10 Quick Tips To Create A Home Office You'll Actually Want To Work In

Working from home is an awesome perk, but have you inadvertently created a workspace as drab as a cubicle? Here's how to create the ultimate home office in 10 easy (and inexpensive) steps.

1. USE PINTEREST RESPONSIBLY

Browse for inspiration, but remember that offices in design magazines may not be set up to accommodate a 50-hour work week.

2. FOLLOW ERGONOMIC RULES

The top of your computer screen should be at eye level or a little below, adjust your chair so your feet rest firmly on something, and splurge on a chair that makes you want to put in the hours.

3. EMBRACE NATURAL LIGHT

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.

4. BUT DON'T FORGET THE LAMPS

Even with great natural light, you’ll still need additional lighting for darker hours of the day. Try a few table lamps, which offer a nice soft glow and interesting design possibilities.

5. GET CREATIVE WITH STORAGE

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.

6. CREATE SOME COMFY SPACE

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.

7. ADD GREENERY

Plants make people happier. It’s like bringing what’s outside your window into your space.

8. PERSONALIZE THOUGHTFULLY

When things don’t get changed around they become like wall paper, and they cease to make us mindful. So rotate photos, and include mementos of success, cartoons that make you laugh.

9. HIDE THINGS YOU DON’T WANT TO LOOK AT

Modern offices have lots of cords. Run a power strip behind your desk and plug everything into that and put your ugly printer in the closet.

10. OVERSTOCK

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.

10 Quick Tips To Create A Home Office You'll Actually Want To Work In

Working from home is an awesome perk, but have you inadvertently created a workspace as drab as a cubicle? Here's how to create the ultimate home office in 10 easy (and inexpensive) steps.

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.

1. Use Pinterest responsibly.

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.

2. Follow ergonomic rules.

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.

3. Embrace Natural Light.

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.

4. But Don't Forget the Lamps.

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.

5. Get creative with storage.

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.

6. Create some comfy space.

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!

7. Add greenery.

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).

8. Personalize thoughtfully.

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.

9. Hide things you don’t want to look at.

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.

10. Overstock.

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]

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10 Comments

  • Thanks for the great article! I have been working from home for almost 10 years and have also moved several times, so I've had several different set ups for my home office. This is all GREAT advice. #1 is really important as it's so tempting to do something attractive/decorative (it's in your home after all) but this is one room where both function and form are SO important. And yes, ergonomics are key - invest in a good chair for your desk AND get that comfy "thinking" chair mentioned in #6. Many people think that those of us who work from home are goofing off, but I've found we actually put in more hours (another hazard to keep in check) - so it is important to invest the time and money in planning a productive and healthy space.

  • NuORDER

    "When there’s too much environmental stimulation that can actually be its own form of distraction,"--- Well said! Keeping the office super simple and clean is the key to productivity

  • J. Regan

    I would add one essential-a good flashlight; I teach live online programs from my home office and I remember when a sudden thunderstorm came up, not only did the power go out, so I actually had to switch from a landline to my cell phone, AND I had to run my internet connection off that same 3G; it got so dark I couldn't see the manual beside me (hence the flashlight).
    The participants never knew.... only my producer.

  • Manny Simantiras

    This was a wonderful article. As a multimedia designer, my home office is a design studio and it's important to me to have a good sound system in place as I work. So I invested in one that fills my studio with good, rich sound. Also, the idea of a dedicated "thinking spot" is really great! I'll be adding that to my studio. Finally, I've invested in a system that scans and organizes my paper documents (receipts, articles, cards, etc.) and that has proven to be invaluable.

    Thank you, Ms. Vanderkam!

    Manny Simantiras,
    E. T. Simantiras Design
    Gaithersburg, Maryland

  • Collignon

    Thank you for reminding me I made the right choices. I am missing one thing: the greenery. In fact I have an old Orchid plant, but with no more flowers... I keep the hope one day flowers will appear... when success will show up. That day is coming, I know it.

  • Susan RoAne

    An excellent list! My desk faces the window BUT when I turn around to use my computer, there's a mirror on the wall that reflects the light and trees. Based on a feng shui concept, mirrors will make the office space appear larger and increase the natural light.
    In spite of the current trend to dump a landline, if your business requires that you give remote radio interviews and other calls that MUST not be dropped, keep a landline in office. If you do Skype or Google Hangout calls/meetings/interviews, be sure there is lighting in front of you.
    Don't worry about expensive furniture that is over your budget. My first desk was an old kitchen table. It did the job quite well until I could get around to have a desk designed around my workstyle.