Make your home office a soothing and creative space with these expert tips
Though we spend at least one-third of our lives working, we often pay little attention to the ambiance of our home office space. This is particularly true of SoHos (Small office Home offices). Yet in your home office you expect to be productive, energised, creative and articulate. To help you reach those zones, a home office really needs some planning and personality.
Whether you telecommute a few days a week, would like to make over your SoHo or are planning to go freelance, it’s important to think about the features that every good home office space needs. Consider design choices that help to:
- Look after your body. That means choosing ergonomically sound furniture.
- Stimulate creativity. Spice up your SoHo with visual touches such as polka-dotted chair upholstery, a colourful mouse mat, paisley or silk curtains or an eye-catching room divider behind your desk featuring tree or leaf silhouettes, geometric designs or Japanese cherry-blossoms.
- Calm yourself. Set up a decent sound system so you can play some classical music or natural forest sounds while you work. Burn some incense and put a forest scene on your screen saver. Add some found objects like seedpods and shells to bring more of the natural world inside.
- Create several thinking spaces. Even if you have a poky little home office you can usually squeeze another thinking space in a corner or against a wall. Add a futon chair, stack of large and small cushions, a feature armchair with a throw rug and scatter pillow or a small daybed or chaise longue. Use this thinking area when you are stuck on a problem or need to come up with new ideas. Sometimes just moving away from your desk to a little home office nook can get your creative juices flowing.
Create a home office with atmosphere
Choosing a basic decor style can help make your SoHo feel more welcoming and stimulating. You can carry this through with furniture and knick-knacks or by displaying a few well-chosen items. Consider making your home office:
- Tranquil with Zen undertones
- Stylish 60s
- Kitsch with fun 50s novelty items, comicbook covers in frames and flying porcelain geese on the wall
- Coastal with homage to the sea in shells, starfish and watercolours of seascapes or mermaids
- Cottage or country
- Crisp and contemporary
- Monochrome — go for black and white with accents of red
- Artsy with Japanese woodblock prints or reproductions of Warhol, Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec or a mix of artists you like
- Monocultural with feature objects from a culture you love, such as a beautiful tea set and hanging kimono from Japan or set of small glass vases from Egypt
Choosing your home office colour palette
Just as ultraviolet light, which causes sunburn, can impact on your skin, all the colours of the spectrum emit different energy frequencies that alter everything from your brain activity to blood pressure. You don’t have to splash colour all over your SoHo; go for neutral tones and a feature wall in bolder or contrasting colour. Pick out a dominant colour in the upholstery of your work chair, a rug or feature picture in the room and make that shade the colour on a feature wall. Different colours create different energy:
- Red is very stimulating and energetic, but it can be overpowering so don’t overdo it.
- Orange or terracotta is linked to emotions such as reassurance, constancy and warmth.
- Green promotes a sense of balance, nature and stability. It’s also thought to aid digestion.
- Blue can help stimulate intellectual thought and contemplation; it’s also soothing, serene and de-stressing.
- Purple is linked to creativity and spirituality.
- Yellow is cheerful and invigorating.
- Black absorbs light but reflects nothing back, so it can be seen as quite “hard”. It’s also dramatic and classic, though, particularly if you jazz it up with some bright colours or metallic shades like silver, copper and gold.
- White evokes purity, cleanliness, tranquillity, harmony and peace.
Take the floor
An attractive floor material creates the foundation for an appealing home office. So consider a floor surface covered in:
- Matte wooden floorboards
- Whitewashed pine
- Hemp carpet
- Feature rugs, either as a small feature, a larger filler in your room’s open space, under your office chair to prevent wear and tear or as a welcoming mat at your SoHo entrance.
Installing soft lampshades — even in a simple Japanese paper lantern style — can help to soften harsh overhead office lighting that can tire eyes that are often already strained by hours at a computer.
A desk lamp that provides a soft but sufficient glow is a good addition to help you avoid harsh overhead lights on overcast days. You might also like to invest in a Himalayan salt lamp that has earthy appeal, a soft glow and is believed to help neutralise the effects of magnetic radiation emanating from your computer. Use it when you’re working late as excess evening light disrupts the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps promote faster sleep onset and better sleep quality. Research from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute shows that two hours of computer exposure can reduce melatonin by 22 per cent. Overhead lights can further deplete it.
If your office doesn’t have a lot of natural light, consider putting in one or two small windows, which will also allow you a glimpse of trees or your garden or the world outside. A well-placed skylight can also change the whole feel of your workspace. Make sure it’s placed so you can have the blind on it open and see the sky without light from it reflecting on your computer.
When you’re choosing a desk, focus on function as well as form. That gorgeous old antique desk may have loads of character but it may do your back no favours. You might be better to choose an ergonomically designed desk made of recycled timber or a simple wooden desk that you make over with a rustic limewash or appealing colour.
Alternatively, you might want to invest in an adjustable stand-up desk so you can mix up standing and sitting while you work. Research at the University of Pittsburgh shows that people who use a standing desk for just half a day can burn 238 more kilojoules (56.9 calories), reducing weight gain that often occurs with age and inactivity. Studies also show that standing to work can enhance concentration and productivity. If you’re really energetic, opt for a treadmill standing desk so you slip in some exercise while you’re thinking or reading.
