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How To Listen To Your Design Gut And Take Risks – Malcolm Shows Us How With His “Moody But Stimulating” Home Office Design Plan

Hello! Happy autumn! Are you excited that it’s practically already 2022?! This time of year always reminds me of the first day of school during my childhood. The crisp air makes me think of mornings spent at the bus stop—feeling rejuvenated, inspired, a little bit nervous, and ready to make the next school year the BEST ONE YET. As an adult human person that is no longer school-aged, I tend to use this autumnal energy (I’m going to use the word “autumnal” as much as possible in this article, be warned) to dive into something new and exciting. This year, I’m commencing on a journey to create an amazing office/studio for myself at home!

I’ve always had the intention to design an office for myself (my last three homes have had a spare bedroom for that exact reason), but I’ve never had a rreeealll need for one, until now! I’ve been working from home more than ever before—designing spaces, writing, and currently conceptualizing a line of home products, so the time has finally come for a home office! Exclamation! 

This spare bedroom has served a number of purposes over the year and a half that I’ve lived in this home —but more than anything else, it has been a massive dumping ground for things that don’t belong anywhere else. We all have that room, right…? Justify my hoarding tendencies, please. It started out as a messy guest bedroom, which morphed into a messy studio, which then morphed into a messy space for contractors to prep for my bathroom remodel earlier this year. Right now, I’m utilizing one corner of the room as my office, while the rest of the space is an amalgamation of DIY tools and despair. 

HOWEVERRR, now is the time to set some intentions. To take advantage of this AUTUMNAL momentum and create something special. To do that, I’m going to create a mentally energizing space, challenge myself to take some uncomfortable design risks, and be mindful of the multipurpose nature of this space while I’m crafting it up.


design by aiya design | render by hālō studio | via behance

Now, if you’ve been following along during my home renovation journey here on Emily’s blog, you’ll know that I’ve been ALL ABOUT creating spaces that mitigate my anxiety and reinforce routine-building behaviors. My calming bedroom makeover is the heart and soul of my home, and my bathroom makeover underscores that mindset in a very thoughtful way. While it’s certainly always my intention to create spaces that are comforting and soothing, this office design is a great opportunity to SHAKE THINGS UP A BIT in an effort to stimulate my more energetic tendencies and create a space that perpetuates out-of-the-box thinking.

design by max humphrey | photo by christopher dibble | from: 12 tips to make a spec home, special…with max humphrey

I’m talking sight-stimulating. Touch-tantalizing. Taste-triggering (…kidding about the “taste” part…the alliteration just felt right in the moment. Although maybe a snack bar in the office is a good idea…). This office design will be an exercise in creating fluidity with the rest of my home while simultaneously creating some good tension with other spaces—particularly in this upstairs corridor that includes my bathroom and bedroom.

images source

I have a few visual stimuli that I’ve been inspired to include in this room—one of them being a barrister bookcase. I’ve been eyeing one of these for MONTHS after seeing one for sale at Community Forklift in Maryland. I didn’t get my hands on it quickly enough, and I’ve been searching up and down the east coast for a reasonably-priced alternative. Barrister bookcases feel so handsome, utilitarian, and vintage in a truly authentic way. It would also allow me the opportunity to display personal and inspiring pieces I’ve curated over the years, which would perpetuate the good creative energy that I need in this space. If you’re selling one, and live in the DC-MD-VA area, please let me know!

image source

Now, I’ve been wrestling with this next idea for over a year. For some reason, I’ve always envisioned a neon sign in this space. I’m not entirely sure why, because I tend to think they’re fairly tacky, and it wouldn’t really fit the classic vibe I’m continually striving for in this home…but sometimes you have to trust your gut, ya know? And, honestly, what an interesting way to shake things up? Maybe? We’ll seeeee. I’m a huge proponent of listening to visceral thoughts and reactions, and for some reason this one won’t leave me alone.

