Design Your Home Office on a Budget

Entrepreneur’s StartUps
Design Your Home Office Space
By Tiffany Meyers | March 2009

Among the benefits of working from home: your 32-second commute, pajamas and the freedom to create an environment that works for you, not the common denominator. Checking in with interior stylist Amy Lenahan of Chicago’s design i interiors, we located two lackluster office spaces with one goal in mind: break all the rules of corporate décor without breaking the bank. 

Don’t know where to start? Follow your heart. Commit to an item you love and build the room around it. For curtains, Ikea’s Fredrika fabric ($5.99 per yard) paired with a more basic red fabric, the Minna ($6.99 per yard), set our hearts aflutter, so we carried the eye-popping reds throughout the rest of the room.  “In a home office, where privacy isn’t such an issue, I advise clients not to hide windows behind heavy drapes,” Lenahan says. To maximize natural light, mount your curtains on the outside of the frame. (While we’re on the subject, Ikea’s Täljare curtain rod set, $14.99, couldn’t make curtain hanging easier.)

“The color red speeds up our heart rate and increases our pulse,” says Kate Smith, founder of color consulting firm Sensational Color and member of The Color Marketing Group, an international color trend forecasting organization. “It’s good for an office because it encourages action and confidence. It makes us feel physically empowered–and even the boldest entrepreneurs sometimes need a little of that.”

Buy everything from Office Depot, and you’ll get a space that feels like an Office Depot. “Don’t get locked into thinking your office furniture needs to have been designed for an office,” says Lenahan, who repurposes furniture all the time.

CB2’s Silverado Rectangular Dining Table ($299) doubles as a great desk, giving you plenty of room to add a couple of organizational items, such as the Thomas Paul desk tray ($8) and pencil cup ($6). Looking to dress up those bland file cabinets? Add a coat of enamel paint to a basic unit like Ikea’s Erik file cabinet ($99.99) for a quick facelift.

What if you like the look of wood accents but don’t want to pay for the real thing? “If you’re buying from big-box retailers, where the grade of wood isn’t high, go with white,” says Lenahan, who likes Ikea’s $89.99 Expedit bookcase for its versatility.

But don’t dismiss the possibility of hiring a carpenter to do custom built-ins. “If you ask around and price out the project, you might be surprised to see how far your dollar can go.” And if your carpenter hyperventilates when you suggest using inexpensive painted maple or medium-density fiberboard, bring him a paper bag, then look for another artisan.

“Entrepreneurs and creative people thrive in vibrant colors,” Smith says. “However, if you’re a high-energy, overscheduled entrepreneur, you might benefit from a more restful color in your office.” Because it’s so pervasive in nature, green can create a sense of balance and harmony. The color is a great backdrop for nearly every other hue. (We especially liked Benjamin Moore’s “Italian Ice Green.”)

Whatever your color preference, says Smith, make sure the light reflective value (or LRV, a measure of a paint’s reflectivity, usually on the back of a paint swatch) is no higher than 60 percent. A wall color should be invigorating, not blinding.

When you opt for soothing monochromes, inject a shot or two of high-octane color so you don’t soothe yourself right into a nap. The $129 Diego Chair from CB2 in a crisp green pairs well with Ikea’s $139 silvery Vika Hyttan/Vika Fintorp table. Inspired by the pairing, we added daubs of sleek silver to our green palette throughout the room.

“Your alertness, productivity and happiness are directly correlated to the use of light in aspace,” Lenahan says. She also advises clients to ditch the fluorescent overheads and go with soft task lighting, such as Ikea’s $39.99 Ljusås Salbo lamp.

Other accessories that would fit nicely with your earthy space: Crate and Barrel’s Wall Clock ($16.95) and Hogan Rug (30×50, $69.95); CB2’s Array Bookcase ($189); from, the Venetian Coral Pencil Cup ($15), and Semikolan Expandable File ($10) and Magazine Box ($10.20); and the Rococo Chalkboard, a wall decal that works with good old-fashioned chalk.

Having made decent design affordable, big-box retailers have saved many a room from alife of card tables and folding chairs. But if your space starts to look too big-boxified, spend a weekend antiquing.

At Chicago antiques and salvage yard Architectural Artifacts, we found an iron grill ($245) from the 1930s by Argentinean ironworker Jose Thenee and a small stained glass panel ($125, circa 1910) by celebrated glass company Giannini & Hilgart.

While you’re saving up to invest in original art, your walls don’t need to go bare. “Everything looks better in black and white,” says Lenahan, who often scans and enlarges her clients’ favorite photographs in black and white. Drop your snaps in a collection of ready-made frames.

To avoid a pockmarked wall, Lenahan creates templates from craft paper, which she cuts to the dimensions of her picture frames. And with low-tack painter’s tape, those afflicted with indecision can rearrange ad infinitum.

Technology is getting sleeker by the nanosecond, so there’s no need to hide it behind cabinetry, says Lenahan. But keep the cords out of sight, please. Pottery Barn’s Bedford Smart Recharge Station ($79) does that while also juicing up your gizmos.

And who says you can’t have a chandelier dripping with crystals at work? A traditional mini chandelier from Target can warm up your office’s cool modern lines. And at $79.99, you’ll be tempted to pick up two–or four.

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