What can I do with a very tiny home office?
October 22, 2011 6:31 AM   Subscribe

My home office space is about 12 square feet. How can I make best use of the space I've got?

We moved into our new house this summer. It's wonderful, but it doesn't have a lot of space, and so I've been on a decluttering-and-organising kick recently. That brought me to my 'office' (pic), where... well, I'm stumped.

As you can see, my desk and computer are set up in one corner of a fairly small room. There isn't really anywhere else in the house I could relocate to where I'd have much more space, and plus, I do like the glorious amount of natural light I get here. We rent, so there are limits to what I can change. But there have got to be ways to organise this tiny little space so it's more functional and less ugly and cluttered!

Relevant points:

* Although I'm willing to spend a little bit of money on this, I'm not looking to buy new furniture on the level of desks and bookcases, just make the most out of what I've got. (Buying smaller things would be okay, and I could possibly salvage a couple of Ikea Fira boxes that are storing junk elsewhere, too.)

* I don't need much desk space, although sometimes I have books/papers out propped against the monitor.

* Putting up shelves is out due to the terms of our lease, but there are several bookcases in the room where I can keep work-relevant books, so they're less of a problem. The main issue storage-wise is all the clutter you can see accumulating on the surfaces.

* That's another bookcase behind the desk. I quite like it where it is, serving as a room partition, but the chipboard backing is a bit ugly. The top surface just serves as space for more clutter accumulation, at the moment.

I appreciate there is probably a very limited amount I can do to make the space less cluttered and more pleasant-looking, without putting up shelves or buying new large pieces of furniture. But I have a dismal lack of imagination about what might be possible here! Your ideas would be very welcomed.
posted by Catseye to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The first thing I would do, especially since you mention that you don't like the backing on the bookcase, is cover it with some pretty fabric. To make it extra-functional, you can go to any office supply store and get a sheet of corkboard the size of the bookcase. Upholster the corkboard (super easy with some spray adhesive and staples), and then staplegun the covered board into the back of the bookcase. Get yourself some push-pins, and now you have a pretty surface to tack things to. Or just a pretty surface to look at, if you're not a push-pin kind of guy.

I'd also get a new chair that didn't look so uncomfortable, but that's a personal thing. If you like your chair and you want to get fancy, pop out the seat cushion and staple gun some of your pretty bookcase fabric to it.

And I'd hang some shelves. I know you're renting, but a few drill holes for some shelving is probably OK. Corner shelves were my first thought, but your corner is funny-shaped, so maybe those wouldn't work so well. But something like this, hung high enough that you're not at risk of smacking your head on it when you're in there, could be quite useful.
posted by phunniemee at 6:45 AM on October 22, 2011

The first thing I'd do is find a way to cover the admittedly ugly chip board on the back of that bookcase. An inexpensive poster/wrapping paper/bulletin board/art paper/fabric/pegboard would help that inexpensively. (pegboard can be easily painted to make it prettier).

You need shelving that you can access from your desk. Can you rotate the bookcase the other direction or would losing the bottom shelves to use because they're under the desk create more problems?

I agree that having the bookcase there to separate your workplace from the rest of the room is a good thing; an alternative is to put this bookcase behind you and find a thin piece of plywood/fibreboard/whathaveyou to act as a separator instead? Maybe pegboard would work nicely if firmly attached to the desk to make sure it doesn't go crashing down.
posted by sciencegeek at 6:48 AM on October 22, 2011

Getting rid of the cord clutter will improve that space immensely too. Can you mount the power strip on the underside of the desk so that its side skirts obscure the cords from view? You can also run the cord from the bookcase task light along the seam where the top meets the back; do this even if you cover the chip board so that the fabric lies flat.

If you cover the chipboard, you could also acquire a very small mat in a coordinating color/pattern which would help you further define the space and make it more finished.

That notch in the corner offers a way to create a narrow shelf easily accessible to your left hand while you work. Even if it's only four inches wide it could accommodate framed photos, a mug of pencils, magazine files oriented sideways to hold projects or papers, small memorabilia (piggy bank?) etc. Alternatively, get a nice box for your desktop to hold miscellany and/or a rolling cart (they are cheap) with drawers that fits underneath.

