When the country shut down in March 2020, office workers and their laptops decamped to kitchen tables and bedrooms—many of us assuming we’d be back at our company headquarters in mere weeks. Fast forward more than two years later, and the landscape of work, and our home-office setups, have changed for good—with closets, sheds, nooks, and spare bedrooms transformed into more permanent WFH spaces, designed for both functionality and Zoom.
For more than 40 years, California Closets has been one of the leading companies for custom home-storage and shelving in the United States. With more than 120 locations and 700 designers, its product developers have a unique understanding and an eagle eye on consumer needs and concerns across the country.
“Homes weren’t built with the idea of people working from home,” says Jill LaRue-Rieser, senior vice president and chief product and merchandising officer at California Closets. Still, even if all you have is a spare linen closet or a tiny alcove, it’s possible to create a multifunctional workspace.
For those not content with mail-order desks and off-the-shelf furnishings, custom designs are often the way to go—especially when looking to optimize underused spaces in the home. In the past two years, for example, demand has soared for “shoffices” (shed offices) and “cloffices” (closet offices).
“There are so many little nooks where we can make an appealing-looking, functional space,” LaRue-Rieser says. “Under the stairs, a basement, a hall closet. Some people may have picked up a hobby and now they need a workspace—there are a lot of things that can become multipurpose.”
Reimagining home-office space has also catalyzed innovation within the custom-design industry—including launching virtual platforms, training designers to take accurate measurements via webcam, and finding ways to customize newly in-demand products (think height-adjustable standing desks, accessible electrical outlets, and bespoke and flattering lighting). Within two weeks of the work-from-home edict in early 2020, the team at California Closets had trained more than 900 designers and deployed virtual services from 65 locations nationwide. The company’s home-office installations, which start at about $1,100 for modular collections, have grown nearly 20% since 2019.
“Home renovations, remodels, or even picking out a sofa can be emotional and overwhelming,” LaRue-Rieser says. Making sure the company’s vast network of designers remained easily accessible, even when real-life appointments were off the table, was vital to the business. “We proved to ourselves that building relationships to solve problems—without [physically] being in the situation—can be done in different ways.”
For clients, spending more time in the house spurred a “newfound fascination with organization,” LaRue-Rieser says. Many people wanted to maximize small spaces with discrete work surfaces and storage—for example, slide-out countertops and hidden cubbies for storing printers and other computer peripherals. “One of the biggest issues in an office is the electrical—all those cords, that tangle of stuff,” she says. “Sometimes, we build electrical into drawers, and we have panels it can drop behind.”
Beyond the practical, the rise of videoconferencing has created a need for professional and executive-looking backdrops at home. One of the biggest trend shifts over the past year has been a move away from cool and gray neutrals toward a warmer, cozier color palette—perhaps not surprising that people are looking to create oases of calm and comfort in an increasingly chaotic world.
“Everything has really warmed up—they’ve softened; they’re really tactile,” LaRue-Rieser says. “We’ve completely revamped our whole palette to warm neutrals. In Milan, at Salone de Mobile earlier this month, I was surprised at how much it had warmed up—the rounding of design features, a lot more color. People want a different, cozier, inviting vibe in their homes.”