Designing a space for yourself can be challenging in a whole host of ways. Even if you’re an experienced designer (which I am not), when it comes to your own home deciding which direction you want to go in can feel like you’re trying to shove everything that represents you into one house or space. Adding another person and their design aesthetic to that mix can make it feel almost impossible to design a space that you’re both happy in. Trust me, I’ve been trying for the past 4 years, and still haven’t found the best method for designing a space that both Mac and I feel equally represented in.
And so far the designed spaces in our home have definitely leaned more into my own aesthetic (which is a whole other issue of its own). So when it came to designing the office, I really wanted to bring Mac into the design process in a more meaningful way. This is the room that he spends the most time in on a daily basis, so I want it to be a space he really loves and enjoys. A space that feels like him. But Mac isn’t an interior designer, so asking him to design the office of his dreams and letting him have full design-freedom wasn’t going to work either. He’s not an interior designer and doesn’t know where to start – from where to look for pieces, to figuring out how they go together in a space. Mac is actually a designer (he’s an associate creative director at Scholar, an animation and advertising studio), so he has a very strong design eye, and a good sense of what he likes and doesn’t like. But translating a pinboard of ideas he likes the “vibe” of to a real room, piece by piece, wasn’t something he knew or even wanted to do.
After combing through a lot of “interior” inspiration photos, it was clear that the architecture and overall “vibe” of space was what spoke to Mac the most. He might not like a single piece of furniture from the photo, but the giant floor to ceiling windows, an insane custom built-in, or some other awesome architectural element was what he was drawn too. And clearly, we have none of those things on our office, nor the capability to do those things. The office is just a box, with orange peel walls. It does have two big windows though!
But ultimately, it’s about as standard a room as you can get, so we were going to have to try and translate Mac’s inspiration to attainable design elements. So I decided to try and treat Mac like a design client. I asked him to pin a few images that weren’t so much aspirational as they were functional – what were things he’d actually to see in the office? Here’s what he pinned:
Desk space – and lots of it. He has two monitors and a laptop open 24/7 on his desk for work, and a needs to be able to spread out. He also wants storage – he hates the idea of having a stuffed attic or garage. If we can’t fit it in the house, why have it? So some sort of shelving where he could display important things he’s collected, but also had closed storage that could house other items (like all his D&D stuff) would be important to incorporate.
Mac’s taste definitely leans more modern and clean than mine, but he also loves vintage, so he’s not purely about that modern minimalism that’s sharp and desaturated. I think “organized” would be a better way to describe his aesthetic. So desk organization and functionality will be something he would really value in this space. We had chatted about a possible dark accent wall or paint color, and that was something he was open to, since he usually tends to opt for dark tones when given the choice.
We had also chatted about having the office double as a guest room. So a sleeper sofa would provide both lounging space and functionality. But the office is small, so we were going to be super limited on what would work. All I knew is that it couldn’t be another velvet sofa, for Mac’s sake.
The first thing I had to figure out was a floorplan layout. The room is small and square, and we wanted to fit a lot in there. My new favorite hack? Using the Ikea Planner online software to block out floorplans. I’m not using any Ikea products in the room, just literally using the software to layout the floorplan. I just create my room, and then use “floor obstacles” to see how big all the pieces are, and if they’ll fit. If you look at it in the 3D view it’s just a bunch of boxes, but overhead it’s perfect for getting a good spacial idea. This helped me figure out which pieces I had pinned would work, and which were just gonna be too big.
The next step was putting together design options to have him go through with me. I’d love to say that this was a super easy process of presenting him with two options, having one conversation about which pieces we both liked from each, and settling on a final design plan. It wasn’t. First, I’m not a designer with client experience. Second, he’s not really my client, he’s my partner so there are a lot of emotions involved. And third, we both want to like this space, so it’s not as easy as a designer just trying to please a client. I was, in a way, always a client of the space too. And we both generally have different ideas of what we want our spaces to look like. And me repeating “I just want you to be happy in the space” translated more to “this is your generous crumb of design input, the room where you get to do what you want, so just tell me what you want.”
