Design Consultant Abigail Hall shares her essential and practical advice on creating a home office space that not only looks good, but also makes you feel good
I am writing this as I stand at my kitchen counter typing on my laptop. I’m sure lots of you have used other make-shift desk arrangements over the last couple of months, as I am now. Whatever happens next, it’s likely that working from our homes is going to be a far more frequent occurrence, which is why I am planning to turn the spare room in my flat from a bedroom with a desk into an office with a bed.
I have watched in interest as companies have promoted products such as ring lights to make your Zoom call better lit, and interior designers have offered virtual ‘design by distance’ to ensure your background illustrates the professionalism and style commensurate with your job. But a lot of these are quick fixes.
To ensure that your home working space is suitable for the long term and is beneficial for both your health and happiness, it’s so important not to overlook proper technical design changes. I encourage you to make these changes before you invest in beautiful new wallpaper or rearrange the room to get the bookcase filled with impressive-looking tomes in view of your webcam. Investing now will make home working far easier and more productive; after that, you can focus on making the space Insta-worthy. Here are my top recommendations…
Power supply and safety
Most of us are running about four devices from our desks – laptops, phones, lights, perhaps a screen or a printer – which means most of us are running an extension lead to manage all these devices. If you have an extension cord it MUST be fully unwound. I have worked on a project in a grade 1 listed building where a fire started because an extension lead was used while still partially wound up.
The optimum supply for your home office should be four 13 amp sockets (these are the standard three pin sockets which are on your laptop etc). Building regulations recommend that sockets should be located between 450-1200mm from the floor, but I suggest that they are installed just above the height of your desk, so you can easily plug and unplug your devices. If you hate the look of sockets, you can choose to have them concealed in your desk. Electrical work should be done by a registered electrical contractor and new circuits will require a Part P certificate. Use the NICEIC website to find a registered contractor in your area.
If you are going through the process of getting additional power sockets installed, you should also consider running a data cable from your broadband source to your desk. Wifi was created to ensure that we didn’t all need to plug in our devices to get internet, but it can be unstable. Connecting straight into this helps to reduce the stress of that sudden Wifi drop in the middle of an important meeting.
The size and positioning of your desk
If possible, your desk should be dedicated to only your work; there are psychological and practical benefits to this. Creating a dedicated work space creates a work bubble in your home and sitting in the same location with the same surroundings creates a conditioned response; it’s a space for the ‘work you’. It is also a helpful signifier for anyone you share the house with that when you are sitting there you can’t play or chat. Practically, you have what you need for your job at hand and at the end of the day you can leave it there and close the door, just as you would in your office at work.
A desk needs to be at least 500mm deep to give sufficient space for your wrists, your laptop and for the screen to recline at the correct angle, not to mention for your legs to fit under it. I’ve seen lots of images of shallow hallway tables being used as cute desks in Instagram posts. Great for a photo shoot, terrible for the business of actual productive work.
If you have the option, the best location for a desk is perpendicular to a window. Being able to look away from a screen at a view really helps with sound cognitive function. A study by Texas State University found that a combination of a plant and being able to see sunshine from your desk increases happiness by 80%. Plant suppliers such as Patch can help to find the perfect option for you and deliver to your door.
If you prefer to sit looking straight out of the window, invest in a blind (roller, roman, venetian or louvre) as looking into direct sunlight while also trying to look at a screen can damage your eyes over time. Office windows are specially tinted to manage this issue.
You may want to consider investing in a custom-built desk; ask a carpenter about the options open to you. For example, printers can be placed on pull-out shelves hidden in cupboards and sockets can be concealed within desks. LED light can be integrated into the joinery to create discrete surface lighting to reduce the glare on your face and your Zoom ring light, if you so desire, can be fixed at the perfect height.
Choosing an office chair
Ideally your chair should be ergonomic, which means it should provide lumbar support and have adjustable seat heights and seat and back angles. These chairs are readily available and they don’t have to be the clunky black ones you find in most offices. Herman Miller is my go-to for stylish office furniture and they will give you advice for your particular needs.
If you choose to have a chair on casters then you may find that your carpet or rug restricts its movement. You can buy floor protector mats which allow the chair to move smoothly, but I would only ever choose transparent ones because I find the others ghastly.
The alternative is a high back dining style chair. Your bum will thank you if that chair is upholstered or you use a cushion!
Designer, speaker and author Abigail Hall is a disrupter, challenging the way building fit out and interior design has been done over recent decades. Abi works in two worlds; in construction, where the technical specification and price are the driving factors and in design, where the aesthetic finish is everything. The reality of a great product is ‘function first and aesthetic after’ and Abi’s years of experience commissioning, designing and fitting out properties across the globe has given her a sharp eye for quality, function and form. Visit www.abigailhall.design where you can find access to her podcast, Every Day Design, a link to her book and more on her design philosophy.
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