How to make your small office space look and feel bigger, (and happier)

Small space solutions are obviously very popular. So when I decided to redo my office, I figured I should really assert all my small space knowledge to make this office work.

Ready for the breakdown, friends? Here’s how and why I transformed my office … (This pic is right after we moved in, don’t worrry.)

The goal: To make this small space functional for two people, and feel pulled together but visually quiet. As much as I love contrast and color, for this room I really just wanted it to be calm and fresh. Frankly, there is so much mental and physical chaos that happens everyday here that I needed it to have a calm and serene background.

1. Paint your walls/background white or a light color. Done. As you know, lighter colors make a room feel bigger, darker smaller. (Although you’ve probably heard me lecture that a very small space without natural light shouldn’t be white or it will look “dead.”) My walls are “Oyster Shell” from Benjamin Moore, which is a very soft blue-gray. It’s quiet and calming and almost white, but it contrasts nicely with the molding. Low contrast = not very busy.

2. Keep the color palette very simple. I chose white, blues (duh) with pops of green (just in the plants) and gold/brass.

photo by Kimberly Genevieve

3. Choose symmetry whenever possible. Reduce the amount of contrast in the furniture. Instead of eclectic desks and different vintage chairs, I decided to do matching desks (see sources) and matching vintage chairs with matching sconces above them. Symmetry is just so calming. Your eye doesn’t need to bounce around to see everything because everything is really simple to understand immediately. It reduces the chaos in an instant. You can keep personality in by mixing styles and finishes, but keep the furniture very same-sy if you want your space to feel bigger and cleaner. “Same-sy” — that’s an architectural term, not sure if you know it.

photo by Kimberly Genevieve

4. Don’t clutter the middle of the room with massive furniture. Oh I thought about getting a huge table for us to sit at because I love a big ass work table, but two smaller desks off to the side keep the room feeling so open and big. They also allow for the much needed walkway from the sliding glass door to our bedroom.

photo by Kimberly Genevieve

5. Go with sconces instead of lamps whenever possible. Sconces free up important real estate on tabletops. By taking them off the tables and attaching them to the wall, you’re making the desk way more functional and keeping the desk a lot free-er. Plus these wall sconces don’t have to be hard wired, but their chord is covered by a super chic chord cover so it looks more intentional than a chord hanging down.

photo by Kimberly Genevieve

6. Choose shades over curtains. Curtains/drapes are great in living rooms and bedrooms, where you want a lot of softness and texture and dare I say romance and glamour. BUT in the office, you want it to feel really organized and clean and curtains can add a lot of movement and distraction, especially if you have so many windows like I do. So having shades kept it so much cleaner and made it feel so much bigger. I got these at The Shade Store and I love them VERY much. I highly recommend you don’t mess around with cheap Roman shades. I have before and regretted it. These are so strong, such high quality, and if something goes wrong with them I can call the company and they’ll fix ’em.

I thought about getting a pattern, but I wanted something more timeless and less busy. I thought about getting a dark color, but then when they are up, they would be a dark messy stripe around the top of the room and I wanted it to feel cleaner. I thought about getting white, but that seemed way too safe and could look too “ready made” and I wanted these to be more custom. I chose a color that was closest to the color of the wall, but in raw silk! It’s really beautiful and textural and slightly reflective. I love them very much. Again, less fabric/movement, less contrast in color = cleaner and quieter. I got a flat panel, so it’s more modern, but for a more traditional/romantic look you could get it pleated … there are a million options. Check out this post on ready made options.

photo by Kimberly Genevieve

7. Match your storage pieces. I have white lacquer Ikea Pax units across from the desks, so I got white lacquer filing cabinets and white lacquer desks. Mixing is totally fine and great, but if you are starting from scratch and want a clean modern feel, then try to keep the storage pieces either matching or high contrast — beige with white can look dirty and weird. Wood and white? Great. White and black? Great, but high contrast obviously. Office furniture doesn’t have to be stylish and often the more stylish pieces (like vintage filing cabinets) aren’t terribly functional.

UPDATE:  Since the shoot I’ve added white filing cabinets under the console. I didn’t have them in time to shoot them but that was always kinda the plan:

One is for clients, one is for office/blog, and one is for all things personal. It is totally amazing. I searched for these, making sure they were the perfect fit for that console. I really didn’t want to spend over $150 each since I was getting three of them. These are from Ikea and I can’t seem to find them on the site right now, they were super hard to find in the first place.  They are categorized as something strange not, “filing cabinet,” but the Eric is similar, $69.99. These that I bought were the last three within three Ikeas. I had to drive to two Ikeas and 45 miles to buy them, but they are totally worth it.

And then just to give you a sense of the space with relationship to the cabinets, I took this Instagram:

8. Bring in style with accessories, storage, and plants (but within the color palette). I’m not good at leaving surfaces totally empty, but I didn’t want a ton of clutter, so I chose to mix plants and objects in glass domes (to bring pretty reflection and still feel “light”), with pretty design books.

9. Minimize your patterns. The rug is my pattern and it’s bright and fairly bold, so I decided not to bring in any other patterns. Again, more contrast means more visual chaos.

Overall, I love how the office looks and I love going into it every morning. I never knew how emotionally influenced I was by my lack of pretty work space (which is why I REALLY need to redo my nasty rental kitchen) because now I love working at 7am, when the sun has just risen.

So hey big corporations, here’s some advice: If you make your offices attractive and pretty, people will work harder and happier. I can absolutely attest to that.

In case you want to “get the look,” which would flatter ever so much, here are my major sources:

West Elm Rug (different, but similar vibe), The Shade Store shades, Lamps Plus sconces, Lamps Plus semi-flush mount fixture, Dwell Studio vessels and gold animal, chrome chair (mine are vintage, but these are similar — although make sure they are high enough to be desk chairs before you purchase).

What do you guys think? Could you work here?

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