But, in the simplest terms, I did present two designs to him, we discussed, and we combined elements from both designs to create a final design plan.
DESIGN OPTION #1
For this first design I proposed painting the walls “Goodnight Moon” by Clare, but keeping the ceiling and window trims white to keep it from feeling dark and monochrome (a look we intentionally went with in our TV room). Mac had pinned that sturdy wooden desk from Article a while ago, and we’re planning on reusing the office chair from our previous office. We’re also going to keep the vintage coffee table we used in our previous office, but I wanted to throw in a more colorful vintage rug to bring in some more color to this space (but also something with a flat pile so if Mac’s office chair had to roll over it there wouldn’t be any issues).
That sofa from Blu Dot is actually a sleeper, but not a traditional sleeper. Between Mac’s desk and the sofa we could really only accommodate a sleeper sofa that opened up to 70 inches max. That’s not a lot of room, but this sofa opens up to only be 66″ long. It’s like a hybrid between a futon and a full-size sleeper bed, and will work perfectly for the few nights a year we have guests. Plus, I liked the contrast of the modern sofa design with the vintage rug and coffee table. Same goes for the ceiling light fixture (from Rejuvenation), which I liked that it tied in a brass element to the brass globe lamp from Article, and all the wood in the room, but still felt modern.
Mac has tons of awesome movie and design-related art that he wants to display, so the art is gonna be all him. He has a Pinterest board filled with vintage posters he’s been wanting to get, so we’ll be sourcing a few cool things and getting them framed with Framebridge.
Lastly, that cool wall shelf from Rejuvenation is wall-mounted and so pretty. It provides both display space, but has a section with doors for storing more unsightly items.
DESIGN OPTION #2
In this version, I opted for a paint color I’m obsessed with called “Current Mood”, also from Clare. It’s a bit lighter than Goodnight Moon, but still has that moodier tone I thought Mac would be into. I paired it with a bit more of a subdued vintage rug (I searched through just about every vintage rug Revival Rugs had and there are a lot of good ones), that still has a lot of deep saturated color. And brought in the same Blu Dot sofa, but in a darker option to jump off the walls a bit.
Mac really loves that shelving option from Article – it’s got a cool modular feel, and lots of little areas that feel like display spots. But even more closed storage (this guy has a lot of D&D material, ok?). I paired the shelving with a black and brass standing Article lamp, and a super modern ceiling fixture from Rejuvenation in a color I knew Mac would be into – Black.
I also brought in a leggier desk (from Lulu & Georgia), in a dark color, to try and reduce some of the brown wood in the room.
THE FINAL DESIGN PLAN
After reviewing all the options from the first two designs, we finally pulled together a final design. It took a LOT of conversations, mixing and matching pieces from the two design boards, and just like, only a few frustrated tearful events. All in al, this was one of the smoother design processes.
We’re gonna go with Goodnight Moon on the walls and baseboards, and keep the window trim and ceiling white. We’re using green in a lot of other spaces in the house and felt like we needed to shake it up a bit. Blue isn’t Mac’s favorite color, but this inky navy hit a sweet spot of dark and moody, while not being ultra-saturated.
And even though we’re using a darker color on the walls, we decided to go dark on the sofa as well. We’re really into the fabric, and kind of liked the cohesive dark look that the sofa had against the wall. Plus the rug, with its deep colors, brings a bit of lightness and saturation to the couch area. Mac spent DAYS deliberating on which vintage posters were going to grace the walls of this space, and after agonizing for too many hours, he’s settled on these two vintage Japanese posters in more neutral tones. He’s also got an amazing A24 poster, that’s already framed, that will go on the wall next to his desk.
Mac really wanted to go for something sturdy in the desk department, so we’re going for the warm wood desk, which also is 71″ long so will provide a lot of great desk space for him. And we’re going with his dream shelving to make sure he’s got enough display and storage space. The shelving will come into the window a bit, but functionality is going to win out on this one. We’re also going to add two art ledges above Mac’s desk to bring in more space for smaller art and collectibles. It’ll be one more spot Mac can share a bit more personality in the space.
