While home offices have been growing in popularity in recent years, they’re no longer just a trend, but the new normal. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced more individuals to work and study remotely. While working from home has its perks, it’s not always a glamorous option, namely because most homes aren’t designed to function as an office, too.
The good news? You don’t have to ditch your current residence and relocate to create a functional home work area. Whether big or small, turning that room, nook or corner into a home office has never been easier when you have expert designers on your side.
When the pandemic first hit, many scurried to create makeshift home offices. Others may have already had designated offices used a few days a month. However, the new demands of daily remote working require thoughtful design of these areas. “When you spend eight hours in a space, you need to make it look nice so that you look forward to going there every day,” says Gala Magriñá, designer and principal of Gala Magriñá Design in Long Island City, N.Y. “When you’re working from home all day, you need to rethink your space and design it for all-day use.”
Mary Maydan, founder and principal of Maydan Architects in Palo Alto, Calif., points to, for instance, a husband and wife who were previously sharing office space close to the living room and kitchen, complete with chairs for their kids to hang out in while they knocked out extra work at home.
When the husband started working from home full time, he needed quiet so that he could make phone calls and take video meetings, which meant the current after-hours workspace no longer fit his needs. So, he relocated to the basement, setting up a designated office there.
Whether your basement will suit you is another matter, and perhaps the most obvious mistake is choosing the wrong place in the house for an office. You certainly want to be away from distractions, but those differ by individual. “You need to think through what distracts you the most,” Maydan says.
Location, location, location
Location really does matter, which may be why one of the biggest trends happening with home offices now is ADUs, or accessory dwelling units. Essentially, these are separate structures from your main home. “Until last year, only designers knew what ADUs were, one reason I used to refer to them as ‘guesthouses’ with clients,” Maydan says.
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Although designers have typically created them, you can now buy prefab ADUs. “Today, everybody is talking about ADUs because if you have the space and your zoning codes allow, it’s a wonderful solution that allows you to be close to your family and home but still have a quiet place to work.”
Of course, not everybody has the funds or space necessary for an ADU. So, when considering where to place your office, think first about your working style and what your weaknesses are, Maydan says. Are you easily tempted to eat? Then being near the kitchen isn’t a good option. Do your kids regularly break your concentration? Then make sure you’re away from the family room. “It’s best to identify your weaknesses and move away from them,” she adds.
Consider places in your home that aren’t only quiet — you can always put gaskets under doors to improve soundproofing or hang acoustic panels, Maydan says — but will also allow for storage, especially cabinets and closets so that you’re not drowning in clutter.
Natural light is another important variable to consider. “The sun sends cues to your body throughout the day that affect your circadian rhythms, making you more alert and productive,” Magriñá says. Natural light can even give you a psychological boost, improving your mood, according to studies.
Make unique spaces work
At the end of the day, there may be no getting around the fact that you need to optimize a less-than-ideal space. But even some of the less obvious spots in your home can be made to work.
Nooks in the home can also serve as offices. For instance, you could position your desk in the space between two bookshelves. Even corners in the home could work, Magriñá says.
What if you have an open-concept floor plan and can’t create a separate area? Try placing shelves behind your desk and decorating them with books, plants and other objects, Magriñá says. Not only will the shelves serve as a boundary but also as storage. Or consider adding either a screen or a glass door to separate space, something Maydan has done with several clients.
With a little creativity, a basement or even a garage can double as a home office. The No. 1 rule with both? “Clear the clutter,” Maydan says. Otherwise, that accumulation could distract you.
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Flex that creative muscle a bit more, and you may find office space in an even more unexpected place: the closet. Cloffices, essentially closets turned into offices, are trending now as well. While it might sound like a crazy option, it comes with a hidden perk. “With a cloffice, you can close the door so that you no longer see the desk when you’re done working,” Magriñá says. That can go a long way in helping create a work-life balance. Consider using a compact statement desk versus a traditional office desk to create more space.
Of course, the biggest downfall with many closets and basements is not having access to natural light, which is why Maydan recommends using brighter colors on the walls. “Different colors impact your mood in different ways,” Maydan says. While dark colors tend to be depressing, bright colors like reds and yellows are energizing and light colors are calming. Hang art and inspirational quotes that give you joy. In basements, you can also introduce an element of nature by adding 4- to 5-foot faux plants.
Fortunately, many garages have windows that provide a bit of natural light. There are usually numerous electrical outlets so you can easily add lighting as well. Just avoid fluorescent lights, which can cause disturbances to your circadian rhythms and may give you headaches if you’re sensitive to them, Magriñá says. She recommends looking for lights with 3,000 to 5,000 lumens. Heating and cooling can be adjusted with space heaters and window air-conditioning units, Maydan says.
In the end, the effort to create the best setting for your home office will benefit your health and well-being. “Think of a well-intentioned home office space as a form of self-care,” Magriñá says. “Taking the time to create this space will help you be happier and more productive.”