That ‘Home Office’ of Yours? It Needs an Upgrade

If you’ve been working from home for months and have concluded that this situation is unlikely to end anytime soon, you may be giving your makeshift work space a serious second look. You’re not alone.

“We’ve been getting a lot of people asking about ways they can improve their home-office scenarios — both past clients and new inquiries,” said Keren Richter, a founder of the Brooklyn-based interior design firm White Arrow. “It’s definitely a topic right now.”

Continuing to work from your bed or the dining table is unlikely to be very productive, or feel very professional, in the long term. But what should you do if you don’t have an extra room for a proper home office, or even an obvious space for desk?

“Sometimes it’s just about carving out a space within a space,” Ms. Richter said. Or it might involve finding leftover space — like the attic she recently converted into a home office at her house in Pound Ridge, N.Y.

For advice on how to squeeze a work space into any home, we talked to architects and interior designers.

Storage space is precious, but when you really need a home office, emptying out a small closet to convert it into a work space might be worth the trade-off.

Michael K. Chen, an architect, has designed a number of tiny New York apartments — some smaller than 400 square feet — that include dedicated work spaces in closet-like nooks (along with convertible furniture, like Murphy beds).

“We’ve created niche offices inside closets or in cabinetry volumes that have doors that slide and close,” Mr. Chen said.

In one Gramercy Park studio, he designed a sliding door beside the living room sofa that could be pushed aside to reveal a hidden office with a built-in desk, cabinet and shelves.

For such tight installations, using built-in furniture, rather than trying to squeeze a regular desk into the nook, helps maximize the space. “A simple custom desktop is always worthwhile, because it frees the space underneath the work surface from legs and other obstructions,” Mr. Chen said. “It allows you to maximize the usable space.”

Having power in the nook is essential, whether it comes from an existing outlet or is snaked in from a nearby source, so computers and chargers can be plugged in.

Mr. Chen likes to hide computer peripherals like printers and scanners in cabinets below the desk, installing them on pullout shelves similar to those in kitchen pantries so the devices are easily accessible.

Closet conversions don’t have to be expensive. Ursula Carmona, a designer and founder of the blog Home Made By Carmona, converted a closet off the living room of her home near Greensboro, N.C., on a minimal budget.

“We needed a home office and had no place to put one,” Ms. Carmona said. “But we did have this closet that just seemed to be collecting junk.”

She opened up the bifold doors, removed the junk and added her own built-ins, making low-cost shelves with plywood and pine trim, and a desk with a stained piece of plywood sitting on top of a pair of reclaimed kitchen cabinets. A desktop computer tower is hidden on a pullout shelf in a cabinet, with a cutout near the back to provide ventilation and access for cables.

Painted a deep blue-gray and illuminated by a brass pendant lamp, the unsightly old closet is now an appealing place to work. “I wanted to keep it attractive, because it does open up to my living space,” Ms. Carmona said. “It’s my favorite part of the space.”

Credit…Nicole Fuller Interiors

As Ms. Carmona discovered, a closet-to-office transformation can result in one of the most appealing spaces in your home.

“When you convert a closet or a little nook off a hallway into a home office, it can become such a jewel box,” said Nicole Fuller, a New York-based designer. Especially when you have a slightly larger space to work with.

During the renovation of one Manhattan apartment with a pair of awkwardly shaped back-to-back closets, Ms. Fuller demolished the wall in between to create a showstopping home office lined with glossy red-lacquer shelves, desk and wall panels, and a ceiling of antiqued mirror. In another Manhattan apartment, she designed a home office in a walk-in closet using graphic hand-painted wallpaper from Porter Teleo.

The takeaway? In a closet-turned-office, it can pay off to try a decorative treatment that might be outside your comfort zone.

“In small spaces, you can have a lot of fun,” Ms. Fuller said. “Whether it’s a color, finish or wallpaper that would be too much of a commitment to put in a larger room, it can create a dynamic space that is exciting and inspiring to be in.”

If you can’t spare a storage closet, you may need to squeeze a desk into an existing room.

Although sleep researchers typically recommend keeping computers out of the bedroom, Alexander Doherty, an interior designer in New York, isn’t convinced. “I’m not a psychologist,” he said, “but everybody brings their laptop into their bedroom. It’s the reality of the world in which we live.”

In the interests of practicality, Mr. Doherty said, “any chance I have of putting a desk in a bedroom, I always do.”

In larger bedrooms, he has positioned desks against the wall at the end or side of the bed. In narrow bedrooms, he has placed them just inside the door, before the bed.

“The desks, even with stuff on them, are not necessarily ugly,” he said. “You could have a pile of pleasant books and a laptop.”

A bedroom is actually a natural place for a desk because it has a door for privacy and is often unused during the day. But Mr. Doherty has also installed desks in more open spaces, including living rooms and kitchens, where they usually sit at one end.

Credit…Alan Tansey

In multipurpose environments, where there isn’t a door to close, Mr. Chen suggested using a rolling storage cart to help conceal office supplies. “Some of the people on my team have rolling carts by Joe Colombo or USM for exactly that reason,” he said.

If the only place to install a desk is out in the open — in a living room, for example, or foyer — a unit that folds up can help hide your work and allow your mind to shift gears at the end of the day.

“When it’s not in use, you might not want to be staring at this big computer,” Ms. Richter said, “because it can feel uncomfortable to see your work space when you’re trying to have off-hours.”

Even 19th-century cabinetmakers, who made secretaries with flip-down panels for writing and storage compartments inside, understood the appeal of hiding the clutter of work.

In a contemporary twist on that concept, Ms. Richter has installed wall-mounted secretaries by Harto in some clients’ homes. They provide a place to work, but resemble compact cabinets when closed.

“It performs the function, and you can tuck your pens and books away, but it’s also quite beautiful,” she said. “So even when it’s not in use, it looks great in the room.”

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