WITH millions of us suddenly working from home, the design team at Catherine Wilman Interiors believe there has never been a more important time to invest in a decent home office set-up.
Having an office area that’s both useful and beautiful can make a huge difference in lots of different ways. Psychologically, it can give you a lift, demarcating the boundaries between life and work — which has become increasingly blurry for many of us without our daily commute, or rigid logging-off time. It means you are more likely to work productively and feel happier day-to-day.
Having a messy, chaotic or plain unattractive desk area or study can be depressing. On the other hand, having a space that’s stylish, well-designed, and ordered will help you enjoy going to work — even if that only involves retreating to the loft, or a corner of your bedroom.
A great home office can make you feel more creative, too. Even if you aren’t working, an office area is still important for many things; writing, catching up with admin, gaining new skills on a digital course, pursuing a hobby, or simply providing somewhere quiet to browse the internet, watch videos, read and escape the chaos of the rest of your house.
Lastly, with the working from home trend likely to continue, having a dedicated home office could add value to your home and be something that potential future home-buyers will see as an asset — and one they may well be willing to pay more for.
Where is the best location for your home office?
You probably have a particular room or zone in mind. But before you start desk-shopping, make sure you’ve chosen the best location for you.
If you have a spare room that’s been designated as your study, think about the ideal layout. Your first choice of position for your desk, for example, might not be the most practical one. Does your study only have one purpose — or will it double up, for example, as a place to put up guests? In that case, you may want to squeeze in a day-bed or sofa bed. What about hobbies, such as painting, sewing or playing an instrument? Could your future demands change, for example, with another family member needing to use it at the same time? Often, we automatically use our smallest bedroom as our study. But as working from home becomes more central to our lives, you might want to shift your priorities and dedicate more space.
If you’re serious about creating a permanent home office, it might be a good idea to invest in a quality long-term set-up, with fitted furniture and shelving. Take a look at Neatsmith’s beautiful options — good looking and functional.
The corner or table-top office
Is your office also the kitchen table? You’re not alone. Lots of us aren’t lucky enough to have a separate, dedicated office room — meaning we’re eating our toast where we’re also earning a crust. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create a stylish work zone that’s also functional.
A corner of a bedroom is a common home-office set up for many. You may want to think about things such as:
What the view will be like from your bed. It’s probably not going to be super-relaxing seeing your printer immediately on waking, so work out what things you want on show and what you want hidden away. Can you avoid wires tripping you up on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night?
Choosing a desk with a more ‘bedroomy’ look. There are lots of stylish mid-century modern desk options around that have a dressing table feel. In this room, a pink fabric chair means that the desk area doesn’t feel too ‘officey’, and blends in.
Also, look for desks with portholes and in-built cable tidies to avoid a spaghetti of wires spilling out.
If you’re only using your desk intermittently, a small side table where you can balance a small laptop may be enough for your needs.
Other places that often end up as a home office are the corner of a dining room, living room, or, increasingly, your kitchen — keeping the kettle and those constant mugs of coffee at arm’s length. But your desk area doesn’t have to ‘jump out’ or look incongruous if you plan carefully. Neatsmith creates beautiful bespoke options that can help you create a stylish multi-use space. Here, the desk area has been integrated into a wall unit that extends seamlessly into the dining area. The trick here is having the same style cabinets in different zones.
Your home-office design checklist:
Do you want your desk to look out of a window, or will you find that distracting? If you have a choice of windows, which view will be the most appealing, and the least noisy? A vista of bucolic fields is obviously going to be more conducive to a happy working environment than one of next doors’ bins...
The sunshine factor
How does the sun move across the room during the day? Will there be a glare on your computer screen at certain times, and if so, do you need to invest in blinds or an anti-glare shield for your screen? Would it be better to put your computer in another spot? Some people are more sensitive to mirror reflections than others — it can even trigger headaches — so think about whether this bothers you.
Make it stylish
You’ll also want your desk to be stylish if possible – after all, it’s the key piece of furniture in your office. We love the Harold Desk in walnut by Luca Nichetto for De La Espada, from The Conran Shop – mid-century looks at their finest.
