Working from home has a lot of upsides— better work-life balance, no commute, but the ability to design an office you love is an upside too. We reached out to Linda Varone, author of The Smarter Home Office, and Michael Chauliac, VP of Marketing at Poppin, the online office supply and furniture retailer, for advice on creating the ultimate home office: one that makes you crazy productive, and happy too.
Browse for inspiration, but remember that offices in design magazines may not be set up to accommodate a 50-hour work week. Upholstered dining room chairs look amazing, but they won’t support your back. Tiny vintage desks won’t accommodate your project files, and while some people like bright colors, you might get annoyed looking at a whole wall of fire engine red paint right above your computer, even if that makes your office look awesome in a photograph.
"When there’s too much environmental stimulation that can actually be its own form of distraction," says Varone. Try using interesting color combinations in the rug, in accessories like throw pillows, or in framed art if you want to spice up the space. A good home office needs to be functional first and beautiful second.
The top of your computer screen should be at eye level or a little below. As you scan down the screen, your eye lids will naturally close a bit and moisten, which reduces eye fatigue, says Varone. Position your keyboard so your forearms are parallel to the floor. And adjust your chair so your feet rest firmly on something—the floor, or a footrest if you’re short. Splurge on a chair that makes you want to put in the hours. “It sounds obvious, but you should love the chair you’re sitting on. Otherwise you will never sit at your desk,” Chauliac says.
When putting a new desk into a home office, “a lot of people kind of reflexively put it right up against the wall in the darkest corner of the room,” says Varone. “What they’ve inadvertently done is recreated the corporate cubicle.” And who wants that? Move your desk close to the windows, but place it parallel to the panes. This ideal set-up gives you the happiness benefits of natural light, and a good reason to turn away from your computer every few minutes to take in the scene.
Even with great natural light, you’ll still need additional lighting for darker hours of the day. Most overhead house lighting is inadequate for work. “It creates space with all the warmth of a hotel lobby,” says Varone. Try a few table lamps, which offer a nice soft glow and interesting design possibilities.
Filing cabinets aren’t the most attractive pieces of furniture, but you do need a place to put papers you use frequently. “The biggest issue with home offices is that you wind up having paper everywhere,” says Chauliac. If you’re the sort of person who needs to see something to remember it exists, try wall storage: magazine type racks, or children’s library-style display shelves.
If you need book cases, get nice ones—big enough that you don’t need to overstuff, and artful enough that they’ll look great as the backdrop in your video conferences. And if you’re using the guest bedroom? It probably has a closet. Trick out that closet with a shelving system, so you minimize the need for storage in the main office area.
Your desk is for active work, but you probably need a place to think or read, too. A great home office has a nice comfy chair for curling up—potentially with an ottoman for your feet—plus a table for your coffee and a great lamp. Add a luxurious throw and a colorful pillow and you’ll want to take thinking breaks. A comfort zone is “the overlooked perk of the home office,” says Varone. “If you’ve got the room for it, it is one of the best things you can do for yourself.” Plus, in a home office, no one sees if you nap!
Plants make people happier. It’s like bringing what’s outside your window into your space. Plus, since most plants can go a day or two without watering, you won’t have to go into your office on weekends (as you might need to if tending to other living things, like fish).
Putting photos of family on your desk or nearby is great, but “when things don’t get changed around they become somewhat like wall paper,” says Varone. They cease to make us mindful. So rotate the photos, and include mementos of success, cartoons that make you laugh, even a scent that makes you happy—something you definitely can’t get away with in a cube.
Modern offices have lots of cords. Run a power strip behind your desk and plug everything into that. As for office equipment? “I hate how printers look,” says Chauliac. “It depresses me when I see a printer.” So that can go in the closet. Just don’t try to skip owning a printer with copying and scanning capability. Having to run to a FedEx Office for basic functions can take a big chunk out of your day.
Especially if other people are home during working hours, you don’t want to be darting out of the office every few minutes when you need things. Keep all your office supplies—pens, scissors, stapler, stamps—handy. Consider a small fridge or coffee maker if you like to enjoy a few beverages during the day. But don’t keep your lunch in the office fridge. You do need breaks, after all, and even if you’ve got an awesome home office, you don’t need to spend your life in there.
[Image: Flickr user NeilGHamilton]