A polished home office fit for a bookish video call queen.
An at-home studio with a wooden drafting table atop a collection of vintage handmade rugs. ANDREW BOWEN
During this turbulent year, it’s utterly impossible to calculate the sheer number of times that we’ve gotten a request from a client to craft a new home office.
Almost overnight, it became important for those who are able to conduct some or all of their work from home to have a dignified space to do just that. While many may have historically enjoyed the use of a small desk in their guest room, or just found a comfortable spot to set up shop at their dining table with nothing but a laptop and a notepad, 2020 has shifted the thinking for some to prioritize this important space — perhaps — above all else. At least for now.
When creating a proper home office, it’s best to first understand the needs of the user.
Is this primarily a space to work on a computer? Or, is most work going to be done by hand with pen and paper? Is this space going to host a number of video calls? Or, is most verbal communication done simply over the phone? Is the user going to spend an 8-plus-hour workday in one spot, breaking only for lunch and Mother Nature? Or, is this a part-time, two-to-three-day per week situation? The answers to each of these questions, and many more, will inherently guide the design.
For computer-users, a proper internet connection, monitor(s), ergonomic desk chairs, and cord management are key. While many in the industry believe in the ever-quoted “Form Follows Function” mantra, there are few rooms where this holds true more than in an office for the 21st century worker. For these reasons, I usually recommend investing in a wide but not necessarily too-deep desk for multiple-monitor positioning, a proper commercial-grade office chair, and a painstaking attention to dimensions to ensure that appropriate posture and hand positioning is maintained to limit physical ailments like back pain, wrist pain, etc. From there, one should let their imagination run wild.
For those who are less digital in their work, such as an artist or draftsperson, a large desk surface, controlled lighting, and the ability to pin ideas or sketches to the walls might take precedence over some of the ideals of their computer-glued counterparts. Often suited to more creative industries, these home offices (or studios) are opportunities to create an immersive, private, and sacred space that allows one to do one’s best work. It might improve productivity and output in general to have features that may be less important in the sanctuary of a software engineer, such as a comfortable lounge chair to recharge, plenty of open shelves, and so on.
Video calls have inevitably taken the place of in-person meetings for so many. Unsurprisingly, this now means that the “background” in view of one’s webcam has become an omnipresent and extremely vulnerable window, blurring the line between professional and private life. To accommodate, many people have begun setting up the walls and areas behind their desk chairs to appear more attractive for these frequent intrusions.
While politicians and public officials alike seem to love the almost ubiquitous neatly-organized-bookcase-peppered-with-family-photos-and-awards look, this usually requires a substantially scaled room replete with a floating desk pushed to the center, which, in reality — unless electrically modified from the start — becomes a cord management nightmare.
Alternatively, a simple window opening may prove to provide a clean and airy backdrop; that is, until one realizes the backlighting that ensues from their southern exposure has transformed the unfortunate soul into a faceless silhouette midpresentation. However, I might recommend something a bit more illuminating: Try positioning in view a large pin-board showing image printouts that were deemed inspirational; put that stunning but uncomfortable chair in the corner, in conversation with a slender reading lamp, underneath your most prized artwork; enter stage left your favorite potted plant from Marders, which you hibernate indoors to survive the East End winter.
All things considered, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, In fact, one may just need to come to terms that there’s a place to do work (i.e., the home office), and a place elsewhere to unplug the laptop, flip on the camera, and post up every other day for the best background in that rarely used corner of your formal living room. (Full disclosure: that’s me!).
For those who prefer phone to video, there’s obviously less pressure to create the perfect “background.” However, one should still keep in mind basic strategies for sound attenuation and call-taking. Type A people would do well to allow for a racetrack-style circulation path and plenty of open floor space upon which they can stomp in infinite walking patterns during their marathon conference calls, while our Type B friends might find a vintage Corbusier lounger more comfortable to sit back and listen in on their weekly status calls with Accounts Receivable.
For those who are working a full 40-plus-hour week in their home office, a heavier investment in quality pieces will pay off in the long run. One should think carefully about each detail and ultimately mold an environment that they are comfortable working in day in and day out to make the best of this challenging situation.
For those whose schedules permit less of a time commitment, it may be more enjoyable to reverse the age-old mantra and put form before function. Who cares if that vintage Royère chair is completely unupholstered and lacks casters? It’s beautiful and works for an hour or two here and there.
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