Something strange is happening to the humble home office.
The slapdash set-up that once existed in our spare bedrooms is no more. Gone is the bookcase heaving with textbooks, the trusty swivel chair, the old desk picked up from the side of the road.
Today’s home office is a different beast. It gleams; styled to the hilt, ready for its Instagram close-up. It’s also a far cry from my home office, as I recently learnt when I went online shopping for some new furniture.
The ‘make-do’ makeover
Now truth be told, I’ve never had a stylish working space. As our family moved into different houses and my business has evolved over the years, I’ve always made do with whatever space and furniture we had to spare, resulting in an aesthetic that’s more garage sale than French provincial chic.
Instagram offices, on the other hand, look incredible. Even though I only needed to buy a new chair for my work space, the more I browsed through beautifully styled photos, the more I wanted to buy: an accent rug, sleek Scandi-style furniture, a white trestle table on which my laptop can float untethered, like a gentle haiku.
Where do you keep your modem?
But then I started thinking practically about my space. And I had questions.
For starters, where do your things go in a stylish home office? Not the matching stationery and sheepskin throw – I mean the utilitarian things, like your printer, chargers, modem, computer monitor and all your paperwork. In all the minimalist workspaces I’ve seen, these things are always absent. Bookcases which once held – well – books, are now empty save a wooden pear and a photo frame or two. The once ubiquitous metal filing cabinet has mysteriously gone missing. Instagram office fairies, I ask you: where do you store your files? Your tax receipts? The mobile phone manuals you’ve been saving since 1998?
Secondly – and here is my biggest quandary with the Instagram offices – what do you do about children?
Nothing ruins a minimalist interior quite like kids on holidays. If I was to put a picture of my desk on social media now, you would see Pokemon cards splayed out on the table and a half-eaten Vegemite sandwich on the floor. Last Wednesday, my kids turned my office into a blanket fort. The room was a huge mess and for some reason, my keyboard was sticky (the giant fort, though, was superb).
Minimalism: The antidote of real life
It makes me wonder if simple is best when it comes to the home office. While styled spaces look amazing, a designer look may not be achievable for everyone, nor does it always gel with real life. Working from home is all about integration: that messy dance of mingling work with family, pyjamas with conference calls, laptops with Lego. Spaces are bound to be less than ideal. As I write this, my own office is temporarily housing two musical instruments and a bag of unicorn paraphernalia for an upcoming kids’ party. The carpet, though, is vacuumed and there’s a nice picture on the wall. And I’m okay with that, for now.
So, in the spirit of keeping it real, I’d like to suggest simplifying the features of a good home office. Let’s find that happy medium between interior perfection and dingy cave. To make your space work, all you really need is the basics. A good source of light. A supportive chair. Fresh air, if possible. A somewhat proactive approach to dust (I hang a cloth behind my filing cabinet on a small hook for a quick once-over when I’m on the phone). Simple ground rules for interrupting kids. Something lovely to look at – a low-care pot plant will do nicely.
And maybe – if you have time to spare and are so inclined – think about giving that old desk a fresh lick of paint.