With stay-at-home orders in place to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, many New Yorkers and others across the country are facing new work-from-home realities.
Typing furiously while hunched over a dining table or slouched on the sofa is only palatable for so long. Luckily, it’s possible to carve out functional — and even beautiful — office setups in space-starved apartments. Here’s how four New Yorkers make it work.
It was only after Megan Collins, 36, left her career in advertising and launched StyleGirlfriend.com, a website dedicated to men’s style from a woman’s perspective, that she knew she needed a dedicated home office area within her one-bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side.
“It was really important to have a space to sit down that wasn’t my couch or propped up on pillows in bed,” says Collins, who used to occasionally work from members-only club Soho House.
She tapped Shelly Lynch-Sparks, founder and principal designer of Hyphen & Co., to whip her space into shape with a calming blue accent wall in Benjamin Moore’s Hale Navy paint, a slim custom desk from Brooklyn Reclaimed and a geometric area rug from Ikea.
One of Collins’ favorite pieces is her mid-century-style striped upholstered desk chair from West Elm which, at $ 300, felt like a splurge. “It ties the room together,” she says. “And it’s just the right height for my computer display.”
A matching hot pink office supply set from Poppin with a stapler, a tape dispenser and a pen holder infuses joy into her workday. “It’s like having matching dishes,” she adds. “There’s something really satisfying in being intentional about that.” As a “small indulgence,” she’s filled the pen holder with only her favorite stylos — Muji’s gel ink ballpoint pens, in black — bought in bulk on Amazon.
Her apartment is also filled with houseplants from The Sill. “There really is something powerful in having something alive in your apartment,” says Collins. “Green is good for you. Plants make people happy.”
When interior designer Mike Harrison learned that the city would be closing all nonessential businesses — shuttering the coffee shops, hotel lobbies and bars where he normally conducts business — he acted fast to transform a bedside nook inside the two-bedroom Boerum Hill apartment he shares with a roommate into a space where he could be productive.
“I didn’t want any excuse to not get my work done,” says Harrison, 37, who specializes in budget-friendly makeovers and outfitting diminutive dressing rooms for Broadway stars.
In true New York fashion, the resourceful designer found a small desk in a trash heap on the sidewalk, cleaned it up and wallpapered it in a bold navy plaid pattern that’s in dialogue with his bed’s throw pillows and blankets and an area rug with a Greek key pattern from Home Goods.
“It allows me a surface to work, but also provides me with a lot of inspiration,” says Harrison of his desk, which also stores fabric samples, paint swatches and art supplies out of view.
For a decorative touch, he snagged a pair of bronze sculptures of ballet dancers in deep backbends from a thrift store for only $ 10. “They are my newest obsession,” he says. One sits on a shelf above the desk, while the other rests gracefully on a mounted shelving unit with plants and books.
When it comes to comfortably working from home, Harrison says, “It’s essential for me to be inspired by my surroundings, especially since I am in a visual field, so my workspace really feels like an extension of my living space and reflects my vibe and style.” To finish off his room, he created the geometric paintings hanging on his walls.
For her Upper East Side one-bedroom apartment, Ashley Rucker, 31, sought out Amelia Nicholas of Urban Cottage NYC. Nicholas created an office nook at the foot of Rucker’s bed, complete with palm frond wallpaper that frames the window and portraits of musicians she loves, like jazz greats Billie Holiday and Chick Corea. “I wanted the room to be super Zen and peaceful,” says Rucker of her bedroom office, which is strewn with fresh lavender, succulents, palo santo and candles “to set the mood.”
A beauty brand professional, Rucker is also the founder of TherapART, an art therapy and creative movement not-for-profit. While she previously used the narrow white Ikea shelf desk in her bedroom as a workspace for her passion projects, she’s now getting accustomed to conducting video conferences for her day job from her home office, too. Her living room doubles as a makeshift dance studio.
Don’t hesitate to incorporate a couch into your daily rotation of perches. When Rucker tires of sitting at her desk, she’ll move to a brown vintage sofa from the 1970s on the other side of the room with her laptop to lounge and work more comfortably.
Meanwhile, interior designer Ariel Okin, 28, runs a small empire from her Upper East Side home, where she lives with her husband and newborn daughter. Pre-coronavirus, Okin worked with two team members onsite and others remotely. “It’s really fun to bounce ideas off of each other all day,” says Okin, who’s designed spaces for high-profile clients like Lena Dunham and Goop. “And my dog Charlie definitely brings some levity to the office.”
With a pale blue color palette and furniture in natural fibers — rattan bookcases from Serena and Lily, a lacquered bamboo writing desk from Deco Market, a Giacometti-inspired geometric plaster chandelier from Ballard and linen drapery layered with a woven Roman shade — Okin’s goal was to create an office that’s a “calming retreat” infused with personality.
When it comes to hunkering down to work, her laptop riser and cozy padded Serena and Lily armchair, topped with a needlepoint pillow of a golden retriever in a tuxedo (“He just makes me laugh!” says Okin), are essential. Her desk is decorated with a Wedgewood Jasperware cup used as a pen holder that she snagged on Etsy for $ 40, as well as a trio of small original art pieces with sentimental value.
For powering through self-isolation with your sanity intact, Collins says she’s been taking breaks from daily tasks and “accepting every call,” happy for the distraction to talk and connect with people. And for a healthy work-from-home mentality, Rucker is buoyed by the idea that your apartment “can be a space to dream — even when the going gets tough.”