Good Design Matters when Working from Home.
Interior designer Tamara Hubinsky feels, “Our surroundings are more than the backdrop to our lives — they’re also the soundtrack, the inspiration, the context.” Considering we could all benefit from a boost of inspiration, I’m excited to share her guest post. Read below for quick tips you can use to inspire you workspace as you work from home…
So, I’m writing this on week 2 (3? 4?, I forget!) of social isolation and working from home in New York City. And while I’ve previously written tips on designing inspiring office spaces, most of these require paint and numerous new furnishings. Some also required a builder, cabinet maker and an electrician. And today, at least for me, this is not realistic. Today I’m writing from a NYC apartment. No outside tradespeople can work on-site; furniture delivery is challenging or not available; and all the space available is being stretched to accommodate two working adults and two video learning high schoolers. We have one small “office space” which shares space with an exercise machine. It’s time to get seriously creative and flexible to fashion workable, yet still well designed, workspaces for all of us.
Here are my five criteria for a well-designed home office space, including a few tips for how to quickly make it happen.
- Use a great or even good chair. If you don’t have a good work chair, this might be the one piece of furniture you want to invest the time and money towards ordering. The most critical component is height adjustment. (Double check current delivery policies. UPS items deliver in my area. Some local small businesses may be closed but might arrange for local pick up or delivery by appointment.) If you need to use an existing dining or side chair or a stool, have pillows available to bolster the back or seat as needed.
- Have a view outside your home. In an optimal world, your workspace would allow you to look out a window – in front of you, in your side view, even behind you – ideally through which you would see a touch of nature. Not always possible! Many apartment dwellers have a limited number of windows, and lots of windows face other buildings. Even in my outside-the-home studio office, the window is limited to a view of street traffic. If you don’t have a view to stare towards occasionally, lighting is extra important (see below). If there is no window in your designated workspace DO NOT face the wall. It’s OK and usually preferred to have your workspace float in the room. If needed, move a table during working hours. And for nature, try a small plant, an arrangement of flowers or branches, or even a mug of herbs, to counterbalance your space.
- Dedicate storage space for your work. Streamlined desktops without bulky cabinets or stacks of paper are great to look at and may even help you to start each day with a clean slate. However, even with a permanent and private office space inside or outside the home, you need a space for “stuff”. At minimum, a place for paper stuff (books/magazines, sketchpads/notebooks, printed drawings and invoices) and gear stuff (various pens and pencils, headsets, chargers, material samples).
When I’m working from home, one of my personal favorite places to perch and work is at a kitchen island. And if the stools get uncomfortable – see above – I can stand for a while. But I can’t stay too long because with my family’s various schedules, the kitchen is always open. My quick fix – I’ve created a mobile office with a portable file box for paper gear, and a smaller storage box for other gear. When I need to relocate, I stack the smaller box on top of the paper inside the file box, add my laptop and iPad, and presto, I am ready to move. As a bonus, I can pack up my “office” at the end of my workday.
- Always use at least two light sources. Eye strain, fatigue, poorly lit video meetings can all be helped with layered lighting. A good overhead light supplemented with a desk light or table lamp is a nice starting point. A floor lamp with diffused (shaded) light is your friend. If you are near a window and it’s a bright day, you may be able to omit one light source. If needed, you may want to add a small lamp to your mobile office box.
- Pay attention to the view. Have something to that pleases your eye – whether a piece of art, a bookcase, a kid or grown-up fidget toy, a plant or tabletop collection of shells, a window, even an open kitchen cabinet with glass or dishware. Know what distracts you – dirty dishes, piles of mail, food, a stack of free weights – and look elsewhere. With video conferencing, also consider your backdrop. Even if your colleagues don’t care what you or your home look like, make sure your backdrop is not something you dislike. Most likely you will be the main person looking at your backdrop and it’s hard to be engaged in the discussion if you’re distracted. Make sure it’s a view you enjoy.