Healthy Home Office Makeover

If your home office sports one shade—dingy—and you can’t remember the last time the desk got a good cleaning (after all, dust can’t settle on a desk covered with papers), it might be time for a makeover. Even if your office is just a repository for school papers and a place to pay bills, there’s no reason why the room should be the forgotten stepchild of your home, says Karli Bertocchi, owner of Organized with Style in Chicago.

We talked with Bertocchi and Deborah Coburn, a naturally-inspired colorist and interior designer in San Rafael, California , for six steps to transforming a dreary home office into a space that will inspire creativity and productivity.

1. Set the mood with color. Wall color is an inexpensive way to change the entire look of your home office, Bertocchi says. Warm colors, such as gold, red, and orange, stimulate the senses, while cool colors like green, blue, and gray are calming. Which you choose depends on whether you want to feel peaceful or energized while working.

Coburn’s office is painted a deep teal color with white trim. “I chose a cool tone with rich, saturated color, so when I walk into my office I feel like I’m swimming into a lagoon,” she says. “The deep, cool color is both calming and interesting.”

2. Establish creative and productive “zones.” If you have the space, Coburn recommends separate spaces for tasks like bill-paying and creative endeavors like writing or big-picture thinking. “I have two desks in an L-shape. My ‘productive’ desk faces the wall so I don’t get distracted, and my ‘creative’ desk faces the window so I’m inspired,” Coburn says. A soft, comfortable chair in the “creative” zone will also work if you don’t have the space for two desks.

3. Organize with style. Remember that organizing is a tool, not a goal, Bertocchi stresses. “It’s not about being perfect or neat, but about being able to find your papers.” That said, you can still keep the space looking pretty with organizing tools and office furniture that say “home” instead of “Dilbert’s cubicle.” Chinese lacquered file boxes, vintage-looking wire baskets, a wastebasket with a funky design, and a fabric-covered bulletin board add flair to the necessary collection of electronic equipment and papers.

4. File according to your personality. Bertocchi advises clients to choose an organizing style based on how they remember things. A visual person remembers faces but not names, and does well with color-coded filing systems and symbols. A verbal person remembers names but not faces, and generally succeeds with an alphabetized system. An active person remembers neither faces nor names, but does remember the circumstances of meeting someone, such as at a party or convention. This type needs everything in front of them, because out of sight is out of mind. Stackable baskets that keep papers in sight but organized works best.

5. Add healthy extras. Natural light is healthy and energizing, but not every office has it. Bertocchi recommends springing for full-spectrum lighting, which mimics natural light, to make the office more comfortable to work in.

Plants are another must-have: they purify the air and add a touch of nature to your space. English ivy, mums, gerbera daisies, peace lily, and bamboo palm are among the best for absorbing toxic gasses. “Choose a plant with round leaves, since sharp, spiky leaves are not as relaxing,” Bertocchi advices.

6. Decorate with personal items that inspire. As an interior designer who works with the colors and themes of nature, Coburn keeps a collection of shells, rocks, and photos of nature on her bookshelves. “Bringing nature into my office keeps me on point,” she says. “Decorate with things that are fun and talk about who you are and what you love, like pictures of your family, or framed sheet music if you’re a musician.”

Just don’t overdo it on the trinkets, or you’ll battle clutter. “Select one or two and rotate the rest for a seasonal display,” Bertocchi suggests. Changing out the decorations means constant renewal of inspiration—and that’s the goal of a beautiful home office.

Gretchen Roberts writes about wine, food, homes, and gardens from her home office (painted in calming botanical green) in eastern Tennessee.

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