Regarding the bookcase, you need to establish whether the top belongs to the office or the bedroom; right now it's a jumble of things pointing in both directions. I'm inclined to make it part of the bedroom since the shelves are oriented that way and it's too high for your use while seated.
posted by carmicha at 7:06 AM on October 22, 2011

I wonder what your office might look/feel like if you rearranged it a bit. To me, it seems like the current arrangement makes your office area seem smaller than it actually is. Would a more open floor plan work for you? I realize that you enjoy the natural light in the room. In the picture, where is the light coming from? Would it be possible to move your office closer to the window? Or could you move the bookcase against the wall and use the couch as a divider between the living room and office?

If you enjoy having a really cozy work environment, I wonder if making your office feel more substantial would help. Could you put the desk against the wall on the left (opposite the bookcase), move your current bookcase toward the couch a few inches, and add another bookcase behind the one you currently have? Having a bookcase back-to-back might give you more space for office type-things and might give you room to put more office-type things in the space?

If you enjoy the current furniture arrangement, perhaps you could de-clutter the top of the bookcase. I might try to put things on the top of the bookcase that would like nice from all sides---plants, vases, etc...

Also, have you considered painting the bookshelves? Or your desk? Or have you thought about hanging up some pictures? A faux-window might be nice and might nicely reflect the natural light that you enjoy?

Also, how much space is there underneath your desk? Would your desk be wide enough that you could fit your chair and some short shelves under it? I have a filing cabinet under my desk which has worked well for me.

Also, does your desk have any drawers? If not, the short shelves might work particularly well. You could put pretty boxes in the shelves and fill them with the usual office materials (pens, highlighters, etc...). Good luck!
posted by rapidadverbssuck at 7:25 AM on October 22, 2011

Can you replace the table with a wall-mounted table, or a C-shaped table with two legs rather than four? That will make it easier to access.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:25 AM on October 22, 2011

Have you asked your landlord about the shelves specifically? We thought that was the case in our last place, a managed property. But it turns out that they were just using a standard lease form and didn't expect anyone to actually abide by it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:59 AM on October 22, 2011

Look at Elfa shelving. Twice a year they have it on sale and it's worth it for the quality and the modularity. It is secured at the top only so you'd just have a few holes to patch and paint over. I'd put the thing so you are facing the wall and ditch the bookcase as divider.

Hang a lamp over the workspace and get a smaller light for your bedside space. Add a desktop task light and it will feel like a whole separate space.

Tuck cords to the underside of your desktop and get some matching boxes to tuck things away.

If you can't change anything about your current setup, I'd go with a new chair. A piece of artwork on the backwall and lighting! A thin rug with rubber backing can pull the whole thing together.
posted by amanda at 9:01 AM on October 22, 2011

I know you already have bookcases, can't put up bookcases, and don't want to spend $$$ on any new ones. But if you could find the open-cubby style Ikea Expedit bookcase on Craigslist--they're available all the time in my area--you could use the Expedit as a stand-alone room divider/all-purpose bookcase and sell all your existing bookshelves. The Expedit would enable you to store tons of stuff in inexpensive baskets in many of the cubbies and books in the remaining cubbies. For more desk space, get a long plank the length of the Expedit and support it with two two-drawer file cabinets, also off Craigslist. Agree that a hanging lamp over the desk would define the work space.
posted by Elsie at 9:44 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a very small space too and I use a cookery book holder next to the monitor for text books.
posted by humph at 10:29 AM on October 22, 2011

Also: "That's another bookcase behind the desk. I quite like it where it is, serving as a room partition, but the chipboard backing is a bit ugly."

I used to have a very similar setup in a previous house - I looked for a poster to cover it (on top of a dark craft paper background) but found that a large sheet of gift wrapping paper (the heavier type) did the trick perfectly.
posted by humph at 10:33 AM on October 22, 2011

Thanks, all! Great suggestions. The landlord has explicitly forbidden shelves before, but I can try asking again about small ones that don't need hefty supports.
posted by Catseye at 3:56 PM on October 23, 2011

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