April is flying by, and I’m getting ready to go to a conference! I’m grateful to have this opportunity to reconnect with my business friends, and I hope you all are able to get out there as well. I hope you’re traveling, meeting up with old friends, and getting re-energized with new ideas. I have some new ideas for you today, thanks to the mailbag!
This episode, I answer questions about…
[5:48] Incorporating a home office into a living space (Andy)
I, like many in the world, have made the switch to working at home. Could you talk about some ways to incorporate a home office into a living space? Business interior design seems to have a lot more applicable home design overlap these days. I will have to put my home office in a corner of my living room. Help?
I totally get it. A lot of us are working from home, including myself! (until I find a new house with a fabulous barn or garage on the property) My husband is also working from home, so we have to balance my need to have a quiet place to record podcasts, think, dream, and grow a business, with his need to have a quiet place to record a podcast. If you like politics, you’ll want to listen to Questionable Material with Jack and Brian. It’s very funny! My husband is a comedy writer, so everything has a comedic bent. It’s not left-wing or right-wing, as it makes fun of both sides. All that to say, we are both very noisy. Then our kids come home and are noisy as well – we all need our space.
It’s especially challenging in the situation Andy describes, because the home office has to be in the living space. I recently went to California and designed a space for a client in Los Angeles. She had her office in the living room, and she felt like she was working all the time. It made sense that she felt like she couldn’t relax, because her desk was the focal point of the room. When I was sitting on her couch, the desk was right next to the beautiful windows overlooking her neighborhood. That is what she was staring at when she was trying to relax.
So one tip I would give is, if at all possible, move the desk out of the living room. In my client’s case it was possible, but we had to flip the primary bedroom into the guest room and the guest room into the primary bedroom. We had to change a lot of functions, move a lot of furniture, and think in new ways not only about how her space functioned (so she could have work-life balance) but also what the “Zoom wall” looked like. We have to think about what is behind us now, because that is what people see when we are on video calls for work.
So, the first step is to consider if there is any other space where you could put the desk. If possible, we don’t want it to be so conspicuous and in your face every day. The living room is maybe the most important room in the house. It’s where you spend most of your waking hours in the home, and I just hate to make work so omnipresent. If there is no other space, I totally get it. In that case, you may want to invest in something like a screen. That way when you aren’t working, you can put the screen up so you don’t have to stare at your monitor.
In terms of thinking about your living space, you do want to tie it into not only the color palette of the room but also the wood tones. You wouldn’t want to put a light wood desk in a room full of walnut furniture. Staying with the same wood tone will keep the room feeling cohesive. The other thing you want to think about is your desk chair. You may want to avoid the typical desk chair that has wheels and a mesh back – it just looks so “officey”. Instead, you may want to go for something fabric or leather, and something stationary with four legs and no wheels. That way, it looks more like a piece of furniture in a home rather than a piece of furniture in a cube.
We also want to have really beautiful illumination. Whether it’s a floor lamp or a desk lamp, we want something that looks homey. You might consider something that has a sculptural base, maybe ceramic, with a pop of color. We want to avoid it looking like it could have come from Staples or Office Depot. When picking out things for your home office, make sure they look a bit homey – not like your boss bought it from a catalog.
For things around your desk, maybe you need a memo board. They actually have really great memo boards at PB Teen – they’re really interesting shapes that feel homey, have cool frames, and don’t look juvenile. Everything from your pencil cups to your pens should evoke a homeyness rather than just strict utilitarianism. For instance, I use a converted vase on my desk to hold my pens. I only use one type of pen, and I use Sharpies for signing my books. I have them all in the same color, so it looks really cohesive, clean, and intentional.
And of course, your desk needs to have drawers. That way, if you do have a lot of papers or clutter from work, you can tuck it all away on the weekends. So even if you don’t want to invest in a screen, or you don’t have the room to put one up, you can tuck away your papers and a lot of that visual stress so you can decompress and forget about work when you don’t have to be working.
Lastly, I want to circle back to that Zoom wall. You’ll want to go back to the episode I did on Zoom walls – lots of good content there. I highly recommend getting a large plant, because no matter what else you have going on – a tapestry, wall sconces, a bookcase – having something leafy and green offsets the “techie” aspects of talking on Zoom. In order to balance that electronic energy, according to feng shui, it’s important to have some natural energy in the space.
[14:40] Art placement and sizing in a large room (Jennifer)
We recently moved across the country from the east coast of the U.S. to Montana, and since we moved ourselves, much of our furniture didn’t make the trip. Although we are in the process of making many decisions in that regard, that’s actually not the focus of my question for you. As you can see in the pictures, our new home has a very large ‘great room’ that we are using as our primary lounging / watching TV area. It’s 21′ x 21′ in area with 9′ ceilings. It actually used to be a two-car garage that the previous owners converted into living space. We’re working on painting this room and acquiring an appropriately-sized media console for the overly large TV and additional seating/furniture.
