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AT HOME NOW: Rethinking Your Home Office

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Jen Coles Home Office

I have found in my life, that I hit turning points that I didn't even know were turning points until after the fact.  Moving to Manchester was one of those.  My then-husband and I were looking for a place that had a backyard for our wedding and was close to the beach for a fun summer.  But when I reflect back, I see that we were in that critical nesting phase of our lives.  The wedding led to babies, and we made friends who also had babies, and we joined committees, and chose a preschool in town -- and so it went until I now look over my shoulder and wow, it’s been about thirty years.  When we were looking for a fun summer, we didn’t realize we were actually looking for forever.

And here we are about three months into living with our new neighbor, COVID-19.  And, in some ways, we are at one of those turning points because COVID-19 will have forever changed us.  Will we ever go back to giving bear hugs and kisses to those we love?  (I hope so.)  Will we ever go back to thinking that world events won’t affect us personally?  (I hope not.)  And have we forever changed the definition of "I'm at work"?  (Yes, we definitely have!)  So, let’s take a look at those at-home workspaces and see if they actually are where we want to work because the home office, in some form, looks like it’s here to stay.

Are you fortunate enough to have a room to devote to your office?  Good for you!   But still take a step back and make sure it’s the right room and the right floor plan.  Did you set up shop there simply because it had an outlet in the right place? Or maybe because it was undesirable and therefore available?  Or perhaps because it’s close to the kitchen snacks?  SMH.  (Or, for those of us over forty, that’s me shaking my head at you.)  None of those are good reasons.  Choose your real estate wisely!  Then create a plan and hire an electrician to help you with connectivity, outlets, and lighting.  Purchase a beautiful desk that you love, and don’t be afraid to put your desk right in front of that window with a nice view, or even smack in the center of the room -- creating the corner office you were made for.  This is your space.  Add paint, wallpaper, and artwork that either soothes the beast or revs you up depending on your personality.  Create the storage you need so that even if you enjoy working in chaos, there is a method to your madness. Take a deep breath and put “upgrade office” on your to-do list and then approach it like you would any other work challenge.  And yes, you’re welcome.

But there are many of us who have set up shop on the dining room table, or under the stairs in the basement, or in a corner in the bedroom.  I’m one of them.  COVID-19 brought my chickens home, and the roost is full!  I’ve lost my office and now refer to my bedroom as “my dorm room” because it’s where I do everything… work, exercise, read, sleep.

So, what are some tricks to setting up shop when space is tight?  Well many of the same rules apply to these small spaces as to the larger ones, but the real estate is harder to acquire.  First off, think double (or even triple) function.  I always knew I’d lose my office when my kids were around, so I put most of my office furniture on wheels.  I can either cram it into my dorm room (I mean bedroom) or, if it’s just for a weekend stay, I role the files and bookshelf under the desk and free up the guest space.  I also built out half the closet with bookshelves which I keep open when I’m on duty but can close up for guests.  Is it ideal for a guest room?  No!  But, as when you travel to Paris or Manhattan, you just feel lucky to have a clean, comfortable bed, right?

To outfit these double tasking spaces, or for any nook or cranny that you commandeer and call your own, I look for simple, solid, highly functional pieces that can disappear more readily into the background.  I’m not looking to purchase a family heirloom, because hopefully I won’t be working in that hallway alcove for the rest of my life.

Which brings me to a shameless (unpaid) plug for Ikea.  I once outfitted a 10,000 square foot office building almost entirely from Ikea -- the quality and style were good and they were more affordable than pieces from traditional office furniture outlets.  So, I consider myself an expert.  When you go, you will of course go to the office furniture department.  But also think creatively when you see the kitchen counters and the “legs” they sell to mount them on.  Or check out the dining room tables, or the outdoor tables that have resilient glass tops.  And they sell wheels if you want, and floating shelves (think vertical space!), cord coils, and free-standing shelves which can double as a room divider…

But if you haven’t been to Ikea, lace up your sneaks and find yourself a chaperone that has Ikea experience.  Or, better yet, go the first time just to look around and to get a cinnamon bun on the way out.  Because shopping at Ikea is not hard, but there is a system to it, and you have a better time when you know what to expect.

Oh and… do I need to say it?  You put it all together yourself.  But you are resourceful!  You’ve been sharing your office for three months with the children’s playroom!  You can do anything - this is your moment!

Jen Coles is a professional home designer and mother of four who lives in Manchester. Colescoloranddesign.com