How do I home office?
August 18, 2017 5:44 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to put together a sort of office nook for myself in a corner of my large bedroom. I'd like it to be pleasant (rather than a huge mass of black plastic) and functional and semi-separated from the rest of the room. I'm on a tight budget. I have no idea how to do this. Help?

So I've recently started spending a lot more time doing office-y stuff at home and I have nowhere to really do it. Currently I'm just sort of sprawled out over the dining room table (which is only rarely used for dining) but this isn't really ideal and I'd like to set up something more permanent, private, and pleasant. I do have a large bedroom, and I'd like to turn a corner of it into kind of an office nook. However I've never done this before and in general I have zero interior design sense and also a pretty tight budget (I'd like to put $500 max into this, less if possible). I've got about an 8'x8' area to work with, and I'm OK with making simple things myself; I could certainly knock together a basic set of wooden shelves, for instance. What should I do?

I do know that I like wood and natural fabrics much better than plastic and metal, especially in my bedroom. Think "warm, natural, old-fashioned" rather than "sleek, new, modern." I'm going to need a large desk, obviously, and a chair. I'd prefer a chair that is comfortable and ergonomic and yet does not scream "office chair." I want to sort of partition the area off from the rest of the bedroom a bit, perhaps with folding screens or fabric? Maybe an interesting rug? It's OK if it looks pretty low-budget, as long as it's low-budget in sort of a bohemian way rather than just "I went to Office Depot and bought the cheapest of everything." I'm thinking I'll need a combination of open and enclosed storage (shelving and cabinets/drawers) and some lighting, maybe a floor lamp and a task light or two?

I'm looking for advice on every level here. Basic design principles, things that you did in your own office that you love, strategies for doing this on the cheap, and recommendations for specific items that you think might be worth considering are all great. Really any advice you have at all would be super welcome. I want this to be a nice, comfortable little space where I can get some work done and feel at home. Thanks in advance for the help.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Have you yet gone on line and looked at the galleries of home offices that designers are showing off? There are 60 pictures here. Many of them look impractical - a desk the size of a child's desk with room for a laptop and nothing else? But the idea is to go through the gallery and take notes of if there is anything in the picture that you want or anything that you absolutely can't live with - this is how you decide that you want your desk to face a wall of built in bookcase, or to face your window because oh that light is gorgeous, and that your desk has to be at least four feet wide or if you could get by with a plank supported on six filing cabinets but you really need the filing space.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:09 PM on August 18, 2017

Even if you end up not buying any IKEA furniture, go look at their multipurpose rooms either in person or online. You'll get an idea of what you might like and what would work with the space you have.
posted by cooker girl at 6:12 PM on August 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Jane: when I see things like those pictures, all I can think is "that looks like about $20,000 and a week's work for a professional designer." Or $1000 and a year's hobby time of slowly scrounging up/building the perfect elements for some beautiful crystalline mental vision. Stuff like that gives me anxiety, for real. Perhaps getting past that is part of what I need to do here, but I have no idea how.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:14 PM on August 18, 2017

If you end up wanting to use fabric as a room divider, hanging a curtain rod from the ceiling is the easiest approach.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:15 PM on August 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Build the desk and shelves from hollow core doors. You will need to glue a piece of wood in the cut end. I bought several from my local Habitat Restore last week—all in good condition—prices ranged from $15 for a 36" wide door to $5 for an 11.5" bifold pair.
posted by she's not there at 6:19 PM on August 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Be really thoughtful about how you are going to use the space before you buy furniture. Measure several times, too! I have a small desk which I purchased primarily because it fit lengthwise into the space I had at the time, but the desk is slightly too small to use my computer and have an open notebook or a book on at the same time; a wider desk would have been much better for me.
posted by sm1tten at 6:25 PM on August 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

What you need:
A flat surface & chair (you have this already in your dining room)
You can achieve this with some sort of table (I like long rectangles so I can spread a bit) - a friend got two adjustable 'saw horses' from Ikea and a big ol bit of timber and has an awesome sit/stand desk.