How wide does your desk need to be? Will you be using it with a compact laptop, or a full-size desktop computer? Do you need extra space for a desk lamp? Will there be enough room for document holders, mugs of tea, notebooks, cacti, pen pots, photos of your cat, or anything else you like to have in your workspace? Get your tape measure out, and sketch a plan if need be, to help you visualise things.
Will you be sharing with someone else on a regular basis — if so, can you fit in an extra-wide double desk, or two separate ones? Otherwise, you could be taking turns at the kitchen table again…
If you want a desk to fit a particular space, something bespoke is probably your best option. You could also try somewhere like the Hairpin Leg Company, where you can mix and match legs and desktops.
There are also some innovative corner desk and L-shape designs around, if your space is awkward, or you want to spread out.
Wifi There’s nothing like a slow broadband connection to induce an episode of wifi rage. And with no friendly office IT team on call, you could lose hours to technical issues. Check whether your computer will be in a wifi hot spot or cold spot. Do you need to think about investing in a mesh wifi system that distributes your wifi signal around the house, and dodges ‘dead’ zones, such as an Orbi? This means you get a stronger signal more uniformly ( and could help you retain your sanity).
Are there enough sockets for lamps and chargers nearby, or broadband? If not, will they be easy to install by an electrician or engineer, or could you use an adapter? Do you want to avoid unsightly wires trailing across the floor?
Does your room get very hot in summer, or cold in winter? Think about the position of radiators — will you be too sweaty if your work chair is right next to one, or too cold if it’s too far away? Might you even need to install another radiator or will that block off valuable wall space?
Lighting is a vital factor to get right when it comes to working from home. Getting it wrong could lead to eye strain, headaches or even mistakes. Lighting also affects your mood and how uplifting a room feels — important when you’re spending long hours beavering away.
Will you be working in the evening as well? Remember, also, that in the winter your room will be darker. Will you be relying on desk lamps or overhead spots? Is there scope for you to build in wall lights if you are designing your office from scratch, to replace lamps? A variety of light sources is more relaxing, as it creates ‘pools’ of light, as well as being more flexible.
Some helpful lighting tips for home offices include:
Don’t aim lights directly at your screen, as this will create glare.
Choose lamps or wall lights with angled or flexible arms, so you can adjust them as necessary.
If you do a lot of close reading, factor in decent task lighting.
Bear in mind, as we get older, it gets harder to read in dimmer light — you might even want to invest in a special high definition reading light, such as those by Serious Readers.
Weeks or months hunched over your laptop in an uncomfortable chair means trouble for many. It’s important to get your set-up right, so you don’t end up with a backache, eye strain, shoulder pain or wrist pain.
Before you invest in a desk or chair, check the dimensions carefully. Will your desk be the right height for you? As a rule of thumb, if you’re between 5 ft 8in – 5 ft 10in, a desk of 28-30 inches is optimal. Some desks can be height-adjusted. Ideally, you also want to avoid drawers jutting into thighs and knees.
Will your desk slot in comfortably with the chair you have chosen? Or will it constantly butt into the legs of your desk?
If you can afford to, invest in a decent office chair where you can adjust things like seat height, back height, the tilt of the back and ‘seat slide’ (which allows the seat to move back and forwards, depending on whether you have long or short legs). A seat with a higher back may be more supportive. Can you remove arms, or adjust their height? Do you actually like arms, or do they annoy you?
Zanotta’s Eva Office Chair from The Conran Shop, is a superb example of a chair that’s stylish and comfortable – the back is upholstered in soft leather.
Also, look into items such as wrist rests, footrests, elevating laptop stands, and lumbar supports – these can make a huge difference, day-to-day, and help you avoid multiple trips to the physio.
Your eyes should be roughly in line with the top of your screen, your forearms roughly level with your keyboard, and your knees and hips should be at an angle of greater than 90 degrees (your pelvis should be higher than your knees when sitting). Your feet should be supported and your shoulders relaxed.
Don’t forget including somewhere to relax. Having an armchair (if you have room) for screen breaks could help you shift position over the day, and drop those stiff shoulders.
Walls, shelves and storage
Do you want lots of shelves for files, reference books and so on? A fitted option such as Neatsmith’s could be for you. Here integrated shelves and wooden panelling create an ordered study with plenty of cubby holes for books and box files, as well as hidden storage to keep distracting piles of clutter at bay.
