In over six years working from home full-time and a few more years juggling a traditional office job with part-time freelancing, I’ve had a varied selection of home ‘offices’, ranging from a small dining table to my current big separate office. In this article, I share all my office set-ups so far, together with some lessons and suggestions. I hope they spark ideas if you’re currently looking to improve your own working from home set-up.
During my first two years in the UK, I lived first in a tiny (31sqm) one-bedroom flat and later on in a small (42sqm) one-bedroom flat. The only place available to work from was the dining table, which was round in both flats. I had a full-time job in London at the time and I only translated a few evenings a week and some weekends, so the dining table did just fine. Well, my back, my neck and my shoulders actually disagreed.
Round tables are the worst possible place you can work from, only made even worse by sitting on Windsor or similarly traditional dining chairs. Round tables don’t allow you to rest your arms in a natural way, so you end up inadvertently leaning forwards towards your screen and spreading out your elbows.
If the dining table is the only place available for you to work, make sure that at least it’s not round, especially if you foresee working from home often. Check whether you can replace it for a rectangular or a square one instead. A temporary cheap option would be to get a cardboard standing desk so you can alternate sitting at the table with standing throughout the day.
Desk in my bedroom
Having a dedicated corner to work from, even in my bedroom, was quite an improvement from the previous round dining tables. Placed in a corner next to a big window, the desk worked well for about a year of part-time freelancing. The worst thing about the set-up was the chair. I had one of those foldable wooden chairs which look nice on Pinterest, but you know even from a picture that it’s not comfy. The desk had drawers on one side and a somewhat narrow opening for the chair where no proper office chair would fit. As I was renting a furnished room and my plan was to move out after a year, I just put up with it.
A dedicated corner in a bedroom can be good enough for working from home on a regular basis if designed well. My opinion is that the more often you work from home, the more thought you need to put into creating a corner to work from. It should be nice enough to drag you out of bed every morning.
It’s hard to separate work and personal activities when you sleep, read, work, get dressed and so on in the same room, especially if you live in shared accommodation. Painting a corner in a different colour is a good way to create some (at least visual) separation between office and bedroom. If you aren’t allowed to paint walls, a folding room divider may be a good option. You can use it to help you focus by avoiding seeing your bed from your desk, or as a nice background for video calls.
In 2014, my workspace was upgraded from a desk in a bedroom to a conservatory. What a lovely place to work, I thought at first. What a terrible idea that was, I realised soon afterwards. This was exactly when I made the jump to full-time freelancing and I was keen to have my own separate space to make it easier to switch between work and personal life.
The initial set-up was created by using existing furniture in the house – a wooden desk with a narrow opening, a dining chair and a tall bookcase. I must admit that it was an OK place to work during the summer, with the doors open and looking out into the garden; if it wasn’t for the glare and the heat, that is. Then it went from being too bright and too hot to being too cold. I brought an electric radiator in and managed to work from the conservatory until the end of November (four months in total). I spent the winter months moving a small cheap table around the house. First, I placed it in a tiny available space under the window of the second room and then I moved it to the dining-living area. I didn’t enjoy any of the two options. The table was too small, but the house was fully furnished and there wasn’t really enough room available to create a nice working corner anywhere.
But then spring arrived. I decided to go back to the conservatory for the remaining months of the lease (we were already looking to buy). I replaced the narrow wooden desk and the dining chair for the big wide desk and the office chair I still have and love.
Conservatories are terrible places to work from. Ditch the idea of a conservatory office if it ever crosses your mind. My suggestion would be to forget about it altogether, or use the conservatory only occasionally in spring or summer for things not involving a screen, such as reading a book or reviewing your to-do list with your morning coffee. Then try to find another place in the house where you can create an office corner, no matter how small.
Small separate office
Having my own separate office made a huge difference to my routines, motivation, productivity and work-life balance. It wasn’t big and we had to downsize it from 7.7sqm to 5.75sqm to make room for a new bathroom (I wrote an article about the office transformation), but it was big enough. It did need a declutter session after three years, as books were pilling up. I decided to only keep work-related books, dictionaries and other resources in my office and find another place for non-essential books. I’m of the opinion that small and bright is a million times better than big and dark. I’d never change a tiny office with a big window for a huge basement office. Natural light over size for me.
A small or very small office may be big enough if you are an organised person. If that’s not the case, you can always plan regular declutter sessions (e.g. at the end of every financial year) to make sure that you don’t accumulate unnecessary stuff, which will make the office look even smaller. Start with the essentials for your type of work (desk, chair, bookcase, monitor, printer…), add a few nice things which aren’t too bulky (a family or travel picture, flowers, a small object which brings good memories) and that’s it. Everything else can go somewhere else in the house.
Big separate office
A big separate office is what most of us working from home would choose in an ideal scenario. I’m lucky enough to have a big office with nice views in my new home in Edinburgh. It came with some wonky floors which need levelling at some point, as my tall bookcase is dangerously tilting forward, and my cabinet drawers open up by themselves. It also came with sloping ceilings, which will make it hard to find suitable shelves. But it ticks the priority boxes: it’s big and bright enough. The rest is secondary and can wait until we decide to renovate.
As we moved in quite recently, I still need time to get used to the space and decide which things I need (or want) to change. I’ll update this post after renovations to report back on any lessons learned. In the meantime, you can follow me on Instagram. My office features regularly on the grid and I’d also love to read your own thoughts and tips!
Bear in mind that this blog is for informational purposes only. The content published in The Home Reporter does not constitute legal advice and you shouldn't rely upon it as such. I won't be liable for any loss or damage resulting from or in connection with your use of this blog.
You may also like these articles:
Questions to ask yourself Two different approaches: pros and cons Our approach and some thoughts That’s a tough question I wish I had an answer for. The best time to renovate your house will depend on many variables and your own circumstances. There’s no...
It includes Process Result and transformation List of products This article includes affiliate links. For more information, read the full affiliate marketing disclosure. With zero travelling on the foreseeable horizon, a small DIY project seemed like a good idea...
List of 50 free technical English resources Grouped by categories covering a wide range of topics Some glossaries and guides include illustrations Our Edinburgh flat renovation may not start anytime soon, but it’s never too soon to work on building up my...
Irene Corchado Resmella
I'm a Spanish freelance translator living in the UK since 2011. After fully renovating and selling a Victorian end of terrace house in Oxford, I recently relocated to Edinburgh with my Scottish husband.
In The Home Reporter I share everything home and lifestyle – from renovation stories and interiors inspiration to tips and anecdotes about buying a house, working from home and relocation. Lover of bright spaces, wooden floors and matte finishes.
Find me on Instagram.