Is there anything more “adult” than a fully custom home office?! Well, there probably is, but stick with me. When I was younger, my family was lucky enough to live in some of the most beautiful places in the world. Nigeria, Honduras, and Brazil—to name a few—were countries in which my sisters and I spent our formative years. Different societies, ALL sorts of people, and a variety of unique cultural experiences informed who we would eventually become as adults. Unbeknownst to me when I was younger, those varied experiences would shape my sensibilities—in both life and design—in ways that continue to reveal themselves to this very day. Very unexpectedly so, sometimes.
Many of those sensibilities came out to PLAY during this office remodel, folks. This project forced me to flex muscles I didn’t even know I had and led to some of the proudest (read: riskiest) and most challenging (read: exhausting) design decisions I’ve ever tried to make. There’s something wildly healing about exploring your most visceral, inherent, and spontaneous design ideas and letting them take over a space, but the challenge for me in this office was to do that in a tailored and intentional way. I’ve said it here on the blog before and I’ll say it again: I’m nothing if not a study in personified contradictions… Particularly when such contradictions can yield something as BEAUTIFUL as this space; which respects the places I’ve been, acknowledges the place I am currently, and [cue the foreshadowing] leaves room for the places I have yet to go.
BUT ENOUGH OF THAT EMOTIONAL AND INTROSPECTIVE MUMBO JUMBO. LET’S JUMP INTO SOME OFFICE DESIGN, GENTLEPEOPLE.
If you read my introductory article about my office plans, you might recall that I set out to create a moody, stimulating, and energizing office space that would allow for multipurpose uses in the future. To do that, I challenged myself to make some uncomfortable design decisions, studied various methods of incorporating “traditional” design elements, and leveraged the past to enhance the current state of my design sensibilities.
MAKING UNCOMFORTABLE DESIGN DECISIONS
Hi. My name is Malcolm, and like most designers these days, I like green.
However, I never thought I’d paint nearly every surface of a room it. Green is practically utilized as a “neutral” these days, and I decided to go all out in this office and paint the walls, trim work, ceiling, and doors all in the same tone. I….love it. I was heavily inspired by “Green Smoke” by Farrow and Ball, but I ended up creating my own custom mix at The Home Depot with a Behr Marquee base. I used a satin finish on the doors, bookcases, and trim work, a matte finish on the walls, and a flat finish on the ceiling. I think the subtly varied finishes help to create a sense of movement throughout the space despite it all being the same color.
The door to the office—just like many of the doors in the rest of my house—is painted in “Black Magic” by Sherwin Williams, also in a satin finish. I love this combination of tones, particularly in addition to my brass door hardware and glass knobs.
Back when I was brainstorming paint choices for my bedroom makeover, I asked Emily for some advice about paint choices. She challenged me to paint the entire room in a dark and moody color, which I must admit, terrified me at the time. I didn’t end up taking the plunge in my bedroom, I remembered that advice when it came time to make paint decisions for the office (I also remembered Sara’s TV room), and I’m so glad that I trusted my instincts and went all out. The color—and the way it’s applied—evokes a sense of energy and mental stimulation that I was really yearning for in this space. I’m writing in this space as we speak (it’s honestly a vibe, y’all), and the color of the room has helped keep my creative juices flowing for hours on end.
The green pain continues on this built-in structure I made from hand (with some help). I AM TREMENDOUSLY PROUD OF IT.
Ok. There is a lot to discuss here. If you’re following me on Instagram, you will have seen this project in various iterations over the last few months. This project pushed me out of my comfort zone in a myriad of ways. Here was the initial vision for the built-in system that I spoke about in the introductory article about this room…
While many parts of my initial plans changed from the original schematic, I’m very proud of how it came together! There are a few different components to talk about here, so let’s begin from the ground up.
I’m excited to be partnering with Semihandmade for this project, and they were kind enough to send me two of their new paintable Quarterline cabinet doors to complete my built-in system. These doors were designed in collaboration with Sarah Sherman Samuel (who has been a perpetual inspiration of mine for years), and they offer Shaker traditionalism to the space with a slightly modern edge. The thin detailing feels just different enough to set it apart from the Shaker trend, while still working seamlessly with the classic style of the rest of my home. I painted the cabinet doors in the same green as the rest of the room, and they blend in sooooooo smoothly. I attached vintage, solid, brass knobs to each cabinet door, which finished them off in a beautifully tailored and classic way.
