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The office

Designing the house machine for working

office-intro This is the office.

Our home office is the most used room in the house. My husband and I have been working from home since the pandemic shutdown so we are in this room at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. We also use the office as a maker space during evenings and weekends for our creative hobbies.

For a long time, the office situation was extremely haphazard. I started off with the crappiest workspace imaginable. This was back when we were living with friends—I thought the shutdown would only last two weeks and therefore I didn’t put much effort into my (supposedly temporary) remote setup. I didn’t even have a work desk at home, so I just posted up on the shared dining room table with a monitor and keyboard. After a few days, it became very obvious that this was an inconvenient and unsustainable setup for everyone involved.

lockdown-office-setup We tried setting up our working stations side-by-side in the common dining area in March 2020. We quickly learned this was a terrible idea.

The next iteration of my workspace was slightly better. I acquired an actual desk and chair. I bought appropriate remote working gear like a high quality webcam and a soft key light. I moved my desk to a quiet corner of the house so I could focus without distractions. And once we moved to our own house, we now had an office with an actual door. This was so critical in a world where one person might have nonstop video calls from 9 to 5. They could be banished to our living room (the “conference room” as we call it), door closing behind them, and the other person could finally work in peace.

But a good desk setup and room with a door wasn’t enough. The overall design and organization of the space is also necessary to get right. As the architect Le Corbusier once said,

A house is a machine for living in. Baths, sun, hot-water, cold-water, warmth at will, conservation of food, hygiene, beauty in the sense of good proportion. An armchair is a machine for sitting in and so on.

The machine of our office was still slightly off-kilter. We had good desks and a quiet space, sure. But I still kept procrastinating on improving more of the space. We didn’t have any shelving or storage organization for all of the office stuff, so things were piled everywhere or stuffed into the few drawers we did have. The walls were devoid of decoration. I was reminded of it every time I got on a video call and saw the bare, empty wall behind me. It really did bring down my mood when I saw my surroundings on the screen.

Neal Zimmerman documents beautiful home offices in At Work At Home: Design Ideas for Your Home Workplace. He outlines the key elements of a well-designed home office:

Why do some of these spaces work and others fall short? I’ve reviewed hundreds of home workplaces, and I’ve concluded that those that are the most successful have three basic features in common. First, they help their occupants balance the two sides of their lives—work life and home life—in a way that is harmonious not just for them, but also for the people with whom they share their living and working space. Second, the workplace is well planned and well organized; it allows the user to work in a “CEO” environment—that is, with Comfort, Efficiency, and Organization. Third, a successful home workplace has a personal spirit about it, which is a reflection of its occupant. It’s this personal spirit that stimulates home workers to do their best work.

So after years of suboptimal offices, enough was enough. I mustered the energy to research and plan improvements to the office. Hours and hours of time went into implementing the changes. Finally, I feel like we’ve reached a high quality steady state where that personal spirit has started to present itself.

In the next sections, I’ll break down the design decisions we made to make this office machine run smoothly for us. I’ll also include a list of the equipment we bought at the end of each one:

  1. My desk
  2. Storage wall & maker space

I drew heavy inspiration and used recommendations from these amazing workspaces:

knuckles-office-design Our dog Knuckles helped a lot with home office design.

My desk

My goal is to keep the desk itself as simple and clutter-free as possible. Most of the storage is on the wall behind me which we’ll cover in the next section. I do have a white Stockpile Slim File Cabinet under my desk. The cabinet is lockable, which is very handy for storing valuable documents like our passports. I’m also considering buying a sliding under-desk drawer to hold some pens and a scratchpad so they don’t have to live on the desk itself.


The desk is a Jarvis bamboo standing desk with a Grovemade desk shelf in walnut. I bought this shelf many years ago before it came in more color options. I would love to change it out for a light wood to match our Japandi aesthetic, but it feels wasteful given the price and the fact that it still works perfectly well.

Around the desk:


On my desk I also have a small gold daruma doll. I bought it on our last trip to Japan, when we visited Shorinzan Daruma Temple in Takasaki. Darumas are meant to symbolize perserverance in your life goals. You fill in the doll’s left eye while setting a goal and only fill in the remaining eye when you have achieved your goal. The unfinished daruma eye helps remind you to keep pursuing your goals, almost haunting in you in a (cute) way. Charmingly, darumas also have weighted bottoms so that if you knock them over they always right themselves, which represents the determination to keep moving forward even when you face life’s setbacks.

Next to the desk, I made a gallery wall with both useful and decorative wall hangings.


On the wall:


Above the corkboard is a scale model I made of our house using foamcore. It was inspired by Adam Savage’s one day builds, however it took me much longer than one day to make it. It’s a delightful art piece and also is very useful to show guests. The three-dimensional model is always a highlight of our home tour and helps quickly orient newcomers to the quirky shape of our house.

I think it’s a fantastic exercise, not just in how easy this kind of fabrication can be but also in the perspective it lends your brain when you walk into the space you have replicated. Seriously, you should consider walking around your apartment or your house measuring all the rooms and making yourself a model of it. You will learn more than you think.

— Adam Savage, Tested

Storage wall & maker space

We desperately needed some bookshelf space in the office. Our book collection is actually pretty modest right now—we donated a lot of our books when we moved abroad and never built our library back up once we came back. Now that there is proper shelving in our office, I’m definitely tempted to expand our collection.


I mostly keep serious books in the office. Topics include things like software design, engineering, language learning, philosophy, and the craft of writing. Our fun books—fantasy, science fiction, manga, silly romance, and more—are stored in our living room bookshelves instead. This is both for theoretical and practical reasons. The seriousness of the books lends a more focused and academic atmosphere to the office. Also, we do need to use these books as reference for work purposes so it’s nice to have them close by.

We use library-grade bookends (thanks to Christopher Butler’s recommendation). I have also filled out the shelves with ceramics that I’ve made myself.


This bookshelf was surprisingly one of the easiest DIY projects I’ve ever done. The key was using pine stair treads for the wood pieces. They come in 4 foot lengths that already have one rounded side, and they’re a very suitable depth for shelving. I did a quick sanding and used three coats of matte clear coat of polyurethane to protect the wood. You can then hang them using your standard Home Depot support bracket shelf tracks and 9” brackets for wood shelving. And that’s pretty much it!

Make sure not to be tricked into buying the triple-thick version of polyurethane, which I thought would save me time in finishing the wood. It looked absolutely terrible when I put it on (Reddit agrees with me) and I had to sand it all off to start over with the normal sealant.



On and under the shelves:

On the left side of the wall, we created a crafting and maker space. Part of this was because of the weird feature of the office—a small closet at the top of the ceiling. We couldn’t have the bookshelves extend the whole length of the wall because of the placement of the closet doors. So we leaned into it and made the wall space below a functionally distinct area.


We ran a single Govee LED strip light across the picture railing and around the closet doorframe. This made the space feel more cohesive and allowed us to have very dynamic lighting for work and gaming.


For the maker space:

I’m happy with the space so far but I’m sure there will be more things to build and improve. In many ways, especially for physical spaces, multiple goals blend together: optimization, organization, and maintenance. I’m excited to continue to evolve this space to not only be well-planned and well-organized, but also to continue to draw out the spirit that makes this place uniquely ours.

To describe a building as beautiful therefore suggests more than a mere aesthetic fondness; it implies an attraction to the particular way of life this structure is promoting through its roof, door handles, window frames, staircase and furnishings. A feeling of beauty is a sign that we have come upon a material articulation of certain of our ideas of a good life.

— Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness

This article was last updated on 3/10/2024. v1 is 1,844 words and took 6 hours to write and edit.