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Setting up an office space requires some special consideration. You want to create a space that you enjoy being in and allows you to work productively, but often that’s easier said than done! We’ve been working out of a home office for five years, and have made our fair share of mistakes. So last year we started fresh, and managed to create a space that we love. Read on to hear about how we messed up, what we did to improve, and get lots of tips for setting up your own workspace!
When we first moved into our home we commandeered the master bedroom (the largest room in the house) for our office. We figured we didn’t need a large room for sleeping in so it was best to utilize the space as an office. We worked out of that office for 4 years and here are some of the mistakes that we made when setting it up.
- Too much furniture! It was a decent sized room but we filled it with two large desks (with two Mac Pros and 4 monitors!), a big book shelf, a full sized filing cabinet, a drafting table, a printer stand, and our cat had a big scratching post! We even had a sofa and a full sized water cooler in there at one point. It was cramped and cluttered!
- Our desk faced a bright sunlit window (without proper blinds). This made seeing the screen difficult at times, since it was extremely backlit.
- The color of the walls was light brown and dark brown and our curtains were green. It was horrible doing color correction and photo editing in general. I would often wait until evening when it was dark and then work with the lights off.
- Our old office chairs were a constant source of physical pain. They were typical office chairs, but they didn’t have enough adjustability to sit in for longer periods of time.
All of the above conditions made it a difficult environment to efficiently work in as a photographer. Since it was the first office we set up, the problems didn’t seem immediately obvious. Instead, it was the accumulation of constant annoyances that finally forced us to rethink things.
Here are a couple of totally embarrassing and chaotic “before” pictures:
You can also check out this old time-lapse we created of us working in our office. It gives a better look at what our full desk used to look like. Warning: It’s pretty boring watching us because, well, we just work at our computers all day! But it’s quite entertaining to see what our cat Scooter gets up to ;)
Our New Home Office
Last year we set out to re-approach our office. We wanted to solve the problems we were facing in the old office, and get a chance to start fresh. We didn’t want to spend a ton of money, so we tried to find creative and inexpensive solutions. We also gave ourselves about a week to make the switch. We don’t like to drag these sorts of projects out too long, especially when we need to get back to work!
Overall we’re super stoked with the new space, and have loved getting to work in here. Here are some of the main features of our snazzy new home office:
The highlight of the new office is our fancy, custom desk. Given how much time we spend sitting at our desk it was important to find something that worked really well for both of us. I had seen this creation on Ikea Hackers and I loved how long the desk was – perfect for two people working side by side! It’s also very slim, and simple. You can see our version of the desk below:
The desk is actually an Ikea Numerar solid oak kitchen counter top! Go figure! It measures about 2.5m (96in) in length and 65cm (25in) deep. We placed the countertop on five Vika Lage legs (one leg in the centre back for extra stability), and roughly finished the top surface with a couple coats of Behandla polish. BAM! Awesome desk!
When it was just sitting on the legs, the desk was a bit wobbly so we used two heavy duty wall brackets to secure it to the wall (in studs). The desk doesn’t budge now.
Note: In the original Ikea Hacks article and several other articles featuring the Numerar, people use the adjustable Vika Byske legs which we tried, but promptly returned. Because the Byske legs adjust up and down by screwing / unscrewing there was always a bit of a wobble within each leg, even when pressure and weight was put on the leg. The Vika Lage legs that we used aren’t adjustable in height, but they’re far more secure.
Overall we’re really happy with this new desk. The length of it is super nice! Lauren and I both have a ton of space. Not having any annoying centre column between us makes it really easy to scoot back and forth. The desk is quite narrow, so we set it up so that there is about 3.5 inches between the desk and the wall. This allows for some extra foot space and also a bit of room for our computer monitors to be pushed back a tiny bit off the back edge. I was really concerned there wouldn’t be enough depth, but it hasn’t been an issue at all. And because the desk is relatively narrow it takes up far less of the room than typical desks!
The only potential downside I’ve noticed so far is the lack of adjustability in terms of the height of the legs. It’s not a huge issue but the desk is probably a tiny bit higher than optimal. I’m also not thrilled about the polish we used. It was difficult to get it go on evenly. The surface is also slightly uneven so I may end up sanding it down in the future and applying a different finish.
The total cost of the desk including the countertop ($250), legs ($40), brackets ($16) and polish ($8) was around $315. I think we paid a bit more because some of the parts were more expensive in Canada, we have 5% tax, and we also needed to rent a van to bring home the massive countertop. Overall the price was pretty much in line with other large Ikea desks, and way cheaper than fancy modern desks at the pricey home stores.
In terms of simplifying desk space we also each got rid of one monitor, and switched to Apple wireless keyboards. We now feel a lot less overwhelmed and more focused when sitting at our desks!
