Creating a Home Office in a Small Space

Author: Alecia Pirulis

Home Office

Home Office (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Whether you work from home, need a quiet place to study away from your reality-TV-show obsessed roommate, or just need an organized space to pay bills and catch up on emails, a home office is a must – even in a small apartment. If you are sitting on the couch trying to balance your laptop on one knee and a cup of coffee on the other while surrounded by paperwork, it’s time to stop the juggling-act madness and create a work space. And, unless your apartment floor plan includes a built-in office nook, you’ll have to start from scratch.

The first step to creating a home office is finding a location that will offer some privacy (especially if you have a loud roommate or significant other living with you). Look for an unused corner, a space against the stairs, a blank wall in the foyer – no matter how small, it will work with a little creativity and the right sized furniture. You can create that private space by adding a room partition or floor-to-ceiling shelving to “block off” the rest of the room from your home office.

If you have a seldom-used closet, clean it out – this is an ideal location to create an office space. If you are allowed, paint it a bright, cheerful color (don’t be afraid of painting a small space a bold color – it won’t make the space look smaller. If you are afraid to paint the entire closet, just paint the back wall a bold color.)

Now, you want to find or build a desk to fit the space. Take measurements and write them down. Take those measurements and a measuring tape with you and hit the garage sales, thrift stores, and flea markets to find old file cabinets, bookshelves, and anything else that might be useful. You can create your own desk by painting the file cabinets, then having a piece of wood cut at the local home improvement store to fit across the top. Stain or paint the wood a complimentary color to the file cabinets and you have an instant work space and storage for very little money.

If you don’t have a closet and can’t add a room divider for your space, you can create a “nook” with two bookshelves – place them on opposite ends of your space against the wall. Place a table between the two bookcases. You can paint the bookcases and the table all the same color to make it look like one cohesive unit. The sides of the bookcase will provide you with a sense of privacy as you sit at the desk, and the shelves are ideal storage space.

Maybe you don’t have enough space for a desk and two bookshelves. That’s okay – find one bookshelf, paint it, and create a “desk” by attaching a sheet of plywood flush with a mid-level shelf using hinges and chains. The upper shelves are perfect for showing off baskets, books, and other items while the bottom shelves can be hidden by attaching a door or a curtain held up with a tension rod.

An old armoire can be modified to be a computer cabinet in a similar way (adding the “desk” portion with plywood and hinges, or by installing a pull-out desktop). The great thing about the armoire – it has doors, so your clutter can be quickly concealed. Also the backs of the doors are perfect storage spaces – just attach corkboard to each inside door and add some push-pins.

If you find something unique, consider ways you can modify it for your office space. An old vanity, an antique pie tin, an outdated china cabinet, or even old sawhorses can be transformed into an office space.

Think vertically — add floating shelves, a pegboard, wine crates, and even a horizontal filing system above your desk. Stack items and use decorative boxes, baskets, and other containers to organize paperwork and supplies. Keep it simple! Don’t overwhelm your office space with unnecessary clutter. Downsize as much as possible, and make it a point to purge your shelves and desktop of superfluous papers, junk mail, and other items at least once a month.

Your desk chair doesn’t have to be one of the oversized, wheeled monsters that dominate office cubicles everywhere. Look around – you may already have a decorative parson’s chair or an unused dining room chair that will be ideal for your desk space. If not, look for something that is small, will add to your décor, and is comfortable. You may find it at a yard sale or a second-hand store, or a friend or family member may have something they are willing to pass on to you. When shopping, don’t overlook those unique finds. Love that curvy, old wooden bar stool? It’ll work just fine — cut the legs down to size, paint it a fun and funky color, and add a cushion for the seat.

By using a little creativity, your small apartment can boast a beautiful work space. Have you created a home office in your apartment? Share what worked (and what didn’t) with us on Facebook!