With remote work becoming the new normal for millions of people around the world, home offices have never been more important.
Shelves and walls have become teleconferencing backdrops, exposing our private preferences or perhaps the lack of time spent on organization or decoration.
From his home, London-based architect and designer Dara Huang shared simple tips on how to transform living areas into more elegant workspaces.
Below, Huang discusses the design suggestions for maximizing productivity, the importance of personal space and how to organize the perfect library.
CNN: You wrote about the importance of carving out a “cozy corner”. How do you create a space like that at home?
DH: Everyone needs their personal space, even if they live alone. The quiet space of many people is the bathroom because it is often the only space in which they can be alone.
A soft carpet completes this welcoming interior. Credit: Philip Durrant
(A quiet space is one) that you create for yourself where you can sit and know that you are in the area. Ideally, it looks out onto a window so you can get some fresh air. It’s nice to have a coffee table next to you where you can put a cup of coffee or put down a book or candle that you can burn. You have to create that atmosphere for yourself so you can really focus on your five senses.
It seems like the perfect time to organize personal libraries. How would you recommend to organize a nice bookstore for the eyes?
You should coordinate the colors of your books and arrange them in order of height on the shelf.
So many hardcover books have paper covers and are actually covering the book’s most amazing profession. If you want your home to look really sophisticated, show off those good ties and arrange them in a color coordinated way.
Another fundamental thing is not to arrange all the books vertically, but to lay them down horizontally. Place the largest book on the bottom and build a stack of two or three books on the top. Make room for potted plants or other decorative items in the middle.
Huang recommends placing “beautiful and interesting objects” on the shelves to help tell a story. Credit: Adrian Dirand
Putting beautiful and interesting items on the shelf tells a story about you – the same goes for your home office. This is a home setting, so you want to make it presentable.
If you need to archive loose documents or documents, keep them in folders and binders. The really nice thing is to have canvas boxes that you can label outside. Storage components will make your home office organized and well-designed.
What are some other easy ways to freshen up a house?
Works of art make a huge difference. It’s not just what you’re putting in, it’s the size, it’s how it hangs, the combination of how you did it. I’m a big supporter of white space and not overcrowding things, but if you have the right piece or if you take the time to think about what you’re missing, it can make a big difference.
Consider reorganizing your space. Mix the furniture and let it rest with you for a day or two. There is no technical way to do this because it is based on how you feel. The way we live is so malleable, so the ability to try different things while living in spaces longer is fun.
Portrait of Dara Huang. Credit: Paul Khera
Are there specific materials – woods or fabrics – that are best suited to the home?
When deciding on materials for your home, it is best to start with a small sampling of the larger items and see what goes well with what. Always have a huge mix of textures within that sample and don’t look at things in isolation.
The design is all-encompassing, so when choosing materials it is so important to contrast that material with something else, for example by combining something rough, like stone, with something (smooth) like Italian plaster.
This interior showcases a mix of complementary materials and textures. Credit: Simon Brown
What advice do you have to adapt your home to work?
More and more people are turning their dining room or kitchen table into an office table, so it’s important to organize your workspace and store everything at the end of the day.
People don’t just work from 9 to 5, they work whenever they want. Houses naturally have poor lighting for work, so putting a small desk lamp can help focus.
Your workspace can be as simple as a small desk but it must be presentable – it must be a domestic and elegant version of what you will normally be used to.
Huang says he keeps the designated workspace organized. Credit: Philip Durrant
Do you have any design tips to improve productivity?
Give yourself a limit on how much time you spend in an area of your home – tidy up when you’re done and move on to your next space. You have the opportunity to change the mood of where you are, like drawing a curtain or opening a window to mark the start of the day.
Turn things off after some time. Your body needs downtime and can be controlled through lighting. If you start to dim the lights, you are creating awareness that this is not your workplace. Compartmentalize your home and be aware of the function of each space.
What does a shrine mean to you?
A sanctuary is a place where you can go and feel the safest, the most comfortable and relaxed. I think “safe” is a great way to describe it, because it’s your private space. You have the ability to possess and know that this is your bubble and that no one can enter it. It must be a place where you can calm the mess.