One of the frustrations that we had with our original office was that our desks were always super cluttered. It was mainly a problem of not having a place to put semi-frequently used items (like staplers, tape, pens, notebooks, etc). So directly over our new desk we have three shelves for quick and easy storage.
We used the same heavy duty wall brackets (3 per shelf) that we used with the desk. We had wanted to find some beautiful wood for the shelving, but instead settled on black MDF board of the exact length of the desk. The MDF was way cheaper than using solid wood, and already had a finish suitable for shelving.
The downside is that over time they’ll probably sag (since the board is held together with glue). Since the boards are cheap to replace and we used three support brackets per shelf it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
We visited Ikea to get a variety of different storage containers to organize the contents of the shelves and it’s worked like magic in helping to keep the clutter off our desk. We also have a label maker that helps us stay organized (though we haven’t settled on what goes in each container yet so most of our shelf containers don’t have labels yet!).
The original wall colours (brown) sometimes interfered with photo editing (especially color correcting). We painted the whole room a dark grey color in order to cut down on any color casts from the walls. The grey also makes a good backdrop for quick photos and videos. It’s the only room in our house painted that color which gives it a different mood from the rest of our house (hopefully more associated with productivity!).
Our office is a relatively small room but we installed track lighting. Having more control over where light falls is pretty nice. We have a couple lights directed at framed photos on the wall. The lights feel a lot more energizing than the typical centre-of-the room overhead light. We used LED bulbs instead of halogens. The color temperature isn’t as full spectrum or as consistent as typical halogens but they generate a whole lot less heat which is perfect for our small office.
We installed black-out roller blinds that help us create the perfect editing environment. When doing color sensitive photo editing work it’s super easy to just switch off the lights, close the door, and pull the blinds. Instant dark room!
We’ve never had a photo wall and have always wanted a space that was easy to update with new photos. So we coated one wall with magnetic primer, and BOOM! Magnet wall!! For a wall about 9 square feet it took 6 cans of paint and about 10 coats in order to get high strength magnets to hold photos, which was definitely a lot more painting than we expected, but it was worth it. We painted over the primer with regular paint so the wall would match the rest of the room. Now we have an entire wall to play with!
Note: If you have small children be super careful about using small high strength magnets. They could be swallowed and cause serious harm!
Our office has a small walk-in closet that has become our main storage space. I removed the clothes hanger bars, and then I put in a floor to ceiling shelf for gear storage. I also moved an old dresser in there which we use as a printer stand for our Epson 3880. The drawers of the dresser work perfectly for organizing paper and printing supplies.
We also simply cut down on the stuff we stored in our office. We’ve gone mainly paperless thanks to Neat digital filing and a Fuji Scansnap S1300. We also upgraded to a wireless printer (you can read our review here) which will be moved to our basement shortly. Having less storage space in our office has meant that there are fewer places for junk to accumulate. It can pretty much only go on the floor which means it usually gets dealt with pretty quickly.
After much research (and chair testing!) we decided to go with Steelcase Leap office chairs. The price tag was a bit shocking at first, but when you think about it, you use your office chair for a huge portion of your day. A good one makes a major difference, both in your comfort and enjoyment of work, as well as your productivity!
They’ve been an incredible investment and back pain has been dramatically reduced. Seat height, seat depth, lumbar support, tilt tension, and armrest height are all easily adjustable (along with a few other nifty adjustments). The only negative I’ve noticed so far is that the height of the chair back could be a bit higher (or at least adjustable for taller people). You can get versions of the chair that do feature a neck rest.
We moved our office from the largest to the smallest room in our house, and by having less stuff in the office and installing the custom desk and shelving we actually have quite a bit more room than our previous office! It’s difficult to describe the joy of using less space but feeling more comfortable.
- If you’re working from home, having an office with a door is a real advantage in terms of reducing potential distractions and separating work from life
- Headphones also come in handy for cutting out distractions
- Consider the light in a room before deciding if it will be your office. Our first room was south east facing, so it got a lot of direct sunlight during the day, which made it really hot, and hard to see our screens. Our new office is north west facing, so we don’t have to deal with sunlight on our monitors, but we still have lots of nice natural light to keep us energized!
You don’t need the perfect office to get started with photography. We waited several years before investing the time, energy, and money into setting up a long term office solution. But when you do get a chance to create a workspace for yourself, take the opportunity to think carefully about it. It’s not just a room. It’s where you make your art happen! With some planning and creativity, you can create an efficient, comfortable, and downright enjoyable place to work!
Do you have any tips for setting up a home office? Any challenges that you’ve found a creative way to overcome? Or just questions about our new space? Hit up the comments below and let us know!