Home Offices: Work in style

Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

Since working from home has become the new norm, it makes sense to elevate the experience with a personal workspace that suits you. With so many variables to consider, from finding the best location in the house to selecting the right furniture, it helps to get some guidance from those in the know.

A mix of metal and wood is one of the current trends for home office furniture, as seen in this handsome specimen that can easily be integrated into a main living area. (Art Van photo)

The biggest factor in this category is that more people work from home and there’s been a digital shift that makes it easier to achieve, says Brenda Dillon, director of seating for Art Van. “Furniture has become less formal and more flexible, from a simple writing desk to a multi-piece setup that lets the end user be flexible with their space,” she says.

Today’s workspaces are more likely to be integrated into the main areas of the home than tucked away in a spare bedroom, making it even more important to inject your personal style. “It might be a piece of occasional furniture in a family room or a living room,” says Dillon.

For instance, a desk can be a multipurpose piece that doubles as a sofa table or a console table.

Another trend, she says, is the digital revolution with electronic file storage that eliminates the need for those file cabinets our parents had for tax returns and bills. Laptops, tablets and wireless printers have also reduced the need for bulky furniture.

“Now it’s more inspirational and stylish and casual,” says Dillon.

Urban Modern designs are currently in demand, featuring industrial materials like metal and glass, wood and metal, and solid wood. The farmhouse look also remains prevalent as seen in X-base desks with metal accents or solid wood that might be paired with an upholstered chair.

“This is a way to put your fingerprint on your home office,” says Dillon who also likes the idea of adjustable desks that let you sit or stand for better posture and productivity.  Current styles include those that can be raised manually or electronically.  

Chairs have been influenced by ergonomics as well. “Your selection should depend on how long you intend to work at your desk,” she says. “If you only use your home office to run your household, you might choose an accent chair with some color and pattern.”

Bookcases have also evolved along the way. No longer a place for encyclopedias, Dillon says they’re primarily used for storage and display. Some units feature a file drawer at the base with shelves above that may hold photos and collectibles.

Open styles make great room dividers that can store attractive bins or crates that keep your files camouflaged and your supplies organized. Solid wood and wood and metal varieties work equally well in traditional and modern settings.

Accessories should include proper lighting, like an industrial-style lamp with a spare outlet, USB port or dimmer switch. Bright accent pieces can complement the lighter wood tones shown today. “A rug or a chair can add that pop of color when your office is in a room that people can see,” says Dillon.

Blues remain strong along with grays paired with gold. Terracotta has grown popular in a personal work environment and throughout the home.

Lastly, Dillon says inspiration walls, which include those covered in chalkboard or dry erase board paint, work especially well in a family hub.

HED: Definition of success

Anna Yudina, a Paris-based architecture and design author, curator and member of the A10 New European Architecture Cooperative, says she was inspired to write her latest book “HOME WORK: Design Solutions for Working from Home” (Thames & Hudson) by the growing importance of flexible work schedules in today’s world, the multiple advantages this working model offers and the diversity of available solutions.

For those looking to incorporate one or more work areas into a residential setting, she suggests trying to design a workspace that is in sync with your lifestyle. Considerations include the specifics of your work, your habits and routines, the demands of your personal life and available space, and whether you require a dedicated workspace with some degree of isolation or are comfortable with converting a dining table into a desk as necessary. All of this contributes to shaping your unique solution. 

For her own home office in an urban-based studio flat, Yudina was looking for a place that would make a good work environment. “In my case, it’s a big white table facing a wall-sized window that provides lots of light and a rather typical street view that is not too distracting and not too relaxing either,” she says.

Neatness counts in this type of setting, as does the orientation. “I do my best – with varying success – to keep the table uncluttered (which helps to focus on the project at hand),” says Yudina. “It’s also important for me that my workspace is turned away from the rest of the living space, so that, even though it’s not a separate room, it still aids concentration – without, however, completely blocking off the outside world (compared to a table facing a wall).”

She was surprised by the variety of efficient, successful solutions for all sorts of home sizes, work and lifestyles. For instance, her book highlights the work of New York-based architect Michael K. Chen who provides dynamic spaces for those living in densely packed urban centers. This involves multipurpose furniture blocks with integrated mobile elements that make it possible to use the same compact space differently at different times of the day.


Then there’s Loft MM, designed by Belgian firm C.T. Architects for a wheelchair-bound client who wished to maintain an independent life. The headboard of his bed cantilevers to form a desk, with lighting smartly shared between work and rest needs.

For her “Grid System,” London-based designer Ying Chang created a series of add-on accessories that equip a generic table for work, dining and storage functions, while architect Stefano Viganò designed a hybrid furniture piece that combines a desk, multiple storage spaces and a bed for a student room.

If you have multiple options for a home office, Yudina recommends picking the one that resonates with your lifestyle. “Probably one of the most important takeaways from this book – for me as well – was that there is no single recipe; your lifestyle, routines and preferences will shape the home office that works best for you.”

Work in progress

Kids need a place to be productive too. Whether it’s a special spot to do their homework or stash a laptop or tablet, different configurations can be found at places like Crate and Barrel that offer stylish study stations.

Jeanine Matlow writes the Smart Solutions column in Homestyle. You can reach her at jeaninematlow@earthlink.net.