design by james brown and christie fels | via remodelista

Along the vein of creative visual stimuli, I’m really interested in playing up the juxtaposition of light and dark in this room. Despite having two large windows, the room doesn’t get much natural light—mostly because of the big, beautiful oak tree in my backyard. I’m planning to install a permanent light fixture in the ceiling and make creative use of floor and table lamps in the space, but I’m also planning to lean pretty heavily into the darkness of the room by painting the room in a fairly saturated color…which leads me to my next point…


design by renovation husbands

Back when I was planning and designing my bedroom redesign early this year, I texted Emily for some tips about paint choices for my closet doors. She recommended that I paint the doors, walls, and trim in the same, dark, inky color. While I only ended up painting the doors in a dark color in that project, I’ve wanted to take her advice elsewhere. Enter, the office!

design by byrdesign | photo by heidi’s bridge

I’m going all-in on paint in this office. The walls, trim, and CEILING will be painted in a muted and smokey green hue that will make the entire space feel quite different from the rest of my house (in the best way possible). While this design element isn’t particularly new in the larger design-o-sphere, it’s definitely new for me, and it feels like a huuuge risk. I’ve historically been fairly neutral in my paint choices (all of the walls in my house are currently painted a warm white), so I’m really challenging myself to lean into a more saturated tone for every inch of wall space in the office. Will I regret it? Maybe. But probably not. And again, it would be remiss of me not to listen to my gut (and I’m not talking about my lactose intolerance. I barely listen to that).

I have clearly done…lots…of research into the right green for this room, and I think I’ve finally settled on “Green Smoke” by Farrow and Ball. For me, it strikes the right balance of light and dark in a way that will complement the inherent darkness of the room, while not clashing inappropriately with the white that I’ve used elsewhere.

design by heidi caillier design | photo by haris kenjar

The green tone will also be carried into BUILT-INS for this space. This will be another new and challenging project for me, as I’ve never done it before and have a lot to learn. I’ve gained some moderate construction experience over the last year by building my bedroom headboard and deck privacy wall, so this built-in system feels like the natural next iteration of my skills, but I want it to be GOOD. And SEAMLESSLY FUNCTIONAL. I also want people to think that it was built by an expert craftsperson in 1952 and has been here since.

I’ve measured approximately 91 times, planned multiple layouts, and finally settled on a fairly simple system to build out. I’ve conceptualized two floor-to-ceiling bookcases with floating shelves in between. I’m planning to use IKEA boxes with Semihandmade cabinet fronts for a fully custom design. I’ll then make bookcases by hand to sit above each cabinet, and I’ll likely install fluted trim behind each bookcase (the same trim I used for my bedroom headboard. We love when rooms speak to each other). I’m also hoping to find a remnant black/dark countertop piece—like a soapstone or a marble—that will serve as a “floating desk” between the two vertical bookcases. I’m in for a journey with this one, y’all! Are you with me?!

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: how to make your smallest room, the coziest room in your home + sara’s tv room reveal

These built-ins will also create much-needed storage in this room. I have lots of…stuff…to store here. Tools, paperwork, my massive printer, and any number of odds and ends that I’ve secured over years of random DIY projects. This office will really serve as a studio of sorts—where I can build things, conceptualize new ideas, and collaborate with people on new and exciting projects—and I’ll need space to accommodate all sorts of activities!


design by clare walton | photo by suzanna scott | via dwell

While the built-in system will be critical for office storage, I’m also planning to build it with enough space to accommodate a queen-sized bed between the two bookcases! While I’m not intending to put a bed in the room currently, it’ll be nice to build in the space for one if I decide that I eventually need a spare bedroom more than I need an at-home office (and I’m manifesting a storefront/office for Mas Means More outside of my home at some point in the distant future, hehe). I’m being very mindful of the fact that someone will likely live in this space eventually, and I don’t want to create any permanent structures that would hinder that transition fairly easily.

