Catching up on work from the living room sofa always seemed like a pleasure—up until it became a full-time affair. When the coronavirus pandemic struck earlier this year and sent office workers home, many of us discovered that such improvised setups can also become wormholes of household clutter, nagging family members, and ergonomic strife.
With companies like Facebook and Twitter leading the charge to make working from home the new normal, the home office is finally top of mind once again. Whether used every day of the week or for an occasional evening brainstorm, a well-designed space can help shut out distractions, center the mind, and inspire creativity.
“It’s never been clearer how much our home environment impacts how we feel and how productive we are,” says Jessica Geller of the New Jersey design firm Toledo Geller. “Normally, being in an office keeps us focused. But at home, you have to do it alone, which can be difficult.”
To help, your home office should be a direct reflection of your personal style, passions, and aspirations. One of its biggest advantages compared to a corporate office—where workers are often limited to customizing a cubicle with quirky calendars and potted plants—is that you can do anything you want.
Ernest de la Torre has designed everything from a red leather–paneled retreat anchored by a weighty, universe-mastering chrome desk in Manhattan to a sunny outpost in Malibu bathed in mint green. “That’s the owner’s favorite color,” de la Torre says of the latter. “She should get to live with her favorite color every day.”
Compared to the upper-crust home workspaces of the 18th and 19th centuries, much has changed. Technology has largely done away with the need for floor-to-ceiling stacks of books, but it has also introduced an armada of plasticky components like monitors, printers, and scanners bursting with messy cables—none of which are as appealing to look at as antique globes, sextants, or Roman statuary.
As a result, many designers aim to eliminate or hide as much of an office’s technological wizardry as possible. (There’s a reason people gravitate toward Apple’s streamlined products.) “Fortunately, the Wi-Fi universe we now live in allows for a much less tethered feel than the old desktop computer,” says designer Beth Martin of San Francisco’s Martin Group SF. “Many of those peripherals don’t even live in the office anymore—we now mostly put them in closets.”
She notes that people aren’t printing as often as they used to, so the need for filing cabinets has disappeared, which frees up space for a secondary seating area. “You absolutely need a comfortable desk chair, but we also like to include a lounge chair with an ottoman or a chaise for those moments of concentrated reading and thinking,” Martin says.
The breakout fashion star Samuel Ross of A-Cold-Wall* says eliminating superfluous accessories is key to his work-from-home setup, which he shares with his partner, Jennifer Onojeide, and their daughter. “We use paper to carve through quick ideas, though critical work and concepts are taken into digital formats,” he says, referring to his iPad Pro and MacBook Pro. “Avoiding clutter is an ongoing battle when creating an environment that works. The idea of owning key items and fewer possessions runs throughout our home.”
Both de la Torre and Martin say the sit-stand desk is the most requested furniture piece, which presents an aesthetic challenge, as most of these resemble something straight out of a loading dock. As a solution, de la Torre has designed muscular custom desks that conceal motorized guts and have a switch to raise and lower the tabletop within a drawer. Martin has designed custom desks with two heights and has sought out attractive smart desks by furniture makers such as Sean Woolsey.
At the end of the day, a home office isn’t just a place to get things done—it’s a reflection of who you are. “It should be designed to your style and your taste,” says Washington, D.C.–based designer Kiyonda Powell. “It should allow you to be your best, most productive self.”
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