How to Quickly Upgrade Your Home Office, According to Designers

This week, major employers began to encourage employees to work from home, if not demand it.

(Bloomberg) -- Working from home has its perks—including the option to wear sweatpants on conference calls. But those who have recently been advised to stay home indefinitely on account of the current Covid-19 outbreak may find that being productive in pajamas relies on high-quality organizational tools and inspiring home office gear, not just hand sanitizer and canned goods.

“It’s important that your home office feels a bit like your home, not a dismal place to be,” says Boston-based designer Mally Skok. Bay Area designer Deneise Duscheone agrees: “Mood motivates.” 

This week, major employers—ranging from Google, Microsoft, and Twitter to J.P Morgan, Chevron, and Salesforce—began to encourage employees to work from home, if not demand it. So we reached out to a few design pros to get tips for maximizing a home office space.

Some of the advice is as simple as buying fresh flowers or moving beloved artworks into a new room. “I figure if I am sitting facing the same wall for eight hours a day, I might as well make it the most beautiful wall in the house,” says Nashville-based designer Stephanie Sabbe. But your actual desk—and what’s on or around it—counts just as much as what it faces. Here are 21 tips from the experts.

Desks to Design Around

How to Quickly Upgrade Your Home Office, According to Designers
  • “As a friend told me recently, ‘Sitting is the new smoking,’” says Dallas-based designer Jean Liu. That was her cue to switch to the Renew Sit-to-Stand desk (right) by Herman Miller ($1,695). Its pristine white finish is like a blank page waiting to be filled. Do as San Francisco designer Kendall Wilkinson does, and add a padded mat underneath for comfort and support.
  • A throwback option, the secretary desk has all manner of hidden conveniences says San Francisco designer Sean Leffers. “With all of the shelves, drawers, and little nooks to keep documents, books, and special things, the storage functionality is fantastic.” One option: This pine model—Couture Abigail 7-Drawer Fold-Down desk by Safavieh Couture ($413)—is available in four finishes, including Egyptian red oak (left).

Five-Star Seating 

How to Quickly Upgrade Your Home Office, According to Designers
  •  “World Market, West Elm, and CB2 have some of my favorite rolling desk chairs in great colors and prints that can be delivered right to the front door,” says Atlanta designer and author Danielle Rollins. Her pick from CB2, the Rue Cambon office chair (left, at $349) was inspired by 1950s Paris but is swathed in American-made fabric.
  •  The Laura Davidson Soft Pad office chair ($250, right) is the choice of such companies as HBO and Apple, according to Connecticut-based designer Chauncey Boothby. “Don’t get me wrong—I’m a huge fan of the original Eames manufacturer,” she says, “but this chic, inexpensive alternative is a quick fix to jazz up your office space and keep you quite comfortable in the process.”

Lamps That Shine

How to Quickly Upgrade Your Home Office, According to Designers
  • Washington designer Annie Elliott recently replaced her desk fixture with the Caron lamp ($435, center) by Thomas O’Brien, in bronze and antique brass. “A great desk lamp can really lift your spirits. This isn’t so desk-y, and I love it,” she says. Pro tip: Outfit your fixture with 5-10 watt LED bulbs, which reduce glare and are optimal for work surfaces.
  • “We are trapped at home as of late,” says San Francisco designer Kelly Hohla. “The Muuto Tip table lamp ($339) adds a fun piece of pop and modernism to a contemporary office space.”
  • Adds Richmond, Va.-based designer Sara Hillery: “Good task lighting is key.” Her suggestion? Herston’s self-balancing Hero Desk Lamp ($567, left).

Organizing Basics 

How to Quickly Upgrade Your Home Office, According to Designers
  • Virginia designer Pamela Harvey likes to keep her office “coordinated with color.” To help her cause, she says, “I love these Graphique file folders ($14) that make organizing chic.”
  • A little mood boost can make a big difference. Enter Russell and Hazel’s Acrylic Inbox + Drawer ($54), a favorite of designers Chandos Dodson Epley and Lisa McDennon. “Russell and Hazel products are so elegant, crisp, and luxuriously minimal,” McDennon says. “They just make you want to get to your desk and work and stay super organized.”
  • I have just ordered a Boby Trolley ($349) to keep my work stuff organized at home,” says Richmond designer Suellen Gregory of the whirling cabinet on wheels, which is fitted with highly-functional cubbies and drawers. “I got the white one, but the colors were tempting. I figured there are enough distractions at home. I needed to stay simple and organized and tidy!”
  • In a world of Slack, it’s easy to—well—slack off. “Construct obvious visual cues in plain sight that help you stay on your game,” advises Houston designer Marie Flanigan. We love Quartet’s Infinity Glass dry-erase board ($160); it serves as the perfect place to jot down to-dos and hang up reminders.”

