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Designer Young Huh on making your home office look and feel better

Five must-haves for the perfect home office and other tips

By The Washington Post | June 10, 2020 | Category

New York interior designer Young Huh founded her namesake firm in 2007 and has gone on to create many memorable interiors. Her rooms have harmony and personal style and combine classic and modern elements. She was named to the 2019 Elle Decor A- List and has been part of the annual Kips Bay Decorator Show House. 

She joined staff writer Jura Koncius last week for The Washington Post's Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: What are the five must-haves for the perfect home office?

A: I would say you need a really comfortable chair. You can work at almost any kind of desk if you have a chair that feels comfortable to you. Get a desk that is as large as the space you have allows because most of us need as much surface space as possible. Good lighting will improve your mood and ability to work. Overheard and task lighting are key. Remember that we tend to use bright white lighting during the day and softer, warmer lighting in the evening, so consider using different colored bulbs or fixtures for those differing needs. We all need storage, whether it's a small-wheeled caddie or a tiny cabinet. We all need a place to store papers and personal effects in a convenient location. And you need things to make your workspace pretty. Art on the walls, pretty containers or cups to hold pens, or even a vase with flowers will make working from home delightful.

Q: I would like to redecorate my office/living room area but I don't have the budget for a complete makeover all at once. Where should I start?

A: The biggest change you can make is to paint your room. Paint the office a beautiful, rich color that you may not have considered before such as oxblood or a bright sweet color that brightens the room like a Marie Antoinette blue. Get a pretty new chandelier to replace your existing one that came with the house. Buy a fun new lamp for your desk. Art on your wall would do wonders. There are many affordable prints you can buy online. Finally, get some good looking desk accessories that reflect your new look.

Q: Can you give us some suggestions on how to make a small spare bedroom function as a professional office and an occasional guest room? I hate sleeper couches and there is no room for one.

A: A lot of us are turning guest rooms into personal offices. You can create dual function by installing a day bed instead of a regular bed. The day bed can function as seating or alternative work area for you and a bed for your guest. You could also consider some really cool murphy beds; when you lift up it up it reveals a desk and it's a bed when you pull it down. This way, the bed and the desk take up the same surface area.

Q: Do you have recommendations on desk surfacing that is durable, resistant to wear and tear and beautiful?

A: If you have a desk that is starting to wear poorly and can consider a new surface, I highly recommend getting a quartz or other manufactured surface that you can lay over your desk surface. Dekton is a product that can be very thin and would work perfectly for that purpose. If you're in the market for a new desk, think about getting a wood antique or vintage desk. That wood has lasted someone's lifetime and will likely last your work life, too.

Q: What is your advice for spouses sharing a home office? What is the best arrangement and approach to design?

A: I had to face this exact issue with my husband. We normally have side-by-side desks but with both of us on conference calls and Zoom calls all day, this no longer worked for us. I relocated myself to the dining room. I added a small bar in a corner that holds my work materials. I also took over the butler pantry. I think finding separate spaces and outfitting new corners for work spaces can really save a marriage.

Q: I have a standing desk that's basically white shelving, and my big dual screens take up all the visual space where I might otherwise hang some photos or other decorations. It's totally functional, but I'm dying for some Technicolor amid all the white and gray. What can I do to add some personality to my workspace when there's not much room for wall-hangings or knickknacks?

A: I suggest you paint the back wall an extraordinary colour that will make you happy. Maybe royal blue or a pretty coral. You could try pattern. There is a company called Tempaper that makes stick-on temporary wallpaper. You can try a pattern and pull it off and try something else if you don't like it. It's like contact paper for your walls but in very cool colors and patterns. 

Q: Does a computer lamp have to be something adjustable or can it just be a standard lamp?

A: You don't have to have an adjustable lamp, but I love articulating lamps for work. As the daylight changes throughout the day, you can adjust the lighting to reduce glare or to light things differently. If your office has pretty consistent lighting or you don't notice differing lighting needs, you can go with a standard lamp, too.

Image: Unsplash

Q: Home offices are my least favorite feature in design magazines because the gap between the photos and reality is so huge. In photos, you see a desk bare except for a few color-coordinated books and bins and rarely any storage. In real life, there are lots of files, books whose colors I don't get to choose, cords, a printer, a case of printer paper, etc.

