Planning an Unconventional Home Office Setup

I’ve had a home office for the past ten years. During that time, my wife and I have moved four times. Besides working full time at jobs we love, Lori and I also run our own side hustles: I write, and she creates art and jewelry. Juggling all that leaves little room for a social life, especially in the suburbs. That’s why we traded a bigger space for a shorter commute.

While I’m not looking forward to the process of relocating my home office, I am excited about our new space. After leaving our three-bedroom townhouse, we’re moving into a 900-square foot condo in the center of town. Most Americans wouldn’t even consider this option, but it’s designed to help us spend more time together. This caused us to rethink what we want to get from a work space in our home, and we’ve come up with five guidelines that shaped how we’re designing the new home office setup.

#1: Think Multipurpose

For the first time in a decade, we won’t have a dedicated room as a home office. Trading off space for lifestyle doesn’t mean giving up functionality. Instead of sacrificing a whole room as a home office, we’ve set up what would have been our dining room into three potential configurations. That corner desk lets us flex between a home office space, a dining area, and a crash pad.

With a dining room table that collapses against the wall next to the desk, we can have some surface area when we really need it for projects. If we find ourselves hosting more overnight guests than we have couches, there’s plenty of room for that air mattress. While entertaining, the desktop computer can stow away in the closet, making our corner desk perfect for a drinks station.

#2: Be Inclusive

You could describe my first home office as a mashup of Mad Men and Twin Peaks: a misguided attempt at feng shui that left my huge wooden desk facing toward the door of our spare bedroom. Instead of a real office, I really created a man cave. Lori felt shut out from what was meant to be a family business.

Although home-working friends often complain about their interruptive spouses, Lori and I have developed some cues and clues to keep us from stepping on each others’ creativity. Our space is open enough to simulate co-working, with enough privacy when we need it.

#3: Capture the Clutter

Two creative people getting married can result in disaster if you’re not prepared for some give and take. In our current home office, we finally had the right amount of space to set up a desk that wrapped around two walls of the room. It gave us lots of space to work, and lots of space to collect clutter.

Our new space forces us to get things done. We picked a corner desk that gives us the right amount of space for a small inbox. Papers get scanned with a tiny Doxie scanner into Evernote, so we can both access copies of key bills, paperwork, and receipts. Everything other than critical documents makes a one-way trip to the shredder.

#4: Stay Flexible

When we work together, it’s often about getting photos of her creations onto the web or proofing cover art and photos for one of my books. That’s why we chose small, fairly portable pieces of furniture. Having a few pieces we can quickly whip around the room means we can go from a pop-up photo shoot to a markup session with just a few moves.

It’s also important for us to share the room’s resources when we can get the most done. I tend to do most of my best work in the early morning, before I head out to the Major Corporation. Lori gets creative at night. The corner computer’s big screen lets us get a lot done during our hot zones. If we need two computers at once, we’ve got laptops and that convertible dining room table as fallback.

#5: Have Fun and Think Funky

I still have nightmares about the ugly, pressboard home office furniture my dad and I glued together when I was still in high school. Instead of a typical office desk, Lori found a corner unit that enhances the color and texture of our hardwood floors. The folks at the furniture store indulged us by helping me carry upholstered dining room seats across the showroom to find one that had the same kind of ergonomic support as my favorite mesh task chair. Lori loves the unusual design of the chairs we chose: green with playful embroidery on the back that will make our new space bright and cheerful, even when we’re working hard.

These five ground rules really helped us hammer out a new kind of home office for our new space. Everything’s on delivery trucks now, but I’ll update the post with some pictures of the final product once we’re done moving in.

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