Meanwhile, make sure you:
- Invest in a good-quality chair that has an adjustable seat pan, backrest and chair height. Resist the temptation to just use a dining chair at your desk or you will pay for it in the long run.
- Find a nice wooden footstool and keep it under your desk to help keep your posture upright when doing computer work. Or put your feet flat on the ground under your desk — your knees should be level with your hips or a little lower.
- Adjust your backrest to a slight tilt so it supports the inward curve of your lower back.
- Install an anti-glare screen and ask your optometrist about anti-glare lenses for glasses. Also clean your monitor regularly to reduce dust and smears and increase screen sharpness.
A feature wall showcasing different-sized coloured and “distressed” photo frames can create visual interest at little cost. Shop around for a range of frames to display:
- A series of black-and-white or sepia versions of your favourite photos of family and friends. Change them from time to time.
- Landscape shots taken from happy holidays or scenic walks, depicting everything from sunsets, seascapes and forest scenes to close-ups of moss on trees and flowers in your garden.
- Beautiful cards. Pick them up in your travels — choose a mix including handmade and printed cards.
- Postcards from art galleries. Frame them and enjoy an instant eye-catching collection of artworks and art styles you love.
Visual vintage appeal
Having some treasured older items in your office can make you feel you are channelling a time when life was simpler and slower. Scatter these kinds of classic items around your SoHo for a lovely old-time feel:
- A ladder. Stand a feature wooden ladder against a wall and use it to hang lovely scarves. Or invest in whitewashed stepladder shelves that decrease in size from bottom to top. This can be used to house pot plants, books and other paraphernalia, such as work stationery or inboxes with a smattering of scented candles or bowls of beautiful leaves or sea urchins.
- Vintage boxes. Think small tin boxes, a pretty hatbox or small to medium vintage school cases and suitcases stacked up in the corner.
- Several aged sconces for candles.
- Framed prints of classic kids’ books like Alice in Wonderland, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie or Winnie the Pooh.
Functional finishing touches
Forget old grey metal filing cabinets and plastic bins. Make your home office an appealing space by choosing eye-catching office storage supplies and storage strategies such as:
- Appealing boxes and folders. Look for home office storage boxes, organisers and upright files in bright colours or pretty designs.
- Go for colourful staples, tape dispensers, paper clips, penholders and display or storage folders.
- Message boards. Blackboards with colourful chalk, whiteboards with colourful felt pens and corkboards with colourful drawing pins can be great for brainstorming ideas, listing important upcoming dates/events and displaying the month or day ahead.
- Small baskets, pouches or mesh storage boxes fastened to the inside back of under-desk cupboards or walls to save space.
Problems with prefab
Though it can be tempting to set up an office with cheap flatpack desks and prefab MDF cupboards and shelves, in the long term they may take their toll on your health. DIY office furniture is usually made of cheap materials like chipboard, which are filled with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some of these include formaldehyde, benzene, acetone and methylene chloride. These can outgas into your office air and after breathing them in all day you may develop chronic issues like a runny nose and eye irritation, headaches, skin rashes and respiratory problems like coughing and asthma, as well as fatigue.
Invest in a Himalayan salt lamp that has earthy appeal, a soft glow and is believed to help neutralise the effects of magnetic radiation emanating from your computer.
Instead, you are better off picking up some untreated wood and making your own shelves, and saving up to buy a nice quality wooden desk made from eco-friendly materials. If you already have some home office furniture that’s made of cheap chipwood, invest in some indoor plants.
When scientists were working on the space shuttle Skylab 3, they found that the indoor air was contaminated with over 100 chemicals. But, since plants recycle oxygen, they reasoned that plants might have a hidden talent for breaking down pollutants as well — and they were right. NASA research that focused on keeping the air for astronauts as clean as possible found that plants can do a great deal to remove pollutants from indoor air because they absorb and break down chemicals through their leaves and roots as do the micro-organisms in the soil.
The NASA studies found that one potted plant per 100 square feet of floor space is the minimum needed to improve indoor air quality. The plants found to be most effective at removing indoor chemical pollution include dracaenas, bamboo palm, fig species, peace lily, philodendron, chrysanthemums, gerbera daisies, aloe vera and spider plants. These plants are also effective formaldehyde eaters. By simply placing aloe vera in a room for 24 hours, the NASA scientists found they could reduce the amount of formaldehyde in the air by an impressive 90 per cent.
Work-friendly scents for your home office
Soothing or invigorating scents can give you an extra boost during your working week. Choose aromatherapy candles, incense or oils to help you:
- Boost concentration and focus. Try rosemary, peppermint, ginger, tea-tree, cypress, lemongrass and basil.
- Make you feel more confident. Try sandalwood, pine, geranium, rose, grapefruit and rosewood.
- Feel more inspired or energised. Try frankincense, neroli, elemi, sandalwood, black pepper, pine, juniper, thyme and eucalyptus.
- Stay calm and reduce stress. Try chamomile, lavender, ylang ylang, clary, mandarin, orange, sage, linden berry and geranium.