A: I hear you.We decorators do a lot of styling and editing for photography and the rooms tend to look a lot neater than they may in real life. However, clutter and real life can be very attractive. One of my favorite magazines is World of Interiors and it is all about embracing frayed, crumbling, and cluttered spaces. You can embrace that look by just adding a bit of organization. You can pile books on the floor- but maybe consider putting spine colors together or showing the paper side out. Hide the huge case of printer paper under a console with a tablecloth. The printer can sit on top. Buy some magazine holders to hide the random papers and reports. Adding accessories adds to the clutter, but can also add charm and life! pretty cups for your pens, trays for papers, bowls for clips and rubber bands. But make those pieces reflect your style and have them coordinate whether you go all traditional or all modern- you can certainly mix if you feel up to it.

Q: Can you please share a few tips on how I can make my home office feel more relaxed, feminine and like it is not part of my house? I want it to be my own quiet space.

A: Virginia Woolf said every woman needs a room of her own and I agree. If you're able to have the space to transform into your own sanctuary, make a list of the things you love. What are your favorite colors, patterns, textures? Pick the things that will evoke the feeling you want in the space. Quiet and feminine sounds like you should have a pretty chaise longue with a throw and a silk pillow, maybe a soft lambs wool or flokati rug underneath. Ballard Designs and Wisteria have some lovely Louis XVI-style desks and chairs you could use for your workspace. Shop on Chairish for some vintage mirrors and pretty prints for your wall. Paint your walls a soothing color- oyster, soft pink, soft gray, or an ever so slight blue.

Q: The biggest problem with our home office is what to do with the files and office supplies. They seem to take up so much room, and our home office is only 7x7

A: Storage is always tricky isn't it? If you can, get a roller drawer to fit under your desk. The bottom drawer holds files and the other two supplies. There are also many slim consoles with shelves out there that can store many things. If you have the space or a wall you can have that purchase one. A fave is a clear Perspex one from CB2. You can unwrap your printer paper and stack it so its clean and white. You can buy storage boxes from Ikea to store the more unsightly supplies and papers and place them on the floor under the console. Boxes and magazine holders do wonders to hide and store things. Don't forget you can stack boxes too!

Q: I have so many cords - two monitors, the laptop, the external hard drive, keyboard, mouse. How do I corral these? I'd like a calm space.

A: Oh this is a real pain and I also hate seeing all the cords. My favorite tools for hiding these are from Mockett. You can drill a grommet hole on the top of your desk and the get a cord cover or wire chase that goes along the legs of your desk or the back of your desk and keeps them from being unsightly or exposed. Many offices are offering work and home equipment money. If you have the funds, get a matching keyboard and mouse, hardd rive and mousepad so the surface of your desk looks nice. The reason all the apple products look so good is they make sure everything matches and looks peaceful! all black or all white is often good.

Q: Can you share your favorite sources for accessorizing?

A: To accessorize in a jiffy, I turn to fetehome.com where I can get boxes to hide things, bowls for my paper clips and a vase to pretty up my space. Other favorite sources for accessories are CB2 and Jamali. I use CB2 trays and I use the Jamali silver plated mint julep cups to hold all my pens and markers.

Q: We are self-renovating an extra bedroom to turn it into an office and have just finished installing hardwood and painting. Now we are thinking about how to furnish the office. There are two small, unconnected closets that take up one wall (each 44 inches wide by 24 inches deep). Do you have any ideas on what to do with these closets so the room still looks like an office? They're too small to use as desk space; an idea is to set up printer/office accessories in one of them.

A: You could consider taking the doors off the closets and outfitting them with storage shelves and drawers. You can do this through home depot, container store or California Closets. One could be a printing and supply station. The other closet could hold files, records, boxes and papers. It will look like built-in shelving. 

Q: We are two adults working from home in a one-bedroom rental. We put a desk in the bedroom and the other works at our small round dining table in our open concept living/dining/kitchen. How the heck do we make this function? So far we've figured out the wireless printer and keep that on a shelf out of both of our workspaces.

A: This is the situation that many of us have found ourselves in. If you can, purchase a small not too deep storage console with doors to fit in your main working space. This should hold supplies and papers. For the bedroom buy a really narrow free-standing set of drawers. Ikea has these and they're great for tight spaces and holding additional supplies and personal effects for the person working in the bedroom. Glad you have a wireless printer, that's key. 

This article originally appeared on The Washington Post

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