Ace a home office makeover on any budget

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So you’ve finally accepted that sitting on the couch with your laptop on a TV tray is hampering your productivity. Or maybe you’ve already been tinkering with your work-from-home setup for months and are looking to dive into a full-fledged renovation. Whatever the case, we’re here to solve your WFH woes. Below, experts share how to upgrade your home office, whether you’re vamping things up like a Vanderbilt or only have a few bucks to spare.

High-end reinvention

If you’re completely transforming a spare room into an office, take this wise advice from Jordan Rogove and Wayne Norbeck, partners of DXA Studio in New York City: Build some “future proofing” into the design.

“You may need a home office right now, but this may change over time. Such a room should be thought of as a multifunctional space that can adapt with you and your needs,” they said.

Hila Stern, founder of HSB Architecture & Design also in NYC, echoes that sentiment, stressing the importance of detailed planning and working with the right professionals before embarking on this endeavor.

“The more detailed your plans are in the beginning, the less surprises you will have down the road,” she said, recommending you set aside a contingency fund at a rate of 5 to 10 percent of the total budget to cover any unexpected costs.

“As you plan, always think about your specific space needs, your lifestyle and the way your family interacts,” she said. “Make sure to give a spotlight to areas that will elevate your everyday life.”

Stern advised renovators to seek out ways to add value to their property. For instance, get a permit and add an extra bathroom to your office plan.

Once you’ve laid the groundwork, Marty Basher, home design expert with Modular Closets, said these upscale reno projects are all about zhuzhing things up to your personal taste. Some of his favorite suggestions are a wet bar with a small refrigerator and coffee station; a sofa for stretching out between meetings, and bookshelves and storage that are elegant and unobtrusive.

In fact, bookshelves can be one of the most important investments for your home office, both from a functional and aesthetic standpoint, said Darlene Molnar, a modern-leaning interior designer from northern Virginia. “Building bookcases or cabinets into your home office provides a tailored-to-your-architecture look,” she said. “From an aesthetic standpoint, cabinetry allows you to hide your work fuss — the stapler, printer, and other random toppings that typically pepper a work area.” Expect to shell out as much as $150 per square foot on custom millwork.

Another note from Rogove and Norbeck, if you want to carve out a part of a room for your new office digs: “If you have the luxury of a large living space, an area can be easily sectioned off using a sliding or bifold partition system. When in use, this area can be closed off from the rest of the room to create privacy and noise reduction. When not in use, the room can be opened back up to the main space.”

Garage, basement or attic overhaul

Here, you’ll also have to think about technical logistics in addition to traditional design considerations.

“The space may not be set up for use as a living space, which means it may not have electrical or insulation,” said Megan Dufresne, principal designer at MC Design, based in Los Angeles. “These are necessary and may add significant cost.”

Some special considerations include window treatments, the acoustics for all of those video calls, and wiring and WiFi needs. (Don’t kid yourself, you’ll need a professional electrician.)

When Stern renovated a Bronx townhouse for clients with teenage children who needed a place to do schoolwork, she made sure they designed the space with water ingress in mind, since basements are prone to damp, using durable materials like luxury vinyl tile (LVT) and carpet tiles. She placed the desk by the basement windows to increase natural light and upgraded the doors with magnetic chalkboard and tack board, so the kids could use the surfaces to draw and work.

Key takeaway: “Plan the space in a way that is flexible, so when the needs change again, it will not be difficult to readjust,” said Stern. You may even want to make your space multifunctional from the outset, by using the room to double as your home gym or arts-and-crafts studio.

Cost-wise, depending on how much work needs to be done, finishing a basement can range anywhere from $20 to $50 per square foot, ballparked Basher.

Closet or pantry refresh

Yes, it’s a thing.

First up, take the doors off an unused closet or pantry to create more possibilities than you ever envisioned, suggests Rodney Hammond, director of e-commerce merchandising, Raymour & Flanigan. “Outfitting this space with shelves, a small table and proper lighting can give you a makeshift office on the side of any room in tight quarters,” he said.

Basher recommends painting the inside of the closet a color that contrasts with any shelving and/or your desk. “This will create a pleasing visual effect when the doors are open, and a sense of greater depth, even if you only have a foot and a half of space,” he said. He’s also a big fan of storage baskets or a roll-away filing cabinet to make the most of tight quarters.

Dufresne personally created her own “hidden office.” Dufresne’s top tip? Be intentional with lighting. “Good lighting will help keep you alert and on task,” she said. A makeover like this can be pulled off for under $1,000 or less for the DIY-savvy set.

Any old nook

Sometimes, your WFH area will be a sliver under a staircase or part of your living room, like a windowsill or even the dining room table.

“Consider spaces that aren’t used very much and have low traffic,” said Basher. “While your office will also likely be in a space that is used for other things, your choice will depend on how much it’s used during office hours and by whom.”

A moveable room divider is great for making sure others don’t mess with your laptop or lighting, said Basher, and can help you transition out of work mode with a physical cue when you leave your desk at the end of the day.

Whatever you do, pay attention to the wall space behind your webcam. “An elegant and subtle look, with neutral colors, will draw the eye without being visually disruptive to meeting attendees,” said Basher. “Have no doubt that people are checking out your surroundings, so it’s important to keep it professional, while maintaining your personal brand. If crystal chandeliers are your thing, go for it! The key is to ensure that your home office fits in with the rest of your home.”

If you can work where there’s ample natural light, all the better. If not, ensure that you have enough soft light in front of you so that you look good on camera.

Cost varies widely. “A standing desk and ergonomic chair, room divider, a couple of foot stools that double as storage units and a small bookcase could run you well over $2,500,” said Basher. “It’s really down to your personal taste and what you need that you don’t already have in your home.”

Regardless of where you set up shop, consider adding a low-light houseplant or two for a Zen feel. “There are so many benefits of having indoor plants that can help people working at home, including improved cognitive function, creativity and stress reduction,” said Joyce Mast, director of plant-buying and programs at Detroit-based Bloomscape.

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