The doors from Semihandmade are attached to Ikea Sektion base cabinets, which I elevated—literally and figuratively—off of the floor just high enough to add the base and shoe molding present throughout the rest of my house. This small detail truly makes this built-in system sing, and makes everything feel incorporated, intentional, and integrated. When I tell you this step was challenging to get right, I mean this step was CHALLENGING TO GET RIGHT. I wanted both cabinets to be level with one another, but with wobbly floors in an old house, it was a major task. But, we did it, Joe! With the cabinets level and beautifully adorned with Semihandmade Quarterline doors, it was time to move to the next step…making the concrete countertops!
Originally, I REALLY wanted to use soapstone countertops in this space. I love how soft, buttery, and saturated soapstone is… but I don’t love how expensive it is (even for two little baby slabs). As such, concrete countertops seemed like a good alternative! They offer the same rich feeling as soapstone at a tiny fraction of the cost (I paid roughly $30 for both of my countertops, combined). The only downside was, well, I had to make them myself. BUT! The process was highly satisfying, if not slightly fatiguing, and yielded exactly the product that I was searching for. I used a fairly basic fiber-enforced concrete mix and a black colorant to get the tone just right. There are plenty of YouTube videos about this process if you’re interested in learning more about it (or you can check out my process on my highlights on Instagram). I think it was completely worth the time and labor it took to make these countertops.
That leads us to the height of our discussion (hehe) about the built-ins: the tall bookcases. I knew I wanted full-height woodwork in this space, so I taught myself how to build these showstoppers. Their construction is fairly simple: I used plywood on the sides and back, primed strips of MDF for the face panels, and solid red maple wood for the shelving. The shelves are held up by simple shelf pins to complete the bookcase! The ceilings in my house—just like the floors—aren’t at all straight or square, so getting these bookcases just right was yet another skill-building challenge in measuring, cutting, and finishing.
I originally wanted to paint the bookshelves green, but I opted to finish them naturally to bring in a touch of warmth that reflects the color of the floors. The height of the bookcases is also reflected in the height of my Everhem drapery in a very “designer” way. Everhem made these curtains and sheers custom for my office, and their tailored pleating adds just the right amount of soft and subtle detailing to balance some of the harder, colder elements of the built-ins.
Let’s get into this built-in, DIY console table with me for a momenteroni.
I went through approximately 101,393 ideas for how to handle the empty space between my two bookcases. I thought about placing my Rejuvenation desk there, but I didn’t want my back to face the door to the office. A Murphy bed seemed like a viable option, but didn’t quite feel like me. Extending the concrete countertop would have been a nice touch, but that would have been too heavy and cumbersome to maneuver into place. Ultimately, I wanted to add a feature here that would be easily removable so that in the future, someone might be able to fit a queen-size bed between the two bookcases.
Then, I had an eye-opening conversation with my partner:
Him: It’d be great if you could find a perfectly-sized console table, saw it in half, and install it between the bookcases.
Me: Good idea! I’ll search through some vintage and salvage stores to see what I can find.
Me: …I found nothing. I could just build something… but that’s more work than I want to handle…
Me: Come over. We’re building a console table.
During this office makeover, I chatted briefly with Emily about designers’ tendency to add TOO MUCH WORK to our plates, even if we’re already drowning in obligations. She told me “it’s honestly a good place to be. Lots of growth in hustle mode”, and I think this DIY table encapsulates that mentality pretty succinctly. Was it challenging to build? Absolutely. Am I a better designer because of it? Abso-frickin-lutely.
I opted to secure a butcher block countertop for the surface of the table, which happened to be on sale for $100 at The Home Depot. I used a butcher block conditioner to finish off the top of the table, and drilled a hole into the top for wires to drop down to the outlet. I also grabbed these beautifully turned butcher block legs for the base, and after much internal (and external) deliberation, I decided to paint the legs in the same green as the rest of the room. The painted legs finish off the table in a way that is both quiet and eye-catching while speaking to the original posts featured on my staircase.
Speaking of the inherent “traditional” aspects of my home…
A STUDY IN TRADITIONALISM
Something that has always interested me about the design-o-sphere is the perception of “traditional” style. If you look up “traditional design” on Pinterest, you’ll mostly see an amalgamation of American- or European-inspired elements: wainscoting, tufted furniture, oil paintings, and the like. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like those elements just as much as many other designers do. However, I’ve been increasingly aware that “traditional” design is completely dependent on any number of factors: geographic region, time period, derivative interpretations of OTHER traditional styles, and countless other considerations. During this office remodel, I found myself choosing artwork and features that incorporate various versions of traditionalism (I’ll give you a cookie if you can count how many times I say “traditional” in this article), and I’m ecstatic about what I’ve collected.
