Ask Design Mom: Brand New Office Nook

March 8, 2007

Ask-Design-Mom question:
I love your blog and I go there for inspiration or just for a moment to myself. We are moving to a new house next month. I am excited, but I also have a few frustrations. The house is BRAND NEW, so my husband thinks we need to buy all BRAND NEW furniture. As nice as that is, I feel like it won’t be mine…it loses all the personal touch when I go to a big furniture chain to furnish every corner. I need ideas of how I can make it have less of a “big box store” feel and more of an “I created this” feel (while still keeping my husband happy). I’m specifically looking for ideas for a desk nook area. Thanks for your help! — Nicole Madsen

Design Mom Answer:
[Warning, marathon post!] I know just what you’re going through Nicole. My sister is moving into a brand-new house and I’m helping her decorate. We’re running into the same issues. She needs pretty much all new furniture but she wants the house to feel like her family has belonged there forever. This seems to be on the minds of many — I posted about a related sentiment I’d read on Decor8 a couple of weeks ago.

But let’s just focus on your office nook, because it’s actually one of the easiest spaces to add lots of personal details. I’m going to start by grabbing some office images my sister has featured over the past few months. (Type in “office” or “craft” in the search field at the top of her blog and all the related posts to these images will come up.)







I like lots of things about these images, but two things especially: 1) they are mostly full of items that are totally bought or new, but they feel totally unique and 2) they look like they are true work-spaces — like someone actually uses them and clutters them up on a daily basis.

The trick is to take advantage of the mix-of-decorating-styles that has suddenly become not only acceptable but oh-so-chic. Look to magazines like Domino, Cottage-Living and Blueprint for good examples of homes that look real and have a mix of styles. That, and do your best not to shop at the enormous furniture stores that aren’t likely to sell anything with personality.

Here are my suggestions. Start with 4 pieces: a desk, a chair, a bullitin board/magnet board, and a sideboard/cabinet/armoire. DO NOT BE IN A HURRY. AND DO NOT BUY A MATCHING SET of these items. In fact they don’t even have to come from the same decade or century, and certainly not from the same store. In the top picture, notice how great the very modern desk — based on a Parson’s table — looks with woven baskets and textured pottery.

Find a used/antique desk from ebay or craig’s list or your local refurbished furniture shop. Check out universities for surplus sales. Or look to places like Sundance that don’t carry a vast line of furniture but have really fantastic pieces. You’re not looking for a deal so much, but looking for a really special, unique piece of furniture. If it’s too much work to find an aged desk, go in the opposite direction. Shop the online modern design stores for a super sleek option that will work as a good background for your trinkets and mess — places like Design Within Reach or even West Elm.

For the storage piece, think about repurposing things like media cabinets, lockers, sideboards intended to store china and linens, and old armoires that you can add shelves to. No special sources come to mind, but I would recommend sticking to small shops and out-of-the way stores. If you find something that would be perfect but needs work, you don’t necessarily have to do it yourself. I have a vintage metal dresser that I love. I found it in an awful state and dropped it off in the industrial part of town to be sandblasted and powdercoated. Voila: fabulous dresser.

The bullitin board presents lots of options. Order a large frame from pictureframes.com and fill it with corkboard or fabric-covered homasote. Or just paint the wall with layers of magnetic paint. Or have a piece of sheet metal cut to size and mounted on the wall — with or without a frame. Whatever you decide to do, this is where you’re going to showcase your personality: pretty cards, random photos, a good-looking menu, a happy coaster. Think of your bullitin-board as ever-changing artwork.

It’s hard to advise on the chair, because I haven’t seen the desk yet, but just follow your instincts and you’ll be fine. Putting together a space should be lots of fun and you should feel free to make mistakes. If you buy a desk and then discover it doesn’t work, just craigs list it, no biggie. Once you have those 4 elements in place, you can add whatever else you might “need”: baskets for magazines, a bookshelf above the bullitin board, some filing boxes to sit in the armoire, a pretty lantern to hang from the ceiling, a flowering plant, a ribbon rack, etc. In an ideal world we would surround yourself with things we love and that inspire us and make us smile.

Design Mom Readers: What’s the best feature in your home office?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bek March 8, 2007 at 2:20 pm

I don’t have a home office (yet) but we are doing a full kitchen remodel next month and I have found a space for a kitchen desk… it was worth it… I love all these ideas. Someday we will live in a place that has space….

You have such wonderful ideas and I always get inspired… I have a few design mom questions to send your way…. :-)

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2 Amy S March 8, 2007 at 3:08 pm

In our office we have two large maps on the walls, one of the world and one of the US….I love them. A cool clock is a must.

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3 Josh March 8, 2007 at 7:20 pm

We have had some awesome furniture finds digging around in my in-laws basement. They have so many pieces that they have collected over the years, some of which are just gatering dust in the basement. Our compter desk was sitting in the corner of the basement, but it a big, beautiful, solid wood chunky thing with clean lines and great character. The dresser in our bedroom was in there storage room full of old wires and electronic parts, but it is a great mid-century looking thing with graphic cutouts on the drawers and chrome trim. It could use a refinishing, but we’ll get to that someday. I also have a cabinet that I used to use for cookbooks that was my grandmas. It just needed the particle board backing ripped off and some new hardware and it is one of my favorite pieces. And in my sister’s cool store Mode her vintage clothing is displayed in my grandma’s old armoire. It feels good to get pieces that look great and have history that cost next to nothing and are unique

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4 Azúcar March 8, 2007 at 10:00 pm

Don’t forget garage and tag sales! I got an absolute steal on one of those 50s metal desks with a real oak top at a garage sale last summer. The piece is enormous–big enough that both my husband and I can keep our ‘offices’ there. The desk was only $20.00

Check in older areas of the city for garage/estate sales and you could score some really cool vintage pieces as is–like the desk–or to re-imagine for some other purpose.

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5 Design Mom March 8, 2007 at 10:33 pm

Bek, you say the nicest things. . .

Amy S, I love the map idea and I’m in full agreement about the cool clock.

Josh, EXACTLY. Those kinds of pieces are fantastic — either filling the house, or mixed with new modern stuff. When are you going to give DM Readers a photo home tour?

Azucar, great tips. That desk sounds like a total score.

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6 Leisha March 8, 2007 at 11:35 pm

The best feature in our home office are large, interesting baskets on top of our shelves. They are nice to look at and keep the clutter to a minimum. Your blog is an inspiration, I’m getting excited about designing our living space now. We’ve lived in this house a year and I can’t seem to really commit to any decorating/design strategies.

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7 Maryam in Marrakesh May 8, 2007 at 8:56 am

Loving these images! I completely feel that offices are undervalued and should be made more beautiful because we spend so much time in them!

My husband, an architect, is building a new office for me in a tower in Marrakech. I think it is going to be challenging decorating it but can’t wait to see the view!

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