What is nice for organising:
some sort of filing cabinet.
shelves for books and to get stuff off your work surface. *
a tidy place for cables - if you can afford 2 laptop cords so you can have one that lives permanently at your desk, that is nice.
somewhere to keep stationery in an organised way. (a drawer? a box?)

*flat surfaces are great for working on but also attract piles of stuff. Have somewhere to put the stuff.

Our work 'hutches' are: a desk, + two shelves with a centre divider, some storage on the top, a shallow drawer + a filing drawer- this is very functional.
posted by freethefeet at 7:14 PM on August 18, 2017

So here's an IKEA example of a workspace in a bedroom.
posted by cooker girl at 7:26 PM on August 18, 2017

We have this bookcase, which my husband uses to separate his office from a rec room in the basement. It's turned perpendicular to the wall, so it provides a bit of visual separation and helps create a "nook," but since it's backless it doesn't block a lot of light. He stores books/binders/papers on about half of it, and supplies/decorations on the other half. (We got it at Target several years ago, but there are similar things out there.) (Oh, actually, here is our specific one at amazon, although we paid less at Target!)

Anyway, it's a nice combination of bookshelf/storage/divider.

Ikea has a lot of nice, functional desks, in wood. You might also look for secretaries or wardrobe-offices (both of which you hide in different ways). You might also just go peruse your local secondhand furniture stores (from Goodwill to antique stores) just to see if there's a desk you fall in love with, and build out from that.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:20 PM on August 18, 2017

I've tried to do this, and I have a couple suggestions.

You don't mention the kind of work you are doing - that could have a large effect on the outcome depending on the physical objects required. I'll assume basic administration though.

If you have to do paperwork, I'd invest in a really good scanner. I have two of the smaller versions, one for home, one for work. Eliminating paper was the best long term decision for dealing with home office. Cubic yards of file cabinet/box/etc. have gone away. You'll need a system to deal with the digital files, I recommend this guide and taking from it what works for you.

Now that you've blown you whole budget on a scanner - not much left. I have had designer friends work wonders with the IKEA Kallax/Expedit series of cubbyhole shelf units. Avoid the IKEA accessories - they are gimmiky - but a bold window curtain affixed to the back of a large shelf with lots of bins and containers can make a lot of office clutter look good and be organized well.

I did have to manage a home office out of a very small corner and used this IKEA desk/hutch with fold down work surface. It was OK but the bare minimum - the fold down surface always felt flimsy and it was a chore to work there, not a pleasant experience. It worked OK for handling household bills and could be shut tight to reduce visual clutter. That's about the best I can say about it.
posted by sol at 8:32 PM on August 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Very little paper. I'll be doing a lot of diagramming and form-filling using a laptop and a tablet, for work. I'll also be using the space for photo editing. I'll need homes for two laptops, a tablet, and ideally at least one large monitor. I have a handle on what kind of lighting I'll want for photo editing.

It would also be good to have space for actual paper stuff; writing letters, dealing with bills, etc. Organized storage for paper, also. There's a wireless printer elsewhere in the house for the rare occasions when I print.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:48 PM on August 18, 2017

Best answer: Put the word out to friends and family that you are looking for furnishings for a home office and would like donated furniture for it. They may give you stuff that's not suitable. In that case you just pass it along elsewhere. Free furniture hand-me-downs especially good sturdy stuff from downsizing older relatives is the cheapest source.

Go browsing at your local thrift stores and second hand stores. Check out what the availability is like, and the prices, and try things like pulling out desk drawers so that you get an idea how to check for drawers that stick or fall apart. I'm not sure if you live far enough North to be guaranteed four days of consecutive sub zero weather, but if you have any concerns about bugs in second hand furniture storing it in a garage or a shed for four days and night that go below freezing will kill bedbugs. So if you are not in an immediate hurry to put your home office together take your time and keep browsing and remind your family and connections that you are looking for any solid wooden desks that might be looking for a home. If it takes you until February to get the project done, the cold weather could be a bonus.

Be aware however that an old fashioned wooden office desk from the twenties could be as heavy as an apartment piano. Those suckers are heavy. But I doubt you would be lucky enough to turn up one of those. The few that are left are not likely to budge now.

