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Ditch the Zoom bookshelf: 4 tips from Jonathan Adler on how to create a home office you’ll love

‘I believe a well-designed home is more powerful than Zoloft,’ Adler says. 

Ditch the Zoom bookshelf: 4 tips from Jonathan Adler on how to create a home office you’ll love
[Photo: Jonathan Adler]
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Editor’s note: This is the first in a series about creative ways to reinvigorate your life in the new year, whether it’s your wardrobe, your side hustle, or your Zoom bookshelf.

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You’ve vacuumed up the confetti and put away the holiday decorations. Now it’s time to get back to the grind, which, for many people, means settling back into a home office.

With remote work likely to continue through much of 2021, if not indefinitely, iconic designer Jonathan Adler believes we have the chance to think more profoundly about how how our careers fit into the rest of our lives. And it starts with our physical workspace.

He should know: Joyful spaces are Adler’s specialty. For three decades, he’s built an empire as an interior decorator, furniture designer, and the founder of an eponymous brand with retail stores across the country. He’s known for his glamorous, colorful aesthetic, full of quirky details, like menorahs in the shape of elephants and tequila bottles that look like rocket ships. His entire design philosophy is about creating mood-elevating interiors, dripping with personality. “I believe a well-designed home is more powerful than Zoloft,” he says.

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No more improvising

When the pandemic hit the U.S. in early 2020, many people scrambled to create makeshift home offices, carving out workspaces in bedrooms and living rooms. But as the quarantine has stretched from weeks into months—and now, perhaps even years—we’ve had to continue adapting. Adler believes we should stop seeing these changes as temporary and use them as an opportunity to make our homes more productive places for the long term. “We need to shift our mindset from improvising to making more permanent changes,” he says.

[Photo: Jonathan Adler]
This might mean being willing to take more drastic steps. Many of Adler’s clients are moving homes or changing cities. If that’s not in the cards for you, imagine your home as an entirely blank slate. How might you reimagine the spaces if you could start fresh?

Play musical chairs with your rooms

One way to do this is to think creatively about the rooms in your home. Traditionally, each room has had a specific purpose, but Adler points out that this more formal approach doesn’t make sense for many people anymore. “We’re much more comfortable with not having designated rooms for particular activities,” he says. “So think about any sad, unused space you might have that you can use as a workspace.”

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[Photo: Jonathan Adler]
If you’re in a small apartment, could you turn a pantry or large closet into a compact workspace? What about the space under the stairs? Could you perhaps create a corner to eat in the kitchen, so you can turn your dining area into a home office? “I’ve often asked myself, “Why do I have a dining room anyway?” Adler says. “We only use it for Thanksgiving.”

Create a Zoom corner

When the pandemic first hit, many of us tried to quickly come up with a work-appropriate backdrop for our Zoom meetings. Given that videoconferencing will be part of our lives for the foreseeable future, Adler believes it’s worth thinking strategically about how we present ourselves on these calls even if we don’t have a home office to work from.

“You should recognize that your Zoom space says something about you, so you should make sure it’s saying the right thing,” he says. “It should reflect your vibe and the work you’re passionate about. It’s a great way to crystalize what you’re trying to communicate about who you are.”

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[Photo: Jonathan Adler]
And no, this doesn’t mean sitting in front of a bookcase full of books to make us look smart. “I think it’s hilarious how people have created faux libraries of books they’ve never read,” Adler says. “That’s always good for a laugh.”

Instead of automatically gravitating toward books, which can be distracting, Adler encourages people to think creatively about art or furniture. Perhaps you have a fun bar cart, a vintage record player, or a rack of dresses.

And don’t feel like you have to make your Zoom space your desk. In Adler’s case, for instance, he’s created a special spot at his kitchen table; the wall behind him features a frieze of his own pottery. “It’s slightly chaotic jumble of the stuff I make,” he says. “But it is the right expression of who I am as a designer and a business dude.”

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Good design is an antidepressant

Adler believes it’s important to fill your home office with quirky, beautiful objects that make you happy. When he helped design his husband’s home office a few years ago, he filled it with art, statement lamps, and chandeliers, as well as a comfy velvet chair. Some of the pieces were vintage finds; others had sentimental value because they were made by friends.

[Photo: Jonathan Adler]
If your budget allows, you could purchase a new work of art or piece of pottery. On a smaller scale, you could frame some of your child’s artwork. If you want to change the vibe of your space, think about bringing your favorite armchair next to your desk, so you can plop into it when you need a break. Or maybe set up a coffee station in your office for an afternoon pick-me-up. “The objects that you surround yourself with can either bum you out or lift your spirits,” Adler says. “So go out of your way to choose things that make you happy.”

About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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