In addition to the forthcoming built-ins, the office has a pretty big closet that houses the HVAC system (and currently a slew of my DIY supplies) that would be the primary storage space for any eventual occupant of this room. For my own purposes, I’m planning to deck out the closet with top-notch organization so that I have a place to keep my tools neat and tidy, while leaving some space for winter coats and some cleaning supplies. Aside from my primary bedroom closet, this office closet is the biggest space for storage in my home, so I need to take full advantage of it!

design by the fox group and christopher scott cabinetry | photo by scott davis

I’ll also include ample seating in the office makeover, just in case other people want to work in the space with me and absorb the creative energy that will spew forth from every Smokey Green inch of it. As usual, I’m leaning heavily into my love for bespoke hospitality design for the concept of the office redesign, which includes inspirational spaces for my visitors to lounge comfortably. I’m excited to “brand” this space with my unique design sensibilities in ways that allow visitors to feel a seamless continuation of the rest of my home. Brand continuity ain’t just a thing in graphic design and marketing, folks.

Chair | Desk | Chandelier | Curtains | Clock | Bench | Neon Sign | Floor Lamp | Table Lamp | Rug | Artwork

WITH ALL THAT IN MIND, here is the mood board for the space! I really love the direction that I’m heading in, and I’m excited to challenge myself in many ways to push this dream into reality. This project will be an exercise in trusting my gut, learning from inevitable mistakes, and manifesting this AUTUMNAL energy to feel like that giddy school kid again—waiting at the bus stop on a crisp morning to embark on a new and exciting journey. 

What part of this makeover are you most interested in seeing come to life? And if you want to follow along, be sure to follow me on Instagram for live updates before the final reveal of this office!

Opening Image Credits: Design by The Fox Group and Christopher Scott Cabinetry | Photo by Scott Davis

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5 days ago

So excited to see this, I love your style Malcolm. And you have excellent instincts, so if your instincts are telling you to put in a neon sign, then trust them. I know you’ll put your own special spin on it.

5 days ago

love it. It is going to be beautiful, warm, classy and you will make it your own. neon- yes.

5 days ago

I’m excited!! I LOVE every detail, and that you’re keeping it flexible for possible future needs. Malcolm you rock!

oooooohhhhh, i’m excited to see it done! the mood board is so good. i usually am not a fan of the neon sign either, but the one in your mood board pretty sweet!
also, that heidi caillier office is INSANE. that desk is giving me a stroke. love. the fox group shot is also yum. i love that leather couch in the built-in nook! that leather against the dark paint….perfect.
all of the inspo pictures here are eye candy fo’ sho’!

5 days ago

Malcolm your posts are like the Carlsberg of interior design…worth waiting for! Already eagerly anticipating the big reveal!

5 days ago

I love your mood board. It looks very “you.” Maybe add a couple more plants. Also, I think you need the neon sign – it’s fun and irreverent, in a good way.

Brendon Kieran
5 days ago

I have a similar mood board for my future library/study. I just purchased that same chair from Office Depot for only $169.00!

5 days ago
Reply to  Brendon Kieran

Is the chair comfortable? I’m looking for something similar.

5 days ago

“amalgamation of DIY tools and despair”
Oh my goodness…I love this. Cracking up over it.

Your office will be amazing! Sending some good luck your way so you find that perfect bookcase.

5 days ago
Reply to  Erin

That line got me too! Malcom is definitely one of the better writers on the blog.

5 days ago

Your voice in this was hilarious! I loved reading it. Can’t wait to see the reveal!

Cynthia Gylov
5 days ago

I’m in love (with this space) I’m in love (with this space) and I don’t care who knows it!!

5 days ago

Love this vibe! There is a great murphy bed at Lori Wall beds that incorporates into a shelf system. I plan on getting this one:

Cris S.
5 days ago
Reply to  Kelly

That’s what I was thinking – built in murphy bed and desk on the room side of it.

5 days ago
Reply to  Kelly

I thought murphy bed too.

5 days ago
Reply to  Kelly

I was just coming here to post this! That would be the perfect place for a wall bed, especially since he’s already planning on a queen.

5 days ago

I love evvvvverything about this, Malcolm.

5 days ago

This room and this post are so glorious… you’re amazing and I can’t wait to see more!

