There are two ways that you can go about selecting the general decor of your home office: either follow the style that prevails in the rest of your home, or treat your office as an individual space. Choosing which way to go is a simple task requiring answers to only a few questions.
> Has your home been decorated in one style that is visible throughout?
> Is your office easily visible from other rooms/areas of your home?
> Does your work suggest a style of its own?
Based on the questions above, here are a few simple ways to help you easily achieve a pleasing decor in your home office.
If you are going to treat your office as a part of your home, using the same decor and style, your job is already half done. But remember, you don’t have to use the exact colour scheme or mood. You can modify what you see outside your office to blend smoothly. For instance, you can reverse the main and accent colours; you can use the same colours but in different proportions; or a different level of formality. Because you are decorating an office, it is likely that you are going to want to treat the style differently than how it appears in other areas of your home, and this is normal. Don’t be afraid to create a variation in the atmosphere — it is only the general style you are aiming to respect.
For a home office that is open within an area of your home, you are going to have to be a little more cautious. In this case, you must respect the style seen around your office, but at the same time you should definitely aim to create a sense of separation between your work space and living space. Visual separation does not mean building a wall; it means creating a new environment within the existing one. Some ways of creating visual separation include changes in ceiling height and/or floor level (a step up or down); a room divider placed to look decorative rather than confining; colour changes such as reversing the main and accent paint colours used on the walls; and furniture placement.
Placing furniture in a way that the layout separates space is fairly simple, but don’t forget to play with your ideas on graph paper first or else you may find yourself still rearranging while you should already be at your desk. Consider using a large bookshelf or storage cabinet as a room divider — the back of it can be decorated with fabric, paint, a collage… or place furniture back-to-back to create the sense of two separate zones. Keep in mind while you are working on the layout that you don’t want to feel that your office is, for instance, in the back of your basement — it is at the back of the basement. Just as words can be played with, so can space.
A home office that is to receive a style of its own is a fun thing to work out. You should aim to have a bit of who you are visible in the decor, while creating a visual sense of what you do. This is not a cubicle in a large office complex — this is your office. If you have a love of bold patterns, classic cars, angels… incorporate them into the decor even if they have nothing to do with what you will be doing in your office. At the same time, your office should say more about whay you do that “I work at a desk.” What do you do at that desk? If you are in the computer business, have things around that suggest that, like an enlarged and framed comic strip that has something to do with computers. If your office is actually more of a workshop and you do clothing alterations, incorporate your supplies into your decor: display spools of thread in a rainbow-like pattern, hand a rod a few inches from a wall and drape some fabrics over it for an ever-changing backdrop. If you work in the travel industry, have a model plane suspended, and display items or pictures symbolic of some of your favorite destinations; if it won’t get in your way, have a beach ball in your office, or make a “sandbox” to hang on the wall by gluing sand to the back of a shadow box and gluing small shells onto the sand.
When choosing the colours for your office, there are a few basic points to consider. Yellows, reds, and other very warm colours in large quantities can cause you to feel thirsty. Blue is very relaxing, but be careful not to choose a bland grey-blue that can actually lead to feeling tired or restless. The best way to go about selecting the colours for your office is to choose three colours; use one as a main colour (for instance on the walls), another as the main accent colour (visible in a pattern on a rug, drapes, desk accessories…), and the third as an accent colour appearing only in splashes here and there (such as flowers in a vase, a couple of photo frames…). At this point your colour scheme is set, and all you have to do is keep in mind some basic points of colour psychology. A dark ceiling will feel very low; mirrors and reflective materials make a space feel larger; too many colours, especially bold ones, can cause a feeling of clutter even if there is none.
A final point on the topic of colour and style: materials such as woods, stone, and metal can be incorporated into any colour scheme — although they may affect the style, they will not clash. A natural pine desk will certainly give a different look than a mahogany one, but either will match any colour scheme; ditto for stainless steel and brass, and marble and concrete.
Look for the final article from this 4-part series on home offices: Lighting and Window Treatments for the Home Office.