However, my question for you relates to wall decor. This has always been an area I struggle with. My husband takes great wildlife and landscape photographs that I would love to integrate into the house, along with artwork. I’ve always struggled with how to mix the two in a way that is harmonious. I’m wondering if you have any tips that you can share in that regard. More specifically – I have no idea how to approach deciding where to place photos/art in this giant room, and how to size them appropriately. I really appreciate white space, especially with the beautiful bay window in the living room, so I’d like to be strategic and avoid cluttering the walls with a ‘picture gallery’, but also I think that large art on every open area would be too much. Lastly, you’ll notice there is an outdated chair rail around the entire room. I’d like to remove it, while my husband wants to keep it. What are your thoughts? Again, I appreciate you sharing all of your expertise!
Jennifer’s great room is a big, square room, with mid-tone wood trim. It appears to have a black metal stove in the middle of one wall. There is a gigantic TV and a gigantic sectional. The room is carpeted with beige carpeting, and one of the four walls has amazing windows. This is why you move to Montana – the views out these windows. You will definitely want to head over to our YouTube channel to check out these pictures.
This is a very inspiring blank canvas. There are a few wall sconces, which we will want to consider as we place artwork. First things first, I never place artwork until I’ve arranged the room. The furniture should all be in place, and every element should be designed down to the window treatment. That way I can see where I want people to focus, and I can see where they will be looking because I have placed all the primary seating.
There isn’t very much furniture in the space right now, as it’s relatively empty besides the big sectional. Also, the TV is mounted rather high. Perhaps that was to accommodate the random chair rail, but you will want to consider moving the TV lower so it’s at eye level when seated on the couch. If you are locked into the TV placement because of the wires in the wall, then you’ll want to move the sectional back so you can watch TV without craning your neck up like you’re in the front row at the movie theater.
The chair rail is very arbitrary. Typically, you would put a chair rail in a place where chairs would be moving back and potentially bumping the walls. It seems they used the chair rail just to break up the wall because there is a blue/gray color under the chair rail and a creamy white color above the chair rail. They got that part of it correct, as I do typically put the lighter color above the chair rail and the heavier color or wallpaper below the chair rail. It’s kind of like gravity – you feel more grounded when the bottom is darker and the top is more ethereal or lighter. In this room, there is absolutely no reason to have a chair rail. The ceilings do look a bit higher than normal – maybe 8.5-9’ instead of the standard 8’ – but I don’t think cutting the wall in the middle is doing it any favors.
Perhaps the other reason they did this is because there is only one wall that has any visual interest, as in the architectural feature of those beautiful windows. I guess you could consider the wall with the stove to be like a fireplace, but based on the pictures I can’t tell if you can really see the flames inside the stove or if there are doors preventing that crackling view. I think, though, they were trying to make this room more architecturally interesting than it is.
I would remove the chair rail, and lower the TV if possible. Then you want to place all the furniture, and decade on the window treatments. That will allow you to think about where everyone is sitting, what they are looking at, and where guests will enter the space. When they enter, we want there to be a “wow” moment with whatever they will look at first. There needs to be some drama.
You also have higher than normal ceilings, so I think slightly oversized artwork is called for in this great room. Tiny pieces will get lost on these big, expansive walls. I also want you to think about not doing all photographs. That can certainly be an instinct for people who take beautiful photographs, especially since you live in this beautiful new environment. You don’t want your walls to look like a photographic exhibition, but rather like a well-curated home. You want to mix some photos with paintings, and you can mix in drawings, maps, and sculptures as well. We want to have an eclectic, curated mix of art that seamlessly goes together without looking like we’re at “Jennifer’s husband’s photography exhibition”.
The way we do this is, we find one piece that will be the most prominent, featured in the most conspicuous location, or the largest. I’m referring to an inspiration piece, featuring the ROYGBIV colors that make up the room’s color palette. So, say it was a beautiful sunset landscape photograph, blown up nice and big. Maybe you even cut it into two pieces, featured on either side of the pipe for the stove. Then you would take three of those colors – maybe the blue from the sky, the orange from the sun, and the green from the grass – and those would be the three colors you would use throughout the space in different doses. That goes back to the 60/30/10 principle, and then you can incorporate other artwork in these colors.
You would also use the same colors for the pillows, the throws, the bases of lamps, and other key features. You work with those three colors that you pulled from the larger inspiration piece so the entire room feels cohesive and has a very strong color palette. You will use that foundation of neutrals as well, and it could be the gray from the couch or the beige from the carpeting. The windows are quite complicated and probably not great for window treatments, but you could consider painting the walls. I think a really nice, mellow green would warm up the space and bring the outside in. You also have this super creamy, expansive ceiling and I think a green wall would make it feel so cozy and comfortable – plus it would look great with landscape photography. Something like gray cashmere would be great for the walls, or you could warm the space up with a wheat color. I think that would help give these walls visual interest once we lose the chair rail.
Jennifer also mentioned not wanting a gallery wall, but there are long unbroken walls that could accommodate a large series of pieces. Whenever you’re hanging a piece of art that’s not above anything, you want to hang it with 60 inches between the floor and the center of the piece of art.
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