5 days ago

This looks great! I wonder – how big is the room? I just did my 9X 12 office with triple filing cabinet, 3 tall bookshelves, work table … ordered a twin daybed and returned it because I realized adding guest capacity was too large for the space. Got a 65″ papasan instead for my naps and my tiny pals … maybe tacky but it was $15a and a light visual footprint …I think its. a a great idea to not have a bed in there at first, I LOVE having a 100% dedicated work/ meditation library space it sos serene in there .. I would love to hear more about how the paints stacked up and how you chose Farrow and Ball… was the pigment etc really THAT much richer than Ben Moore Aura for example? And are you going to do special prep for the Farrow and Ball? I am seeking the perfect green for my deco inspired kitchen and I love their greens but I am scared of the horror stories I have heard abut Farrow and Ball prep and adhesion, given the HIGH cost.

4 days ago
Reply to  kk

My husband is a contractor, and every painter he has worked with speaks out against F&B- his busiest refuse to use it for the reasons you mentioned. He says designers love it because of the edited palette, but IRL quality is not good. He prefers to get a BM match, or preferably a BM dupe. F&B have their marketing down pat!

Roberta Davis
5 days ago

Just excited to see how it comes together, because I know it will be great. I love the colors and the vibe. The only thing I can “criticize” is that if I was a guest, I don’t think I’d be lounging too comfortably on the backless bench, as attractive as it is. I would want a back! 🙂 I also love Sara’s tv room and it looks like your room will have that same moody and cozy vibe.

5 days ago

Malcom, I look forward to your posts the most and leave inspired and empowered to make changes like this in my house! You are the best and the name of your design company is fantastic.

Cris S.
5 days ago

I would love to see you document EVERY inch of building the bookcases and putting together the IKEA and Semi fronts please! I need to do this for both a mudroom and a laundry room and would love to learn from you!!!

5 days ago

Your posts ar8d THE most well-written posts, ever. Kudos! As an ex-English teacher, sublime!
Your taste is so different from mine, buuuuut, I lurve watching the journey.
You’re fun, classic, artistic, real and funny as!!!

5 days ago

I’m so excited for this! You have such an eye for beauty and grace in the simple moments. Lots of support being sent your way!

5 days ago

I am confused about the bookcases. In one place you say you’re going to put a slab between to make a desk, and in another you say you’re going to have room for a queen size bed between. Is the slab temporary? How will you build book cases above Ikea bookcases? Maybe I read this too fast but I have to go to work soon.

Also, doesn’t the dark paint suck up all the light? How many lamps will you need in the evening?

5 days ago
Reply to  anon

I’m still figuring out a lot of these details you’ve mentioned! I’ve kinda just thrown all of my ideas into this post–but there’s certainly a lot of refinement to be done. As far the dark paint for dark rooms–I’ve heard mixed opinions about it. Some people think that dark rooms are perfect for dark paint–just a matter of preference, I guess. 🙂

5 days ago

Malcom! As per usual your posts are my fave fave favorite. Especially this one because my home office is almost identical to your moodboard! Except instead of a barrister bookcase I got a 100-year-old filing cabinet. (P.S. My parents offered me their barrister bookcase but it was too big to move cross country. They live in CT. It’s lower and more horizontal than your inspiration pic (and definitely more of a 1960s-vibe) but if you’re interested lmk and I can have them send you pictures.

The one thing I’ll say about a moody office is that I 10000% did not want to be in there during the summer. I ended up working at my airy and bright kitchen table. In the winter I embrace my hunter green walls and leather couch, but in the summer it feels like I’m going in a cave to work. It’s still the most beautiful room in my house though and I often pretend I’m in a little British library 🙂

5 days ago

I love the neon sign in the mood board. It is a perfect nod to classic in neon.

5 days ago

What a thoughtful design – I love how you’re planning for the present and the future. It’s going to be gorgeous! Love the smokey green, and I think the neon will be brilliant!

5 days ago

I love the design! That paint color is incredible.
When I saw the mood board it immediately made me think you need a Jared Small piece. He’s a Memphis artist and his work is just incredible. For some reason your office design made me think of him.

5 days ago

jumped down to the comments to say that this line: “currently conceptualizing a line of home products” — is SO EXCITING!!!! Looking forward to the day when you get to share more!

