Thanks to technology, many of us log a lot of work hours from home. So a high-functioning home office has become a must. Unfortunately, there’s no natural spot for an office in my old house, so Dan and I had to get creative. Dan’s office is squeezed into a tiny extra room upstairs that barely fits his leather reading chair, footstool and desk. Every night, he and the dog disappear to Command Central, where I am not allowed to visit or clean. Amidst the stacks of papers and the piles of dog hair, they are both quite comfortable and productive. Do you have a home office space that allows you to do your best work? If not, it’s time to create a spot that works for you. Here’s how…

1. Pinpoint who will work in your home office.

Before you can design an office space that’s effective, you need to think about who will be working there. Is it just you? If you share the office with a partner, will the two of you be using the space at the same time? Is this where the kids will work on their homework? If so, do you also need space for their calculus study group?

2. Decide how the space will be used.

Do you use your office only on weekends to pay the bills? Do you spend time there every evening catching up on your emails? Do you work from home full time? Do you ever host meetings with business associates at your home office? Before you move forward, you need to know exactly how your office space will be used so that you can design and furnish the room in a way that allows you to meet your goals.

3. Determine what furnishings are a must.

Now you’re ready to start thinking about the key pieces of furniture you’ll need in your office:

Desk or Table? If you like to work at a desk, there are so many great options out there, from grand wooden desks that serve as the focal point of a well appointed office, to ladies writing desks that can fit in small spaces. Take your time and scout for one that suits the scale and function of your room.

If you don’t need the storage a desk offers, you might prefer an architect’s drafting table with a large surface on which to spread out. Or, how about a dining room table? I love working on dining tables because you have lots of workspace for big projects. And, dining tables give you added versatility. You can clear it off and use it as a conference table. Or, when you entertain, as a bar or buffet.

Desk Chair. Take careful pains when you pick out your desk chair. Do you want a traditional office chair in a rich brown leather, finished with brass castors? Or, how about an upholstered side chair, like a wing back? You can also use a beautiful dining room chair if you need something in a smaller scale. If you spend lots of time at your desk, be sure to pick a chair that fits you well, providing plenty of support for your back and arms.

Computer Table. Since most of us use a computer for our daily work, you’ll need spot for all your gear, like your printer, scanner/copier, router or modem.  You may prefer a specially designed computer credenza that allows you to hide everything away. Or, you could go for something less conventional  and use a sideboard or hutch to house your technology.

Side Chairs. You may work best when you are folded into a comfy chair with your net book or tablet on your lap. Sound like a dream job? Then you’ll want to invest in a great chair and ottoman. I’d also recommend pairing the chair with a sizable side table to hold your papers, coffee and phone.

Bookcases.  Dan never met a book he didn’t love, so books have slowly taken over our house. If you can relate, bookcases will be a must in your home office space. Even if you don’t have stacks of books, still consider placing a big, tall bookcase in your home office because these majestic pieces ground a room and add another layer of warmth to your home.

Organizational Tools. Let your creativity run wild when you’re thinking of ways to organize your office. Here are a few must haves: apothecary jars, wooden boxes, big baskets and silver serving pieces. Use an old silver spooner to collect pens and pencils. Fill a small apothecary jar with paperclips. Fill baskets and boxes with files.

Lamps. One of the great things about working from home is the chance to escape from overhead florescent lights. You’ll need great lighting in your home office, but make it beautiful. Scout for a chandelier that’s lovely or intriguing. Top your bookcases with picture lights. Place reading lamps on your desk and side tables.

4. Figure out the optimal room configuration.

Your floor plan for your office will flow from your answers to points one and two above – who will use the office and how.  Then, keep in mind how you work best. Do you concentrate best when your desk is against a wall so you have fewer distractions? Do you prefer to be by a window so you can feel the sun on your shoulder? Or do you want to float your desk in the center of the room, so you’re right in the middle of everything?

If you’re going to entertain clients in your home office, you might want to divide the room into several key areas. Section off a workstation. Then create a meeting area, either with a table or a cluster of chairs. Build in an area for storage, like a row of bookcases.

5. Create a vibe that helps you do your best work.

Are you most at home in an office that’s dark and dramatic, light and open, or right and bold?  The paint you pick for your office will not only have a huge impact on the overall look of the space, but also on how well you work there. Check out my custom line of interior paint for colors that are sure to inspire. Once you have picked your palette, you can bring it to life through your accents, artwork and textiles, like window coverings, upholstered furnishings, accent pillows and area rugs.