Try your local library for books on diy furniture projects with hollowcore doors, to expand on the suggestion by she's not there. It is well worth getting a desk that has been maltreated and looks dreadful if it is still sound, if the damage is cosmetic and you can restore it with a little sanding, some candle wax to make the drawers open and close smoothly and a new coat of paint. But make sure that the desk you get is a good height for you. This is important. If you get a desk that is too low you can end up with ergonomic problems or just end up too uncomfortable to use it.

Also check kijiji for second hand desks and office furniture, shutters, lamps and doors.

The least expensive lamp you can get is a light bulb at the end of an electrical cord, which you hang from a hook or two in your ceiling. The lampshade is one of those round paper Chinese ones. Again, do some browsing to see what is available at your local inexpensive stores like WalMart and Target and second hand stores for a desk lamp. You might not find anything that suits you, but it is worth checking and it will help give you ideas of what you want and what could work. Rather than an actual desk lamp consider the kind of lamp that people use on a side table in the living room. Placed on the desk above your reading material it will provide just as much light although it will not be quite as easy to position, but it could look very attractive which will look good in the bedroom.

The most important item on your list is the chair, because the wrong chair can cripple you. You might consider getting a relatively ugly standard office chair with good ergonomics, and then covering it to make it less ugly. Can you sew? Would any of these ideas work? There is no reason why you could not also spray paint the bottom of the chair a colour like dark brown to match the colour of a dark brown wooden desk and make it less obtrusive. If you have painted your desk, use the same paint on the base of the chair.

Rather than hiding your home office behind a screen you might want to consider having a place to put everything away and leaving the desk in view. If you already use a dining table and work with a laptop you could pack the laptop away in a drawer along with all papers and files, and the desk in your bedroom could have a vase of flowers or other decorative objects centred on it when not in use. This might be easier than hiding it behind a screen and would make the room less crowded. But if you want to set up the home office in your bedroom so that you can leave your work out than you likely will want to hide it. In this case you might want to go with a table in the bedroom too. Perhaps get a table and a couple of filing cabinets that look like chests of drawers and paint them all to match, and invest the biggest part of your budget in a good ergonomic office chair.

What you end up with will depend on what you can scrounge or find in budget after visiting the second hand shops a few times and waiting for results from asking your contacts. You have to be patient and think of it like a treasure hunt. You don't expect results the first time you browse kijiji, or go to Value Village. You are holding out for something good.

Here are instructions for DIY folding screens. Unfortunately that will eat up a chunk of your budget - you might look for used shutters or hollow core doors at the Restore and try to create a screen with a distressed finish in order to save money?
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:41 PM on August 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

People are getting rid of their big old tv & media cabinets because they now have flat tvs and play music digitally. They show up on Craigslist ask the time, free or cheap. They can be re-purposed for your computer and related stuff. When not in use, close the doors.
posted by theora55 at 8:10 AM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ikea butcher block makes a great desk top- solid, strong, warm on your wrists, and you can use it unfinished & let it get stained up with use, then sand it occasionally to make it look new. You can get a piece, cut to size, and instead of putting it on legs, just lay it over a couple of cabinets for customized storage space- any size is possible, basically like this.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:48 AM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wonder if a rug and maybe some tallish plants would be enough to define the office area as a separate space without literally having to wall it off? Or, open-backed bookshelves can define a space without fully walling it off (depending on how much stuff you put on the shelves, natch.)

Writing desks typically look less "Office Depot" and more charming than computer desks. Just be careful because they can be small, so make sure there's enough space for your needs. You can also look at rectangular tables to use as a desk. I have this table from IKEA as the main desk in my office.
posted by misskaz at 9:54 AM on August 19, 2017

Consider getting a nice table sized screen so that you can push stuff to the back of the desk, and put the screen in front of it and still leave things out. This can be a good way to hide your monitor, and the table sized screen will take up a lot less space and be less expensive than a room-sized divider.

Here are a few images. They are all Asian style. If you are crafty you could make your own with four similar panels held together with small hinges. You could use three or four small rectangular cork boards, for example, or picture frames and put whatever type of art works for you in the frames.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:28 PM on September 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Appeal MTEL Teaching Licensure Test   |   Why are so many vinyl records I buy from bandcamp... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.