Working from home used to be a last resort, mostly when a kid fell sick with the flu or if the cable man was coming at some unspecified, unknowable time within a five-hour window. But as of 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 13.4 million people telecommute regularly (at least once a week), an increase of 35% since 1997. And since modern technology makes the process easier and more effective than ever, this trend will continue to skyrocket.
If you’re thinking of joining the work-at-home crowd, you might be thinking, “Yikes, we don’t have room for an office.” Never fear—even if you’re short on space, there are plenty of ways to wedge a workspace into your kitchen, under the stairs, or even onto a wall. Here’s how to make that happen, and how to furnish it so it blends in with your home decor.
Ready to get to work? Here’s how to do it well at home:
Pick a prime spot to work
The first step should be to consider how you’ll use this workspace, advises Anne Reagan, editor of the Seattle-based Porch.com: not just what kind of work you do, but also what kind of home responsibilities you need to monitor.
“If you plan to manage the household, choose a spot near the family gathering place, which is often the kitchen,” she explains. The space-saving home office here, tucked neatly into a built-in breakfront, allows you to work on a presentation while monitoring homework at the nearby island. This office also blends nicely, so that when your project is done for the day, the room reverts to “kitchen” status.
Balance work and life in this smart kitchen office.
Sneak in a desk under the stairs
No extra rooms on hand? An unused area can be transformed into a home office with a little creativity. A good-sized nightstand (minus all of those unread back issues of The New Yorker) doubles as a desk, or you could try setting yourself up on a few shelves under a staircase, as seen below.
“If your dining room is seldom used, designate the table as your desk and then carve out a space in the credenza or hutch to store your office equipment,” says Reagan.
Slide a chair up to this tiny pocket under the stairs and get to work.
Hit the wall
Not enough square footage as it is? Try a wall-mounted desk. Take measurements on an empty wall for a painted wooden option with side cubbies and a shelf for extra storage.
Consider a wall-mounted desk (no floor space required).
Create storage that doesn’t scream ‘office’
If you are extremely limited on space, look for stackable storage items or keep documents filed away in a closet, advises Kelly Richardson, an interior design expert in Santa Rosa, CA. Or have a drawer custom wired to hold a printer/scanner and other electronics. Additional storage solutions include crates for paperwork, filing cabinets that double as side tables, a blanket chest or foot locker for supplies, and, of course, using a laptop over a desktop (it can be slipped into a drawer).
Hide your printer in a sliding drawer (genius!).
Choose your seat
“If you need to sit and work for more than a few hours at your home office, an ergonomically designed chair is highly recommended,” notes Reagan. A good chair that conforms to your body, like this design in Italian leather ($300, in seven colors), has an adjustable seat and arms for maximum comfort. And the sleek look means it won’t be out of place if your office is in plain view, such as down the hall or in a bedroom.
Let there be light
The glow from your computer is all well and good, but you’ll also need task lighting for other kinds of work.
“It’s better for your eyes to have a light that you can easily move to highlight paperwork,” Reagan notes.
“Natural lighting is always preferred, but for a home office, I would choose a modern, sleek version of the traditional desk light,” Richardson suggests. This brushed satin finish and smooth teardrop design works well on a desk, kitchen counter, or bedside table.
Make it comfy
If you have to strain or hunch to do your work, your home office will soon feel like a torture chamber. The solution? Smart, ergonomic details that help prevent work-related pain. For example, a keyboard that’s placed too high can put stress on your wrists (consider a drawer or platform that sits just below desk level). A footstool elevates the legs and eases pressure in the low back (choose one that tilts and adjusts to the height of your chair). And for extra lumbar support, test-drive some of the pillows you already own or seek out one specially made for this purpose (an ergonomic one fits the curvature of the spine).