Lastly, Mac liked the first ceiling light fixture just a touch more, but felt that the brass and wood felt a little too mid-century for him. SO, I popped an all-black version on the board and we both kinda nodded our heads like, “yea, that’ll work.” It was one of our cohesive design decisions, haha.
And that’s where we’re at now. We have some baseboards to finish up, and then it’ll be painting and installing. It’s a super quick project, but one I’m really excited to tackle. Is our couple’s design method seamless? No. And I don’t know if it ever will be. But I definitely don’t want Mac to just throw in the towel and let me have carte blanche because I want this house to feel like both of us. And he doesn’t want to hold up every single design decision by making me feel like he hates all my ideas. But this room did come together a little easier than the last one, so maybe with practice we’ll get there. And then I’ll write a book and become famous and solve this same issue for couples everywhere, and people will ask me to officiate their weddings and name their babies after me. Until then . . .
Opinion time! Who thinks we’re crazy, who’s on board, and who has the secret to cohesive couples designing?
Opening Photo Image: Photo by Tessa Neustadt | From: Sara’s Office Reveal
Been loving all of your latest articles Sara! You bring such a different (usually ignored) perspectives in your writing.
Most of us are facing the challenge of suddenly having to creating office spaces in our homes and I for sure have been caught in a design limbo! Looking at beautiful done rooms on Pinterest doesn’t do much for me, infact makes me even more paralyzed. Reading through your process of design, especially from a user’s perspective, was way more helpful!
I would really appreciate EHD to do more office room articles and please also do an article on rugs, especially keeping in mind practicality.
Thank you Sara (and Mac)!
Thank you so much!
Hi Sara! Your home is beautiful! I’ve loved all your reveals (the den/tv room in particular). My two cents… sleeper sofas/futons are usually neither great at being sofas or sleepers. I would get a super comfortable sofa. Guests would likely be better off sleeping on it and you and Mac will be more comfortable using it on a regular basis. I love your voice on this blog and look forward to reading more from you!
Agree. My one regret in my office space (and we built the actual building itself by hand, so there were a LOT of decisions made) is that I chose a smaller sofa bed that left more space to manoeuvre in the room and was also less pricey. Two years down the line I so so wish we had got one that was really cushy to sit on when my husband joins me for coffee, plus much nicer and more spacious for guests (rare as they are). I’m pretty sure we’ll end up replacing it within a couple of years, so it’s money wasted 🙁
we have this cb2 movie twin sleeper in our home office (got lucky and found it brand new on craigslist for a ridiculously low price). it’s super comfy! my husband and i can both sit and hang out on it and it folds out into a twin that somehow feels more spacious? it’s great for our small space office and the occasional (usually solo) guests we have.
oops forgot the link: https://www.cb2.com/movie-twin-sleeper-sofa/s341222
We have a twin sleeper sofa from Joybird and it’s super comfy. The sofa is much firmer than I would have originally chosen, but after a month or so, it softened up. And the bed really is comfortable to sleep in!
I think the issue is that we don’t have enough space for a full queen sleeper, but often have couples staying over, so just a single couch isn’t gonna cut it for them to sleep together. BUT I think this will work, with a cushy mattress pad! And the truth is, the couch is really just a kitty bed during the day, because they love being in there with Mac while he works : )
Beautifully done, Sara! I’ll be first in line to buy a signed copy of that book. Making our home feel comfortable for both of us has been a huge challenge for my husband and me. But you’re right… You learn to do it better and it does get (a little) easier.
HAHA I’ll be the first in line to buy that book!
I can completely relate to this post. I’m the more design minded but my girlfriend has strong opinions. Please do come up with a couple’s design manual!
I love the Ikea room plan hack. Both designs are beautiful and I loved hearing about the challenges you encountered from designing for somebody you love! I’ll be designing a living room for my mom in a bit so that was an interesting perspective to hear! Quick question– could you let us know what you used to create the “boards”? Thanks in advance!