Space-Defining Décor

How to Quickly Upgrade Your Home Office, According to Designers
  • New York Architect Paul Cha suggests Eileen Gray’s Brick screen ($4,220) for “marking working space within the home environment.” For a dose of color, try Iliaria Ferraro Toueg’s Vonnie Separe ($8,760) or Chiara Provasi’s Ombra screen ($7,020)—both guaranteed to hide a messy desk from a Type A spouse.
  • Madcap Cottage founder Jason Oliver Nixon is partial to his own rainbow-bright collection for a punch of personality and fun. He calls the company’s Madcap Cottage by Momeni rugs (from $29) “cheap and cheerful. And everyone needs an office that will put a smile upon their face, especially right now.”

(Tech) Tools of the Trade

How to Quickly Upgrade Your Home Office, According to Designers
  • The opposite of sounding the alarm is listening to calming white noise or smooth jazz, ideally on this Bang & Olufsen speaker ($300). “Music is a must,” says Virginia-based designer Tracy Morris, “and this speaker puts out amazing sound while looking great on your desk.”
  • Connecticut-based Boothby recommends the HP Tango Terra ($160) printer for anyone short on space. It’s eco-friendly, produced with carbon-neutral technology, and made from ocean plastic. However, the similar Tango X model ($150) sports an additional design feature that its eco sibling lacks. Says Boothby: “It offers a linen cover that, when not in use, camouflages it as an ordinary linen book binding.”

Objects That Inspire

How to Quickly Upgrade Your Home Office, According to Designers
  • Who has time for an ugly timepiece? “A clock is critical to stay disciplined while you work from home,” says Cullman & Kravis designer Katie Sutton. “This MOMA Design Store piece, ClockClock 24 Golden Hands ($9,700), is the ultimate in both form and function.” Note the 22-karat, gold plated hands—a bit of unabashed luxury.
  • “Everyone has a personal coffee mug, so make it a stylish one,” Sutton adds. Her pick? This humorous “Kvetch” reproduction by Mel Bochner ($18). It’s fun, even if you’re kvetching only to your cat.
  • Nobody makes a good business deal with a bad pen. Chicago designer Jordana Joseph reaches for the white pens from Poppin ($10 for a set of six). “They’re addicting. I swear they will make you want to write again, and they look nice.” Prefer pencils? Try these instead.
  • Staying streamlined is paramount for New York designer Robin Baron, who recommends Anthropologie’s Codify Pencil Holder ($48). “It’s perfect to help you organize while looking fashion-forward, and you can always use it as an interesting vase when you are back to work full-time.” Another option, via New York designer Liza PhillipsTom Dixon’s Cog containers ($70), in gleaming brass.

Fixes for the Couch-Bound

How to Quickly Upgrade Your Home Office, According to Designers
  • When you don’t have a dedicated home office, Muuto’s Outline Highback Work chair ($4,244) is a de facto sanctuary—with a built-in desk. It’s beloved by Liu: “The acoustic and highback surround on this chair’s profile are perfect for curling up, getting work done, and feeling sheltered from the germs and chaos ensuing around us.”
  • “Even when I’m not under quarantine, I often take my laptop into the living room and work from a lounge chair,” says Washington-based Elliott. “When I do that, I need certain supplies close at hand—my phone, a notepad, and a Diet Coke. West Elm’s Martini table ($127) is the perfect size (short), shape (flat), and weight (light) to have next to you when you’re not at your desk.”
  • No shame in working from bed—everyone from Twain to Capote penned pages under the covers. New York designer Eric Cohler recommends Offi’s Overlap tray ($199), which may help you feel more professional under the sheets. “It’s so portable you can use it almost anywhere, and I like that it’s both crisply elegant and functional.”

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nikki Ekstein at

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Yes, You Should Work From Home to Help Fight Coronavirus Spread