Published on February 19, 2019

Living in a small space comes with its fair share of challenges. Having to live and work from one presents an entire slew of additional constraints. A lack of storage space, cramped quarters, and no clear distinction between your personal life and your professional one are a handful of the concerns that stem from this common predicament.

Whether you’re the sort of person whose bedroom doubles as an office or one who operates their business from the comfort of the sofa, one thing is abundantly clear: You can be significantly more productive in an established work space. A proper desk, a comfortable seat, and an organized storage solution that keeps clutter at bay are a few of the essentials you’ll need to get started.

Once you have the basics down, it’s time to think about the decorative details that can elevate said space. With thoughtful uses of color, pattern, and various other styling tricks of the trade, you can create the ultimate work zone regardless of spatial constraints.

To help you get started, we enlisted the help of a few of our trusty designer friends who spilled their tried-and-true tips for carving out a proper home office in the tiniest of spaces. Here’s what we learned.

Use color to define an area

imagePin It
Photography by Marietta Leung

A thoughtfully integrated color detail can go a long way, especially in a small space. In this NYC apartment, designer Diana Mui of D.M.teriors, Inc, utilized a vibrant splash of color to designate the confines of the home office, located in a hallway, smack-dab in the middle of the home. Using a pointed paint detail, Mui established, what she describes to be a “transitional moment,” which allowed her to visually isolate the area from the rest of the home.

imagePin It
Photography by Heather Knierim

On a recent project, designer Emily Tucker met the challenge of carving out a home office (in a space that otherwise didn’t warrant the room for one) by getting creative. “We only had a stair landing for this home office, but we were able to give it lots of personality with a painted wainscot and chair rail detail,” she recalls.

With a custom-made desk that extended along the length of the stairs and matching built-in storage to boot, the area transformed into a functional work space all the while seeming like a seamless extension of the home.

Think double-duty

Blue OfficePin It
Photography by ROBERT PETERSON

Perhaps it’s a desk that doubles as a nightstand or a thoughtfully positioned console that can toggle between a work space and a catchall in the entry. “Home offices should have a dual purpose,” says NYC-based interior designer Drew McGukin. “Ask yourself, How do we use this room when it’s not an office?” Combining two major pieces of furniture into one so that they can uphold multiple points of functionality is a no-fail workaround for small spaces.

“In a small space, doubling a dining table as a desk is a no-brainer,” adds McGukin. “Big trays and stylish bins that easily pull out to create work mode are key. When work is over, they also allow one to concisely and quickly move things away.”

Make use of the underutilized

imagePin It

It’s relatively unlikely that the small-space dweller will have an underutilized spot in their home, but spaces such as extra closets or even nooks can be transformed into mini home offices with the right pieces.

“If you have an underutilized closet in your home, consider turning it into a home office. Use a small profile desk and add shelving above it,” suggests Decorist creative director Jessica McCarthy. “Of course, the best part is when you’re done, you can shut the door and leave your work behind.”

“I love stowaway desk options,” says McGukin. “Bury them in cabinets, small closets, or unused corners. As long as they’re organized and well lit, you’re good to go.”

Furnish with intention

blue built in office wall Pin It
Photography by Cody Guilfoyle and Aaron Bengochea 

For tiny studio dwellers, carving out a viable work space can prove to be the ultimate challenge. After all, when your bedroom doubles as a living room and dining area, where does that leave space for a home office?

“I love the idea of utilizing the back of the sofa by placing a console table or desk behind it, which allows for a place to add a lamp to give extra lighting and create a space to work,” notes designer Ryan White.

Thinking creatively about how you furnish your home is of the utmost importance, according to McCarthy. “To create a workstation, try rearranging your living room to include a desk with a lamp that can double as a side table. Or utilize a console table and simply add a chair to make a small workstation perfect for you and your laptop.”

Take to the walls and think vertically

imagePin It

When lacking floor space, make ample use of the walls instead. “Adding a wall-mounted console goes a long way. A floating work space not only looks chic, but it also provides extra space for storage, organization, and seating,” says interior designer and lifestyle blogger Breegan Jane.

Jane also suggests stacking floating shelves above the work space to allow for added storage and room for displaying pieces that inspire you. After all, a creative work space is a happy one.

imagePin It

Alternatively, you may also create a standing desk, which can be folded and stowed when not in use. “If you don’t feel like sitting, a good hack is to mount shelving on a wall and create a standing workstation,” suggests McCarthy. “When you aren’t working, you can use the area to display books, plants, and decorative objects.”

Design with purpose

imagePin It

Think about your professional needs and carve out a work space that plays to them, advises Jane. Once the basics are established, layer in the personal elements that will spark joy. “Plants also go a long way in an at-home office space whether it’s hanging planters, tied eucalyptus, or a small succulent,” adds Jane. “I love using greenery to add a sense of tranquillity and to filter the air.”

Find the light

imagePin It

A properly lit desktop is crucial in the evening hours and similarly so in the daytime. The exception here is natural light. “Now that so many of us work from a laptop as opposed to a desktop, mobility and working on the fly has become standard practice, says interior designer Veronica Valencia.

“Finding a place with natural light in your home is key to set up your workstation and effectively meet those deadlines. All you need is your laptop, a candle, a notebook, and a mason jar to double as your glass and vase for locally foraged flowers.”

Armed with all the essentials, your home office will be primed and ready to double as the ultimate work space.

Discover more great decorating tips:
4 NYC Couples Get Real About Sharing a Bathroom and Making It Work
7 Decorating Lessons We Learned From the Coziest Ski Chalets
We’re Making the Case for Built-In Furniture (Yes, Even in a Rental)