Next Week … Do you have family heirlooms or childhood keepsakes? These cherished mementos make wonderful decorating tools. Find out how to use your unique treasures to add loads of charm to your interior.

P.S. Don’t miss a bit of Nell Hill’s news – stay up to date on my favorite finds, new arrivals at the stores and all our special events by checking the Nell Hill’s Facebook page every day. You don’t have to have a Facebook page yourself to look in on the fun, but if you’re already on Facebook, “like” us today!

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12 Responses to “Style a Home Office that Works”

  1. Lisa Fernandez Says:

    Funny, when my husband and I designed the layout of his den, the first thing I did was consult Mary Carol’s books. I loved the fact that she had created an office upstairs in her hall alcove. I look at this post and read all your points and realized that my husband and I encorporated all of these into making our den a cozy, warm, and organzied space. I think the Nell Hill Store should make tee shirts that say “I learned everything I know about creating a home thanks to Mary Carol.” Hee Hee. Truly, they are words to live by. I love all the ideas for the home office.
    Thanks for so much.

  2. Mona Slama Says:

    Mary Carol,
    Love your ideas for the home office. As always, your taste is flawless.
    Here’s a challenge — I’ve been looking everywhere for some narrow, decorative stackable banker’s boxes (four or five high) to organize and temporarily store receipts, tax information, bills, etc., when I’m inbetween my work times in the home office. Can’t find anything on-line or in my home office stores here in Lincoln. Any ideas or substitutions you could offer would be most appreciated.
    Thanks, and looking forward to a road trip to Atchison soon!

  3. Janelle Says:

    Mary Carol,
    I love the look of these offices. My struggle is how to design an office that must contain a fair amount of computer equipment, but still a desired warm and comfortable look. An interesting aside — in Gordon MacKenzie’s book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, he speaks of setting up a creative work space for an entire department within Hallmark Cards. His first order of business was to loose those awful AO2 modular walls, and buy antique desks and accessories, rugs, etc., and warm lighting. Needless to say it became the most popular place to work. Thanks as always for the inspired ideas!

  4. Jo Carroll Says:

    Hi Mary Carol,

    Love it that one of your office photos places a bottle of wine on the desk. One can never tell when they need to imbibe while working. Jo Carroll

  5. Tami Sutton Says:

    Mary Carol,

    I’m preparing to strip some HORRIBLE wallpaper off of my office walls and paint them. I have a lovely distressed black desk, mahogany stained work table with black legs, black filing cabinet and a distressed white amoire. The room has hardwood floors which I’m planning to refinish. What paint color would you recommend for the walls? What stain color would you recommend for the floors? Thanks for any advice you can offer…I need it!


  6. Lora Wood Says:

    Your decorating style is my absolute favorite-beautiful, warm and timeless!
    I was wondering if the small green office second from the top is one of your paint colors.
    Thank you for all the wonderful ideas! Lora

  7. Cathy Diggs Says:

    Great ideas! What is your suggestion to cover those unsightly cords? I noticed something running across the wood floor to the desk in your home office — mine run from the wall across floor to my desk as well and would love an idea to cover the black and green cords!

  8. Mary Carol Says:

    Hi Mona,
    There are a couple of ideas I can think of at the moment that might work for you. We have some galvanized steel boxes with drawers and some fabric tweed boxes that might work to house receipts etc. Just call the store @877-746-4320 and ask for Janet–she would be happy to give you more details.

  9. Mary Carol Says:

    Hi Tami,
    I would probably recommend ‘Missouri Bluffs’ from our Mary Carol Artisan paint line (available in the stores or online) if your trim is dark. If your trim is white I would recommend ‘Molasses’ from our paint line (as shown in the first picture). For the floors you will have to play around with some samples–a medium brown would be my guess. A beautiful rug to then pull the room together.

  10. Renee Holloway Says:

    BEAUTIFUL ~ Very well done….love,love it all. I totally agree with Lisa F. I would wear that tee-shirt….I did my ENTIRE house based on the “Nell Hill’s look” and absolutely love it….thanks to the AMAZING Mary Carol and her “best in the world” staff….Thank You Thank You see you all soon!

  11. Lucy Says:

    I love the desk. Is it in store? Where can I find it?

  12. Cecelia Says:

    What a fabulous article. I worked for a major corporation out of my home office for 10 years. http://www.outskirtspress.com/homeofficeguru My booklet on amazon has a few best practices too. “Working from a Home Office Successfully” ~ Thanks for all that you do to help others!

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