In 2016, the girl band Fifth Harmony sang “we can work from home.” (OK, that’s not exactly what they meant.) And in March 2020, Gov. Ned Lamont told us we had to. Collectively, Connecticut residents scrambled to pivot in-person meetings to Zoom calls, educate children while working a 9-to-5, and maintain a normal workflow without leaving the house.
Still the “new normal” for many, local experts say it is vital to create a designated space to work or study from home. “Get out of your bedroom,” stresses Denise Davies, founder of D2 Interieurs in Weston. “Even if it’s an area of your kitchen table that’s just for work, it’s important to have a designated space and a schedule.” Here’s how to create just that.
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According to Davies, a few basic necessities include a desk and both open and closed storage. “The open storage is for things you use all the time so you can readily see them,” she notes. “Closed storage is for the messy stuff you don’t use as frequently.” She advises to make use of shelving but not to overclutter open shelves.
Even if you don’t have a separate room with a desk, a solid surface area is a must, advises podcast host and lifestyle blogger Nina Bradley Clarke. “The main thing is to have a comfortable chair and a sturdy place to put your device,” she notes. “If you have a long Zoom meeting, you don’t want to hold your phone the whole time.”
Consider feng shui
“I’m really big on energy and feng shui,” Davies says. She suggests avoiding things like having your back to the door, and it’s great to be near a window if at all possible. “It depends on the layout of the room. The way I set up my office is to have my desk kitty-cornered to the window facing the door,” she says. “It’s the best of both worlds!”
Nicole Zusi, a businesswoman and lifestyle blogger, sets up her computer so that she is facing an outside window. “That gives the most helpful, bright light, and you don’t look like you’ve been wrangling children while trying to do work,” she laughs.
Do a background check
If you are going to have a lot of video conference calls, be mindful of what’s behind your camera. Zusi recommends styling a bookshelf for a professional aesthetic. “A very simple vignette makes your area look neat and polished but not cluttered,” she says, offering this simple trick: Empty the shelf behind you, take a short stack of books, and turn them around so the spine/title isn’t showing. Just show the pages so they look neat and uniform, and no one will judge your fiction reading. Then, add a small picture frame or knick knack and stack it on top. “Voilà, a styled and professional backdrop!”
Zusi says that you can show books that are related to your profession, if you have them. Her friend, lawyer Kate McNeil, sets up a stool in front of her degree wall to have video meetings with clients. If you’re working with what you have, Clarke says not to obsess too much. “As long as what’s behind you isn’t distracting to the person you’re having a meeting with, it’s authentic, it’s real, it’s happening,” she says. “This is unprecedented, and everyone is accepting our new normal for now.”
Add some personality
“From a design perspective, if you’re setting up a home office, don’t make it feel like a bland cubicle,” Davies cautions. She loves the idea of developing a neutral palette and adding pops of color with desk accessories, chairs and organizers. “I love Poppin, they have a lot of colorful things,” she says of the office furniture company. “I use a vintage Murano bowl for paper clips and an antique planter to hold my pens. It’s an inexpensive way to add color and flair.”
Have a swipe box
“Just like the age-old trick of cleaning up before you know company is coming, I always keep a ‘swipe box,’ ” Zusi says. “It’s just an empty box I can throw all table/desktop and floor clutter into if I have an emergency video call.” It’s also important to do some self-prep. “I always brush my teeth, fix my hair, and do a light makeup to switch into work mode,” she adds. “This way, at least I look like I’m being professional at home and not juggling breakfast and snack and diaper duty. Perception is reality!”
Setting the stage
Before the lockdown, blogger and YouTube celeb Kallie Branciforte left her content marketing job to create content for her But First, Coffee channels full time. Her first order of business? Create a killer at-home video studio. Here, the Essex resident shares how you can do the same, whether you’re running a lifestyle brand, doing teleconferences for work, or video chatting with the grandkids.
Create a backdrop: Branciforte used 10 evenly spaced Command hooks to string vertical hanging lights. Then, she attached a sheer white curtain (found on Amazon) overtop. “I think it’s nice to have an area that’s staged because a background can be very distracting,” she says. “The background sort of becomes part of your outfit, so you want it to look put together too.”
Mind your lighting: “Natural light is the most flattering and easiest to come by,” Branciforte says. However, she cautions to avoid scenarios like light coming from just one side, or the sun going in and out behind the clouds. “Definitely steer clear of ceiling light,” she adds. “It’s not flattering and casts weird shadows.” The safest way to go, she says, is to purchase a cheap ring light that clips into your phone or laptop. “It ensures your face is lit with minimal effort.”
Clear the clutter: “Ideally, have a spot with a wall directly behind you so you never have to worry about clutter,” she notes, adding that if that’s not possible, a simple basket or bin to toss things into will do in a pinch.