Takin’ care of business – Setting up your home office

by christina on November 16, 2011

As a freelancer – or even as just a lady with a LOT of paperwork and craft items – a home office is key. At my previous home, it was just a guest room outfitted with a desk and a modem – simple, but efficient. I got teased endlessly from people who thought I should have a bigger monitor, a larger desk, and generally just more space – “You’re a graphic designer,” they said. “You need room to design!” But I never saw it that way, and still don’t. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish given my 17” screen, feminine desks, and petite spaces. Even if I had a whole floor to work in, I’m sure I would contain my actual workspace to a corner of it. Small, pretty and efficient beats out large, nondescript and cluttered any day in my book.

And that’s what I hope I have accomplished in my new home office/library (the books needed a home, too!). Originally a third bedroom, the previous owners tore down the wall dividing it from the dining room and used it as a living room, with a wide archway separating the two spaces. I see why they did it – the home really doesn’t have a formal living space, but it was off-putting to me to have such an “open” plan in such a small house.

Knowing that I would use the basement as my primary living space and that I couldn’t get rid of the dining room since my kitchen can’t seat more than 2 people, it was an easy choice to make the “living room” my home office.

The first step was to get rid of the archway and create a separate space from the dining room. My contractor tore down the arch and built the wall back up (also closing up the original bedroom doorway into the hallway that was still there…so odd) leaving room to install two white, pocket French doors. Sigh.


Granted, french doors leading onto a balcony are far sexier, but into an office works, too.

I love me a French door. In all my home renovation dreams, they are always somehow incorporated and I was thrilled to be able to put them to good use here (if in a more efficient, pocket-door fashion, of course). I wanted the office to feel separate and I wanted to be able to close the doors if I was working (or partially hide my crap in the event of a last-minute dinner party), but I also didn’t want to lose the light that the open plan had had. The doors achieved this perfectly.

There was one glitch that occurred during this process, however – a few weeks after the doors were installed I noticed that each pane of glass (12 on each door) had a tiny little insignia on it – a government something-or-other about it being tempered. The average person wouldn’t really notice it…me? No chance. After trying everything to remove it, I finally called the millhouse where we had ordered them and they told me that, yes – it was government regulation to have that on EVERY pane of glass and no – there really wasn’t a good way to remove it. Drat. I was peeved to say the least, but really – what could I have done instead? Gone out and found antique doors created before this regulation? I decided this was a battle not worth fighting and have successfully ignored the imprint (and my impulse to point it out to everyone!) since.

Once the construction work was done, it was time for my trusty painter to return.  For every warm color that the previous owners had chosen, I found a cool and pretty one to replace it with, the office color being no exception. They had chosen a cream color, with a darker shade below the chair rail bland. Not entirely offensive. BUT they decided to top it all off with some truly hideous burgundy floral wallpaper border.  Unacceptable. I wanted my office to be soothing and pretty (my previous office had been a bright shade of Tiffany Box Blue) and, not for the first time, I was taken in by the name – Stardust Ballroom.


What appeared to be a mauvy-lavender in the sample turned out to be full-on lavender once applied to my walls (I decided to use the same color above and below the chair rail partly to keep it simple, partly because I was sick of making decisions by that point). Standing in the empty room, I started to get nervous. Was my choice too juvenile? But slowly, as I moved pieces in, it started to make more sense. My green Pottery Barn rug, my white bookcase and bench (both of which my grandfather made for me), my great-grandmother’s chair I had reupholstered in a stone-colored velvet (formerly a dirty-white vinyl), and finally the beautiful drapes my aunt made for me. These made the biggest difference, I think – breaking up the “My Little Pony” aspect of the walls with a more grown-up print.


Storage and display - all built by Grandpa!

Vintage form, neutral colorings - classic!

The art also helped. The diploma was the first piece to go up (gotta remind myself how I got to have a home office, afterall!), followed by a framed letter my teenage mother received from the managing editor of the then Minneapolis Star paper in response to a letter she had written expressing her dismay that they had dropped the daily horoscope feature (beyond my personal attachment, the editor goes on to explain how due to the newsprint shortage they had to become more economical with their story choices – such a great piece of history!). All the Jackie O stuff was next. Not gonna lie – I’m kind of a nut for her. Books, posters, prints – anything Jackie goes. A new piece I found was off of Etsy called “Library Ladies”. It’s a print of an oil painting that the artist sells on her Etsy page. They are all kind of 50’s themed with ladies and their spaces and clothes being the theme. This one I thought was perfect for my part-library’s gallery wall.

A fit place for a worker bee.

My mini-gallery.


The verdict is still out on a few pieces, though. The white metal filing cabinet is a leftover from the old office – it’s useful, but ugly. I think a lovely (but spendy) Pottery Barn one is in my future. My desk that I found at IKEA is also a question. I liked it for it’s shape (very simple and feminine, plus it offered WAY more leg room than my previous desk) and had plans on painting it, but its current ashy raw-wood color has surprisingly gone really well in with the room. So we’ll see about that. And in my ongoing effort to mix modern and traditional pieces, I found this modern white desk chair on Overstock. This is the piece I’m most torn about. I think it’s really important to have a comfortable desk chair, but I think a non-wheeled, upholstered chair would look so much better in there. We’ll see whether form or function wins on this one.


Another IKEA score! (And Target - love the gold pouf!)

One exciting find was the bookcase for the wonky-corner. Once they closed up the original doorway to the bedroom, I was left with this oddly-angled corner – too small for seating, but perfect for a bookcase (and so needed – the book situation is simply gross…). I found one at Crate & Barrel that fit the space perfectly, but it was back-ordered until June (not to mention, $450). But it was IKEA to the rescue…again! They had a white, laminate version for only $60 (and in-stock!) and seeing as it would be covered in books and stuck in a corner, I realized no one would ever really notice it was IKEA anyways. All in all, a great buy.

Of course, there are still a few to-dos in this space – find another chair to balance off the “library” half of the room (the side to the right of the bench), decide if I want to keep the so-so light fixture for something a bit funkier (I’m not generally a fan of overhead lighting anyways, and it’s not terrible so it’ll probably stay), and figure out some more attractive storage solutions other than the plastic bins (WAY too many arts/crafts supplies!).

But it has come to be a charming space that I enjoy working and being in. Sunday mornings are the best – my boyfriend reading the paper and drinking coffee on one side, me typing away at the computer on the other. I think it’ll even work as an extra guest space, too, if I was ever in a pinch (a blow up bed would work perfectly in there). All-in-all, it has become yet another “happy place” in my new home.

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