10 Tips for Creating a Home Office

I've been working on a lot of home offices for clients lately - maybe in part because in this tough economy, people are starting side businesses or creative ventures that help them escape from the tense corporate world. They've been a lot of fun, and I thought I'd share some of my tips for a functional and inspiring home office.

1. Declutter. This of course applies to any room, but an office space is notoriously bad for attracting clutter. Papers, folder, clips and dead pens are just some of the things you can weed out. The office is also a typical "dumping ground" (I suffer from this too from time to time) - it's out the way from guests (usually) and you don't have to sleep there, so it becomes ground zero for all that STUFF that doesn't have anywhere else to go. Boxes, gym bags, holiday decorations, trinkets... Do yourself a favor and spend some time tossing and recycling (and shredding!) all the clutter.

2. Carve. Maybe you don't have a full room to devote to a home office, but you probably can carve out a little area for you to sit down, pay bills, work on the computer, sketch, or whatever else it is you want to do that is "work" related. Make this space a dedicated area, meaning that you have systems for dealing with the things that need to be there, and you monitor carefully the other activities that take place there. Maybe you only have space at the dining table to work, but you should have a dedicated shelf or cupboard nearby to keep a printer, office supplies, stamps, and a filing system.

3. Paint. A bright color or a dark color - pick something that makes you happy. Some people respond more to punchy bright colors, others feel more thoughtful and work peacefully in the cozy feeling of a dark room. Don't know? Think of your favorite outfit that makes you feel accomplished and confident. Any color clues there?

4. Add shelving. The most common problem I find is too little shelving, or shelves that are taken up with clutter. Once the clutter is cleared, reassess your belongings and determine what needs storage space. Don't cram everything in, let your items breathe. Store smaller items in labeled baskets or boxes on the shelves. If you don't have much floorspace, try floating shelves above your desk area.

5. Curtains. I love fabric, and there is nothing more mood lifting than a beautiful curtain - it really makes the room feel "dressed". I always recommed some sort of window treatment for client's offices. Sometimes a roman shade makes more sense because the window is above the desk. Sometimes I choose something fun like a floral, but even simple white sheers can filter the light and soften the room.

6. Lighting. Add task lighting to your desk or table, or very close by. And while I love the industrial look of vintage metal desk lamps, I also love the look of a beautiful table lamp on a simple desk. Short on desk space? Try mounting a task lamp on the wall, getting sconces, or installing a pendant above your desk. Your eyes will be less tired after a day at the computer if you have proper lighting.

7. Desk accessories. You have my express permission to pass up that matching set at the office supply store. I use a vintage file tray for my papers, a planter cup from Ikea for loose odds and ends, and I don't have a pencil cup or desk blotter. Others might like to use mason jars to store supplies. Or you might like all highlighter neon acrylic pieces. Choose items that a) you have a legitmate need and use for, and b) that make you smile.

8. Multi-task. A lot of people don't only do office work in the office - it's often double-duty for a sewing or craft room. Maybe even a guest room. Consider how much space you have to work with, then add hidden storage. Don't want all your papers and computer and junk hanging out when your in-laws visit? Make sure you have an easy place to stash those things out of sight. Only use your sewing machine once a month? It should have a "home" where it lives when you're not using it, but it should be accessible and easy to pull out (or you'll never pull it out). One reason I love the Ikea Billy shelves is that you can now order doors for them, even just for the bottom shelves if you want. Hidden storage. Hallelujah! Now Mom and Pops have a peaceful place to sleep and a clear desk to put their things on, and you won't lose anything in the meantime.

9. Art. I'm a BIG believer in personal art in the home office. Buy pieces that inspire you, frame family photos that make you happy. Get big art - it's not just for the living room! Please, no posters without frames. This is a grown-up home office, not a dorm room.

10. Seating. I would love a beautiful white or caramel leather office chair, but it's out of my price range. So don't blow your budget on a pretty chair if you can help it. A nice dining chair can be an alternative, especially in a fun color or with upholstery in the beautiful fabric you can't afford to do drapes in. However, if you work from home and sit at your computer all day, please think of your back and invest in an ergonomically friendly chair. Your back, wrists, and all those nerve endings that cause tension headaches will thank you.