Decorating & Design

December 2, 2008

Small Home Office

Q. I have a very small add-on space to an old house. It’s about 7’6” L and 6’11” W. It has two old-fashioned windows, facing east and south. It’s a very bright room so I’ve painted its two walls a dark mauve and colour contrast it with a very pale lavender for the remaining two walls. I want to convert it into a multifunctional room: home office with a reading area. There is an existing pantry shelf in there and I dump everything on it (extra plates, canned goods, gardening supplies).

— C.M., Toronto

A. Your extra room is quite compact, so I recommend using the space exclusively as a comfortable home office and allocating another space in your house as a reading area. You should find another spot for the pantry shelf and for storing your gardening supplies and canned goods; to stay organized, keep your office space for storing home management or work-related items only.

Think about replacing your current table with a custom-made wall-mounted desk (installed just beneath the window sill). Everything you need on a regular basis while working in your office should always be within reach, so consider mounting custom-made shelves on the wall above the desk on either side of the window. Depending on your needs and budget, cupboards could also be incorporated into this storage piece.

The tops of the shelves can work as a display area for decorative items such as vases or sculpture or for storage boxes containing things you rarely need to access (though be sure to label them clearly).

Before purchasing any magazine butlers or storage boxes, first plan out what you’ll need: take stock of what items should be stored close-at-hand, how many storage butlers and bins you’ll need, the style you want to buy (along with dimensions) in order to design shelving that will perfectly fit all your essential work stuff.

Halogen task lights built into the underside of the bottom shelf will illuminate your work space surface and are well worth the extra expense. If wiring allows, have an electrician install a ceiling light (such as a schoolhouse style pendant or semi-flush-mounted pendant) that will provide good ambient light for working in the evenings.

Consider purchasing (or having built) a long, narrow credenza with cabinets (no more than 24” in depth) to place along the wall opposite your desk. This piece can be used for tucking away items you prefer to keep out of sight, to provide an additional surface on which to place electronics (such as a fax machine, phone or iPod speakers) or on which to place more storage containers such as a row of magazine butlers. Above the credenza, you could also mount additional shelving to hold reference books and other file holders containing documents that you need to access less often.

Think about hanging a framed bulletin board on the left side of the south-facing window to tack up notes and reminders and to display photos and cards.

There is a plethora of handsome and practical storage solutions for the home office available on the market. Purchase everything in a scheme of two or three complementary colours for a neat, organized appearance. Shades of grey with some white would work nicely with your dark mauve and pale lavender walls.

And since your flooring appears to be linoleum tile, think about purchasing a work chair on wheels with an adjustable back for optimum comfort. It appears that the room doesn’t have a door — if privacy and noise are issues, consider installing one that opens outwards.