Or do you prefer a clean, minimal space? Maybe you’d like a single, stylish shelf on the wall above your screen – somewhere to place beautiful objects or potted plants, to give you a daily
A set of plain, matching magazine holders on a shelf can be a simple way to retain a relatively ordered look while keeping papers in order. Also, think about storage boxes.
Some people like to have a pinboard nearby, to put up reminders of their daily tasks, Post-its, photos or colourful postcards – would this work above your desk?
The classic, modular String shelf design is perfect if you love a Scandi look – it can be added to, and it’s flexible so if you decide you want to add more storage later, you can.
Or if you have space, be bold and try a shelving unit that fills a whole wall, as seen here with the Nyhavn desk from The Conran Shop.
And, if you have space. consider buying a filing cabinet -–that old-school office staple. They can look surprisingly stylish, especially if you have a vintage or colourful model, and can be a great way to keep unruly paperwork in check, plus they can be locked for security.
This can be a factor when working from home, especially if you have children, regular visitors or live near a busy road. Some people are more bothered about noise pollution than others. If it’s an issue for you, you could position your desk away from doors and windows to minimise external and internal noise.
You can also explore sound insulation options – though the most effective solutions will need to be installed before you start using your room.
Options include acoustic plasterboard in walls, and special noise-absorbing underlays, which can be laid under hardwood flooring. You can also look into floor joist isolators, which reduce ‘impact’ noise of people walking around.
For a simpler solution, putting down carpet or rugs on the floor can absorb a certain amount of sound, and door seals can block sound as well. If all else fails, try putting on some relaxing background music!
As with every other room in your home, your office style will be down to personal preference. Are you someone who leans towards a cosy, Victorian library vibe, hankering after vintage writing desks or bureaus, dark-painted walls and oil paintings? Or do you love the clean, Scandi look, with lots of light wood, geometric accessories and potted plants? Maybe mid-century modern is more your thing, with plenty of curved lines, industrial detailing and warm wood?
Your desk choice will play a big part here. There are an infinite number of styles and materials around so don’t rush into a decision. Vintage or modern? Wood, metal or glass? Integrated desks and drawers, or minimal lines? The choice is yours.
Don’t forget the power of plants. Numerous studies show that having greenery around you is good for mental health. They’re thought to boost productivity, reduce stress and purify the air – so it could well be worth finding a spot for cacti, money plant or spider plant in your office.
Closely linked to style is your choice of wall colour – as this will have a huge impact
on the overall feel of your study.
Do you prefer to work in a light, bright space? In which case, white, an off-white or a
paler shade may be the safest choice. The wall below is painted in School Room
White No 29 by Farrow & Ball.
Bear in mind that Pure Brilliant White paint can cast a dreary blueish or greyish hue
in certain light conditions. Different whites will suit different rooms – for example,
depending on whether your office is south – or north-facing, so do some research
Would you prefer to create a cosier office or an elegant heritage feel? In which case,
you might wish to go darker – much darker. This study has been painted in Railings
No 31 by Farrow & Ball, for a bold but still calm look. Keeping the paintwork the
same colour as the walls is a trick that keeps things uniform and not too busy.
Or perhaps you’d like to try something more individual – this study is painted in Sulking Room Pink by Farrow & Ball, a warm, relaxing tone that’s also just a little bit
Don’t write off more unexpected shades either. This room is painted in Farrow &
Ball’s Broccoli Brown – a good example of how a neutral colour could help create a
soothing space in which to work.
If in doubt, invest in a few tester pots and examine decent-sized test patches under
different light conditions.
Also think about the colour of your floors as this will also have a big impact. Here the
floors are painted in a soft grey, Farrow & Ball Downpipe no 26, teamed with white
Head to farrow-ball.com for information.
The tax issue
It’s also worth thinking about the potential tax implications of working from home, if you own your property and are planning to sell.
Normally, you don't pay Capital Gains Tax when you sell your main home. But if you use any part of your home to run a business, then the exemption covering the main home will not apply to that part of your home - and you might have to pay Capital Gains Tax, from 10% on any gain you have made on your home since purchasing. More at