Probably Google Slides! Mallory wrote a post about it in late May.
it could be photoshop since the rest of the team uses that a lot
I’m a photoshop ride or die, but I’ve been using it for 10-12 years now, so it feels like home.
I was all about Design Option #2. That said, I think the Final Design Plan is a brilliant compromise/complement to both of your design aesthetics. Loved reading about your process! I look forward to seeing the final reveal. Bravo!
This is so helpful in a really practical way.
I think the aesthetic connects to the moodiness of your TV room in a curated way.
It’s great to read about the compromises and nuances of combining both your ideas and, you hot Mac involved in the process! Great work!
+1 for hot Mac
Unbiased opinion – he is very hot : )
One word … so funny!
We just turned the former formal DR into an office but our problem is that everything is along the walls so there’s nothing in the middle of the room. Any tips? We could position the desk into the room but then the view isn’t nice and with three huge monitors it looks clunky. Thinking about switching out the chair in the corner to an Eames or something with a footrest to take up some of that interior space
I wish I had some! Maybe someone else from the EHD team could chime in…
I really appreciate the insight into designing with your partner. My wife usually says “I don’t care” when we are making decisions for the house, but of course, she does…
my fiancé is the same way…he doesn’t care until he does. i am slowly learning to plant my design ideas in his head well before i have any plans of executing
Ha, that’s exactly what I am doing as well! It’s a patience game for sure!
Ugh I try that too but I’m NOT patient enough!
I have one of those…to get my husband’s opinion, I usually just have to pin a bunch of images I like, then ask him to scroll through and point out the ones that are an absolute NO and any that he does like. It has surprising results sometimes! I do the same for specific fixtures and furniture – after I’ve combed through thousands of light fixtures like a crazy person and pinned 15-20 that I like, I show him those and he vetoes a handful and sometimes even has a favorite. Even if all he does is say no to some of them, it gives me the confidence to pick from the rest knowing he doesn’t dislike them. I just have to do all the legwork and make the time and focus required of him pretty minimal because he isn’t as interested as I am and is easily overwhelmed by the process.
On one hand it would be easier if he didn’t, but then it would be all me and that sounds sad too!
I have a similar space (i.e. a small room that needed to be both an office and a guest space). I ended up buying a electric standing desk (the whole desktop goes up and down and will be whatever height I need to sit straight or cross my legs, etc.). I got a pull-out sleeper sofa from West Elm (it has a memory foam mattress, which is actually comfortable! But, admittedly, it makes a more comfortable bed than a couch.) So when people come over, I can put the standing desk at its highest height, and it’s actually tall enough for most people (all of the guests we’ve had, but not quite for me because I’m 6′) to walk under and I shove my office chair completely against the wall under the desk. And then when I pull out the bed, people can easily walk around it because the desk is so high.
I know this all sounds kind of insane, but it actually works well for us.
I don’t know about “cohesive couples designing”, but I feel like my partner and I made a breakthrough about “cohesive couples prioritization” a few weeks ago.
A few weekends ago we made a list of all the things we’d like and need to do around here and made a spreadsheet. We each ranked them in order of importance to us, then averaged and sorted the scores. We were amused to see that we’d both ranked the top four projects in our individual top four, and then there was a big chunk in the middle of the pack that all averaged to exactly 8.5 points. It was helpful to see what projects we each valued, and we’re using that list to guide our spending!
I love the direction your office is headed, and can’t wait to see the final results!
This sounds amazing!
I have been eyeing that Lulu and Georgia desk for about 6 months. I have yet to pull the trigger because my current ikea desk, though not the cutest, has a very convenient cable/cord storage compartment in the back. I have yet to come up with a way of tackling the mountain of cables without this compartment. I’d love to see your solution. Like Mac, I have multiple monitors and a laptop, it’s not cute, and it’s in my living room.
Ashley did a whole post about it on The Gold Hive: https://www.thegoldhive.com/blog/2018/8/7/how-to-hide-cords-plus-all-my-tricks-for-cable-management
I’m gonna give Mac the cord org task – we’ll see what he comes up with!