5 days ago

I’m so excited to see this project! I love Sara’s moody TV room, and this seems to evoke the same mood. If you’re considering room for a queen bed, you might want to consider adding a Murphy bed in that spot. You can have it have a fold out desk when the bed is closed. I have a custom build that looks very similar to your design with a Murphy bed. I did not think to put in the desk component and regret it. But I think Murphy beds are perfect for guest beds, so the space can be more functional the rest of the time. The only downside to a Murphy bed for your design is it would make the beautiful marble desktop unlikely. Oh, and you wouldn’t have that lovely cubby feel for the desk. Always pros and cons. Good luck, Malcom, and I can’t wait for the reveal!

5 days ago

My husband’s office is F&B Green Smoke, and we LOVE it! We considered painting the trim, doors, and ceiling the same color but were too chicken – maybe once we see your design we’ll go for it! As always, loving seeing posts from Malcom.

5 days ago

Not “amalgamation”. Amalcolmation!

Love all of it and I think you found the perfect way to incorporate neon!

5 days ago

This looks like it will be an incredible room! I’m so excited to see it come together!

5 days ago

OMG DO IT! I did the exact same thing for my home office after seeing Sara’s TV room makeover and I don’t regret a thing! It is just so cozy and cocooning. I can’t wait to see your end result!

5 days ago

Love every part of this. Can’t wait to see it come to life!

Karyn Meadows
5 days ago

So loving this piece Malcolm… your design and colors are so on point and gorgeous!! Please blog about your bookcase building…I definitely want to know what to do as I’m working on a built in design for my fam room and can use your expertise to inspire me!! Maybe others might want it as well!

5 days ago

The lactose intolerance joke was the cherry on top of a great post.

5 days ago

I wasn’t with you on the neon sign till I saw your mood board….yes to David! What a great way to combine the old world and new world in a fun way! Excited to see how this goes.

5 days ago

Everything you do is so chic, Malcolm. This is going to turn out gorgeous!

5 days ago

Loved how you broke this down, Malcolm! I learn so much from your posts <3

5 days ago

I’m in the middle of designing my office and you’ve just given me permission to GO FOR IT. Can’t wait to check back in with this project!!

Nicole T.
5 days ago

I love your style, Malcom – as well as writing style – and I am excited to this space!

4 days ago

This home office is going to be fantastic! Can’t wait to see you do it. As for your neon piece, check out He makes the most amazing neon art and I think one of his pieces would look fantastic against your moody green walls.

4 days ago

lol you barely listen to your lactose intolerance. Good one.

4 days ago

Wow this is just incredible. The attention to detail and your sense of composition are giving me LIFE!

4 days ago

I’d just like to echo some other poster’s comments: more Malcolm please. Such a talent.

4 days ago

Love everything about the design, and so excited to see the link to my favorites place, the Community Forklift! I did not realize you were in DMV. Can’t wait to see how this next project comes out. Thanks for sharing.

4 days ago

I didn’t know there was a name for those shelves! I always tell myself I will have those one day because my bookshelves get so dusty. They look so cool and function! Also feel like neon sign are just too commmon yet there is one that I just love.

4 days ago
Reply to  Sarah

with a Taylor Swift singing “Welcome to New York” in the background 🙂 this is a market in soho? if I remember correctly

3 days ago

Ahhh I love it! I just love your design and seriously wish you could just design my apartment!

Also, line of home products?!

3 days ago

This is going to be fantastic! More inspiration to complete my bedroom – started painting this a deep charcoal 2 years ago and stalled due to, well… life. My very simple vision at the time was deep grey & jewel tones with planted aquarium & plant wall leveraging that aquarium (still working on a diy plan, water is heavy).

Then, I saw your bedroom and wow! Your bedroom panels & cabinets inspired me to add painted cane doors to the IVAR shelves I already have in that room (supply issues have prevented this, so far). Now, the office has given me more ideas and direction to actually finish my plan and add elements of depth.

1 day ago

I, too, wanted to paint my bedroom wall, ceiling and trim F&B green smoke but I haven’t been brave enough!! I’m so excited you’re taking a dive first! I can’t wait to see and I love your style. : )

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