (blogging, photo editing, crafting a bit) on a budget, in my apartment. I don’t have that much room, it’s really just an old landing/hallway sort of space. Do you have any ideas, and pictures for inspiration? Thanks so much!!
First of all - thanks for your kind words! And secondly… let’s look at some home offices, shall we? :)
I set up a small home office in our condo a while ago, and you can check out the post here. It’s changed a bit since this picture, but you get the idea. In my attempt to streamline things and save space we used a makeup console table instead of a full sized desk - but you should know when it comes to some serious crafting, or more involved work (like Sean working on the farm books) we still tend to spread out on the kitchen table. So consider how you’ll use your space, and make sure your desk size fits!
My ideal office solution for a small space (as in, you don’t have a spare room to dedicate to office use) is the closet office:
If we had a closet to use, I’d SO go for this option! Being able to close the doors on my mess is a wonderful thing! This is a great idea if you have a second bedroom that’s being used as a dual purpose space - like, it’s also a guest room, or a TV den that wouldn’t need its closet.
But alas, I don’t have that extra closet, and it sounds like you may not either, Natalie.
So that leaves us to carve out an office from extra space somewhere else. Perhaps a room is larger than it needs to be for its given purpose - our living room was fairly long, so I used the space behind the love seat. Or maybe there is an awkward nook or cranny somewhere to tuck a desk in (like the landing/hallway that Natalie plans on using).
Here are a few offices that borrow space from another room. A stretch of kitchen counter stolen for an office from Style At Home:
This tiny craft nook is in a dormer space in a bedroom. (from Coastal Living):
(Side note: You may want to check out this great DIY to build a floating desk - this can be made to custom fit whatever corner you’re working with!)
And this space appears to be set up in the corner of a living room (from Southern Living):
To be successful in including an office space in a larger area or room you need to remember three major things:
- Find creative ways to hide storage. The less stuff you see, and the more organized your desk is, the more appealing and usable your desk will be.
- Use beautiful stuff. Use furniture that’s great to look at, include a pretty lamp, find some good-looking storage boxes, baskets, etc. It’ll be on display in the rest of the space!
- Consider your office space as a “vignette” in your overall space (if it is exposed to other areas). Include artwork, arrange your things in a “display” sort of way, and try to style the desk like you would a console table or fireplace mantel.
For an example of all three of these, consider this desk area in the home of designer Thomas Smythe (picture via Style at Home)
Gorgeous, right? Let’s break it down:
1. The desk is full of hidden storage - drawers galore!
2. The chair, desk, and lamp are all pretty to look at, and…
3. The whole area is pulled together as a vignette - including a few decorative pieces, like the flowers, pretty clock, and little boxes.
(Side note: it’s important when looking at photographs, like this one, that these spaces are highly styled for magazine shoots - so try to find the balance between styling your space with care, and assessing your actual practical needs.)
So! Let’s look at key #1: Storage!
- In a small space you can consider using “off-site” storage. I don’t mean renting a storage container! I mean finding spaces in other rooms or closets to store bulky, lesser used items. We have a china cabinet in our dining room that’s actually full of books, Sean’s farm accounting stuff, and board games. And I store my sewing supplies in the linen closet. If you’ve got a lot of books or craft supplies look for another cupboard, closet, or furniture piece where you can store it to simplify your office area.
You don’t necessarily need to purchase this craft armoire by Martha Stewart (pictured above) - you could look at thrift stores or Craigslist for a sturdy armoire, buffet, cupboard, etc. that you could paint and refurbish to store your supplies.
Check out this cupboard that Sarah Richardson retrofit to store the printer and paper for the home office/den on season 1 of Sarah’s House:
- Hide as much of the ugly stuff as you can. For example, you can drill holes in the back of one of your drawers to hide cords from computers, monitors, phone chargers, etc. (We did this.)
(picture via Country Living, photograph by Wendell B. Webber)
- Look beyond the “home office” department for storage solutions. Kitchen and bath departments can have some great storage items that can look great and function well for an office. For example, you could use a magnetic knife strip or magnetic spice rack to corral scissors, paper clips, thumb tacks, or hold papers with magnets:
Or use a utensil holder like this one in Sarah Jane’s studio:
- Remember to think “up” to store your stuff. Rather than multiple stacks or boxes on the floor, consider shelves or cupboards that can be hung above the desk to store office supplies. Using that vertical space means less “spreading”. (Just remember that this storage will be on display to the surrounding space, so keep your nicest stuff there, or things in baskets or boxes, etc.)
(Picture and design from Chez Larsson. <Check out her blog for tons of organizing ideas!)
- It always looks better when you have some repetition or unity with your storage containers - stick to a certain colour of box, or buy multiples of a pretty mug to keep pens, pencils or paint brushes in, or how about these recycled paint cans for organizing paper? (Picture from Martha Stewart Online):
(Side note: I’d recommend spending some time on the Martha Stewart site looking up their office design and storage ideas.)
Key #2: Use beautiful stuff!
- Find a desk you really like to look at. It’s the centrepiece!
This doesn’t have to be expensive. Stores like IKEA have plenty of great looking options. It can also help to look beyond the home office department here, too - look at kitchen tables, sofa tables, make-up vanities, or even find matching storage cupboards that you could build a desktop across.
And my go-to is to check out second-hand furniture. Surf Craigslist, or check out second-hand stores. This is a good way to go for a nice solid furniture item (I always see old oak desks for good prices on our local used furniture sites.) You can paint these old pieces, add pretty hardware, and voila! Your own beautiful custom desk!
- Pick a great chair.
(I post this picture from designer Emily Henderson all the time, I know. But I love it. So you’re just going to have to deal with that.)
And by “great chair” I mean one that is stylish and comfortable. It doesn’t matter how awesome your office area is - you won’t use it if it’s not comfortable! You may find a good looking office chair. Or you might want to look for a comfortable occasional chair (again, a good thing to search for second-hand!), or even a comfortable dining chair (but ask yourself, “Will this be comfortable for a few hours?”). I’m almost done revamping my Louis XV-style chair. It’s great because it’s upholstered and very comfortable - but it looks pretty too!
And remember to check (especially if you’re not using a standard desk and office chair) that the seat height and desk height are compatible, and that the chair can tuck under the desk nicely (so watch the height of your armrests).
- Select other key pieces - like lamps, shelves, and filing cabinets - that look good too! Table lamps can so pretty, and can dress up a desk easily.
(Design by Ron Marvin, from Lonny Magazine Oct/Nov 2009)
And finally, key #3: Consider your office space a “vignette”
- Include some art. This may be one or two framed prints or sculptures arranged on a shelf, or a gallery wall surrounding the desk, or one large painting over the desk.
(Design by Michael Angus, photograph by Michael Graydon, picture via Canadian House & Home)
Art will make your office seem less utilitarian, and more interesting and beautiful!
- Arrange your desktop and shelves sparingly and artfully. Stack your books nicely, include a few “pretty things” (like a small clock, a decorative paper weight, one or two framed pictures, etc.), try to coordinate the style or colours of the things you display, and corral small items in trays, dishes or boxes. Then edit, edit, edit! What looks best? What is absolutely needed? Get rid of the rest.
(Design by Lizzie Bailey, from Lonny Magazine Feb/Mar 2010)
I hope that helps a bit, Natalie! Good luck in creating your office space!
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