This is really nice. I love the final design plan. You both are very lucky to have design eyes so you can have rational discussions on how to design a room. My husband has no such thing, so designing is PAINFUL!!
You & Mac did a great job collaborating. We, too, faced the dilemma of designing a small office space that needed to accommodate our overnight guests. The only sofa beds that worked in our small space were the Comfort Sleepers by American Leather. Fourteen years of guests’ remarking on the queen sleeper sofa’s comfort make us glad we went this route.
I love the final choice! I was going to say the first design, but I really liked the darker sofa and rug in #2. So I was excited those were included in the final design sling with the wood desk, lamp, and darker walls from the first. I love both shelving options, and ended up pinning the Room and Board one to consider for my daughter’s room (she has so many books and stuff to display, and it has so many options to expand it). I’ve really enjoyed going along for the ride in all the room designs in your home, and it’s so important to show how couples work together to create a space they love. I can’t wait to see the reveal!
I just realized the shelves are from Rejuvenation not Room and Board. Good thing I pinned them, I’d been so confused trying to remember where to find them. And I can’t always find an old post I’m looking for on the blog when I just have a small, obscure detail to search.
Thanks as always Suzanne!
OMG please write the book about couples’ design woes. It was seriously so shocking to me that my husband and I had so many issues when designing our house! We had had no issues w/ our previous apartments, but once I started sinking my teeth into the design possibilities that homeownership presented, chaos ensued. It’s been a major “thing” that we’ve had to work on — and I’m still surprised every time we start thinking about a new project together and it doesn’t go smoothly!
Haha I will write this post one day!
I am writing this from my guest room/office where we have the exact Blu Dot sofa you’re considering. It looks nice from afar but we don’t like living with it. The seat is bizarrely shallow and uncomfortable. We permanently removed the back so now it’s sort of a day bed with throw pillows on the back…ok but not ideal. We find ourselves avoiding sitting on it. Our guests have politely complained that the bed is too hard and low. Other minor issues: it’s heavy and difficult to convert to a bed, and the seat fabric started pilling right away. Sorry to be a downer– I thought I’d chime in because I wish someone had told me before we bought ours!
Ahh! We’ve already placed our order. But we’ll report back!
Thanks so much for this great post! I really hope the EHD team will do more posts in the near future about home office design since so many of us are dealing with that right now.
All for it! Excited to see the space all done
The temporary ( but-not-really-that temporary-because-who-knows-how-long-the-work-from-home-situation-is-going-to-last ) office conundrum is on a LOT of people’s minds right now. This almost scratched that itch but I’d really like to see more from EHD about it.
And couples designing is such a challenge. My husband is great about showing me super high end pictures for Architectural Digest and such that illustrate what he likes but is NOT great about imagining how those elements translate to our own space. I’m slowly learning that I have to hunt down various examples of translations and show him visuals for him to “yay” or “nay”. Now that I’ve figured that out our co-designing is going a lot better. It’s a process for sure though!
It was great to read this article, it helped me to have a new perspective on design and home decor. I have bought wall murals on the website: https://daisycorners.com/product-category/wall-art-decor/ to realize new jobs for my home. Thanks so much for the post.
This was an interesting post because of the process you went through to get to the end result. My partner moved in with me and basically all his stuff is in storage. Some day we hope to get a bigger place and I expect there will be a “merging styles” dilemma. I liked the look of the office chair you’re going to keep. I’m trying to find a chair that works both for a desk and in my dining room (where my desk is). Sadly, that chair you linked has too short of a seat pan. 🙁 I don’t know why it’s so hard to find office chairs for tall people. The seat pans are always far too short and the seat height is usually inches too low too. 🙁 The sofa beds I have owned always felt more supportive than non-sofa beds. So maybe it depends on the style and manufacturer. Also, if you have so few guests, you can always get an inflatable double high air mattress. When the guests wake up you can flip it up like a murphy bed during the day time or even deflate it. You sound like you are happy with the design… Read more »