Take this original Nigerian batik, for example. FIRST OF ALL, HOW BEAUTIFUL IS IT OMG. My family procured this stunning piece by Wahab Oyebode in Nigeria circa 1988 (one year before I was born), and I immediately thought of it when planning the artwork for this space. The scale of it is perfection. The balance of the vibrant green background and the warm, saturated patterns is stunning. The energy of the figures represented is full of life and movement. This batik feels right at home here, even though it’s notably a different style than its surrounding elements. My partner created a custom frame for this piece using primed MDF, which we finished using a paint that was color-matched to one of the lighter tones in the artwork. Synergy, my friends!
On the other hand, we have this large, neon interpretation of Michelangelo’s David. YES, a neon sign. I can’t quite explain it, but I’ve always envisioned a neon sign of some sort in this space, and I decided to lean into that visceral feeling and follow my instincts. BOY, AM I GLAD I DID. The energy that these two pieces of art create in the office is palpable. Even though they appear to be vastly different, there is a similarity to the linework in both pieces that allows them to have a conversation with one another–based, I think, on the relative traditionalism inherent within them.
Earlier in this article, I discussed how the execution of this room was an exercise in letting my most visceral design ideas run rampant, but doing so in a tailored way. That’s where the magic happens, and I think this piece encapsulates that mindset pretty well. A traditional subject to be sure, but with a modern sensibility. It also lends an appropriate amount of FUN to the space! Who doesn’t want to have fun while they work?! I’ve spent a few nights working in the office, and the lighting has really been key to establishing a unique, moody, and inspiring space. Every time I glance at the neon sign of David (particularly when it’s lit), my stomach jumps a little bit. It’s exciting. It’s energizing. It’s different. It motivates me to think creatively while embracing how profoundly the past inspires the future.
LEVERAGING THE PAST TO DESIGN A MOTIVATING WORKSPACE
Contrary to some of the other artwork I’ve sourced in the space, the vintage elevation plans of my neighborhood are as unique to this house as possible. When I moved here in April 2020, I stumbled upon these architectural drawings in one of my kitchen cabinets, and was immediately enthralled by them.
The drawings here show the elevations of my exact unit, and I’ve always known that this set of documentation would eventually land in the office. The tradition of this house is based on colonial architecture, so it feels appropriate to give these vintage drawings a significant presence.
The vintage elevations anchor this cozy little section of the room, which I LOVE. The Lulu and Georgia floor lamp, Target accent chair, and Rejuvenation side table (which is making a guest appearance after being showcased in my deck remodel) round out this corner of the office in such a beautifully intentional way. I incorporated black, sleek, metal accents into this corner, which contrast against the vintage drawings in a way that creates a beautiful sense of balance.
In my introductory article about the office makeover, I mentioned that I felt the need to secure a barrister bookcase for this room. FIRST OF ALL… many of you sent me listings to bookcases you found in my area, for which I’m eternally grateful and mildly emotional. I found this one at Community Forklift in Maryland, and the walnut color of the wood works perfectly with some of the other furniture pieces in the space.
I just love it! There’s something so beautifully classic about a barrister bookcase. The shape, glass paneling, and mechanics of it work together to form a perfect addition to this office. It’s studious. Handsome. Utilitarian. And just a little bit extra. Side note: this beautiful floral arrangement was crafted by Andrew Hill of Blakemore’s Flowers in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I challenged him to create a beautiful bouquet that felt “wild” but also spoke to my “tailored” design sensibilities, and he delivered in spades. Ten out of ten.
Shall we dive into some before and afters?! We shall.
The universe has a funny way of reminding us who we are when we need it the most. Some of the projects I tackled in this space were tough, man. Mentally draining. Physically exhausting. Emotionally… well, emotional. At the end of it all, however, I’m able to stand back and say “Wow. I really made this happen (with help from loved ones—there’s a lesson here about not always feeling the need to go it alone, but that could be an entirely different article, so I digress). And would you guess what kept me grounded through it all? Gratitude for the life experiences that continue to help me manifest into beautiful things, respect for the lessons I’ve learned along the way, and excitement about what’s to come. …and chai tea lattes, honestly. I should buy stock in Tazo.
What is your favorite part of this office makeover? Also, what unique life experiences motivate your current design style?! As always, I’m excited to chat in the comment section down below!