With stylish desks starting from as little as €65, why settle for dull and predictable home office design.
If you work from home, then you’re the boss. And that’s that.
And it’s a very good reason not to accept the bad ‘office-style’ furniture that so many retailers are trying to push.
Home office design is all about “function” or so say the online purveyors of unattractive office furniture and ugly ergonomic chairs. Such furniture was designed for cheapskate employers who skimp on office design to save money. And while design in Irish workplaces is often cleverly functional, it can lack severely in ambience.
Some retailers are now trying to persuade us to buy this type of design for our home offices too. Just say no to bad design! As one of the increasing number of full-time, home-based workers, I can spend more than eight hours a day in my office. I do need it to work well for me in terms of functionality, but I’ve also noticed that I’m happier and more productive when I’m surrounded by beautiful things.
“Your work should be part of your life, so you should make your home office as nice as possible,” says Maxi Goodwin, interior designer and co-owner of Inreda Design Shop (www.inreda.ie). “Don’t just make it quick and ugly and plug yourself in.” If you have enough room, she suggests that a small sofa or easy chair in the office can make your office much more comfortable.
For me, this is a step too far. I know exactly what would happen if I had a comfy sofa in my office — snooze.
Home office design is all about being able to recognise your needs. Someone who uses filing cabinets and bookshelves, for example, will have to plan for storage. A person who stores everything online might get by with a simple free standing desk.
Since needs change over time, Goodwin recommends the String system — a modular shelving unit designed by Nils and Kajsa Strinning in 1949 and still going strong. The String system is aesthetically timeless and mounted on the wall. This has big advantages for small houses. We have, as Goodwin points out, four walls and only one floor. Plan it right, and you can pretty much hang your whole office from one wall.
Like that other Scandinavian design classic, Lego, the String system is almost infinitely adjustable. It can be altered, rebuilt and expanded over time. “You can start with something small and it can grow with your office. The system is height-adjustable and has enough depth to support a decent computer and give you enough space to write,” says Goodwin. Also like Lego, the String system isn’t cheap. A starter-kit, which includes a desk and three shelves, will set you back around €540 including assembly.
People who use their home office less heavily might prefer a stand-alone desk. The Copenhague desk (€1,175) from Inreda, made by a funky Danish company, offers a combination of functionality and style. The detailing in the built-in book rest is echoed in the design of the matching chair (€305) and the wooden surface is visually warm and reassuring. The Danish word for this would be ‘hygge’, which translates roughly as ‘gentle, soothing and comforting with the complete absence of anything irritating or annoying.’ This, I reckon, is exactly the atmosphere one wants in a home office.
The furniture designer Simon O’Driscoll (www.odfurniture.com) has noticed that people who work from home tend to form a strong attachment to their desks. “It’s an emotional thing,” he explains. “We tend to define ourselves by our work, and the desk is where most of the work takes place. If you’ve had that desk from the beginning it is a symbol of where you started from. Over time, the desk becomes part of the history of all the work that you’ve done on it.”
The O’Driscoll brothers, Simon and Tadhg, make furniture to commission. They have a portfolio of designs, which they adjust according to the personality, needs and preferences of their clients. Their designs tend to be deceptively simple, but are carefully crafted from high-quality materials. This is the sort of furniture you’ll be passing on to your grandchildren, while boring them with the story of how you built your empire from that very desk. Naturally, this kind of quality doesn’t come cheap. Expect to pay from €2,000 for a desk. But, if you take a pride in your work, you might feel that you deserve a desk that reflects the value of the work that you do.
If this is beyond your touch there are viable alternatives. Antique desks are often well made from good quality timber (if you like mahogany). Because they’re not so fashionable you should be able to pick one up at auction for much less than a contemporary design of similar quality. Another option is to buy something inoffensive from Ikea to tide you over while you save for something more lasting (the Micke desk is a mere €65 and it does the job fine).
Back in the real world, I share my office with the fridge and the dog. This means that the room is a bit of a family thoroughfare. It’s not ideal — I prefer to work in peace and quiet — so sometimes I think that the best thing about my office is the door! I don’t know what I’d do without it.