Big ideas for small home offices

Melanie Whitehouse

Even the smallest space can become a useful home office or study. Find out how to turn a small space into a productive work area.



More of us than ever are working from home, bringing a better work/life balance and no commute. Even if you’re retired, grandchildren need somewhere to do their homework in peace and you need a corner to retreat to, to write, pay bills and escape from the world. Not many of us have a spare room or garden studio we can turn into a study, so clever use of the available space is key.

Home office storage and shelving

Even though so much is done online nowadays, we all have to retain hard copies of documents like bills, financial agreements and pension statements, and books to inspire us in our work.

Keeping papers safely stored in files is obvious – but space to store bulky files is often at a premium. Go vertical and build shelves or add shelving units that run right up to the ceiling. Store documents and files you rarely use at the top and access with steps, then files and folders in daily or weekly use further down, within easy reach.

So files don’t look messy, choose designs from the same range: all patterned, say, or all in a solid colour. Label each one clearly so your information is quickly accessible.

Wall-mounted magazine racks are useful for holding slim folders.

Under-desk filing cabinets or drawers are necessary for storing today’s computer paraphernalia, like memory sticks.

Find out how to make the most of your space

Home office lighting

You will always need extra light in an office if you’re not to get eyestrain while working on a computer. The older you get, the more light you need - someone over 50 needs twice the amount of light as someone of 25. But annoyingly, older eyes are also more sensitive to glare. Light bulbs that imitate daylight – with a ‘Kelvin’ level of 5,000 or more – are recommended.

Overhead pendant lighting isn’t enough – you need spotlights or task lamps on the desk, which can be directed exactly where you need them. Direct them so they avoid the computer monitor (which provides light of its own) and highlight the document you’re working on or the book you’re reading.

Find out how to brighten up a dark room

study area

If your study area is part of a larger room you can separate the space by painting a feature wall, using a partition or hanging colourful wallpaper in that area.

Desks and chairs

It’s worth investing in specially-designed, ergonomic office furniture which should help prevent repetitive strain injury (RSI). Your neck, shoulders, arms, wrists and feet should all be positioned correctly and if necessary, placed on a rest.

Eyes should be level with your computer screen – yes, even a laptop.

Your chair should be adjustable and should support your back. Do sit at tables and desks before committing yourself.

Your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle, with your hands just above the keyboard. Armrests on your chair will support your forearms in the right position, and a gel mouse rest will do the same for your mouse wrist.

If space is tight, an office in a box holds custom-built shelving for the computer, printer and other office paraphernalia. It folds out when in use and away when it’s not – perfect for the current trend of creating a home office in the corner of a kitchen.

Remember to move to avoid ‘posture pain’ – keep swivelling on your chair, get up to fetch files, and take regular breaks.

Read our tips for healthier computer use

Décor

Your home office – even if it’s in the corner of the living room – can still be marked out as a designated area. Put bright wallpaper behind the desk, or paint it.

Need inspiration? Then put up a pinboard behind the desk and add press cuttings, tear-sheets, business cards etc.

Add plants – great for filtering stale air and bringing oxygen to your work station.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.