apartment progress: a home office and then some.

September 28, 2021

I wrote this piece from my home office with two kids and James nursing the last of their sniffles on the other side of the door. I’m eternally grateful for this little room and have also been reminded roughly twenty times this week that when kids are home not a moat or a drawbridge would be enough to keep them from breaching the office walls. Invasions notwithstanding, this space is a godsend.

When we moved into this apartment last September we immediately decided to turn this tiny antechamber at the front of the apartment into an office that would work for both me and James. Like for so many families, our working year to that point had been a kind of disastrous effort at carving out minutes long enough to think and we felt like we finally had a room that might afford us a whole hour. There wasn’t time to worry about the details, so we focused on the function, which was straightforward enough: a quiet place to put the nose to the grindstone, the fingertips to the keyboard and the eyes to the screen. For James, it would need to be a place where he could teach remotely and a place where our kids couldn’t easily tear through zoom lectures or discussion sections. For me, it needed to be a place where I could write uninterrupted and with any luck, scheme up a fresh idea or two. More than anything, the room felt symbolic. This would be a place to work, for adults.

We started by adding a desk and then we added a crib. The room is small and so to allow for some extra space, we decided on a shallow standing desk that would hug one wall and be used with stools for the lazier among us. We bought a simple pipe-metal base cut to our specifications, and topped it with a length of birch-veneer plywood from the hardware store. It’s big enough for both of us to work at side by side, should we need to, but not so big as to take up all the available floor space, which has turned out to be useful. In the first weeks of living here we rolled Calder’s mini crib into the room one evening as an experiment and she’s been sleeping soundly in this room every night since. The little crib on wheels makes it easy to move in and out of the room as needed and we didn’t change a thing about the room to accommodate the baby apart from putting her to sleep in it. A room, as we know, can be many things at once, so in function if not in traditional design, it’s been both a room for adults and a room for a baby.

Now, as we begin to think about about transitioning Calder to the bottom bunk and moving Faye into a bed of her own, the process has given me room to wonder how the room might function in the next phase of its usefulness. With bigger cosmetic improvements made to kitchen and living room and bedroom, there’s time and space to think about the next stage of transformations in this space; time, finally to think a little bit more about the details.

It’s easy, I’ve found, to walk into a space that’s not my own and quickly see what I might do differently. I’ll have barely entered a room and I’m already mentally pushing furniture across the floor; changing the wall color, and eliminating 90 percent of the objects until it’s been pared back to its essentials. It can be more difficult to see the ways I’ve gotten stuck in my own spaces and how I might actually tweak what I’ve created to make something new and fresh and useful. Lately my question has been how I can change the room into a place I want to be in instead of a place I need to be in? How can a room be expansive despite the closeness of the four walls, useful without being void of personality, flexible without being empty?

My first real out-of-the-home office was a room off the back of a historic house museum. The room had started out as a sleeping porch and had been converted to year-round accommodations before being changed into an administrative office for the nonprofit where I worked. The room still had the moldings and architectural trappings of a finer, domestic space, but a panel of fluorescent lights had been slapped on the ceiling and an industrial carpet had been put down over the floor and everything about the room said this is a place to work, not rest.

I used to daydream about what I would do first to improve the room given the chance. Change the color of the brown painted trim for one thing, then rip up the carpet and expose the heart pine floors. I’d bring in lamps and take down the overhead light that flickered and buzzed unless I turned it off and bore day-long questions about why it was I chose to work in the dark. I’d clear out the shelves behind my desk and save what was useful and make breathing room out of what was not. The desk with faux-wood contact paper and drawers that no longer closed would be replaced by a wide, lean work table. The pill-covered office chair would be given a proper farewell. I’d throw up the sashes and let the breeze come in off the river.

In this office space, I know I’ll start with a fresh coat of paint. With two doors on one wall and a giant window on the other, there’s nearly as much trim in the room as wall space and I’d love to play with that a bit. In my cupboard, work supplies will remain neatly organized, but the closet could use some help. Shelves, maybe. A fresh coat of paint there, too, for sure. A proper bookshelf?

I’m entertaining the idea of a small chair for sitting in. I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for the kind of diminutive upholstered chairs that once graced parlors and bedchambers and that now look almost like doll furniture compared with the modern day loungers we’ve grown accustomed to. The creation of a cozy spot in an apartment that doesn’t have a ton of them might be a welcome change for all of us. It could be a spot for a kid needing a bit of quiet space to curl up with a book after dinner. An early morning spot for sitting with a laptop before anyone else wakes up. Maybe instead of the office we’ll call it the thinking room; a quiet place to sit still and listen.

For the curious:

We have the Bloom Alma Mini Crib. We got it through our Buy Nothing Group and Calder has slept in it since she was born a year and a half ago to this day, no problems.

These are our standing desk legs.

The piece above the desk was mounted for me by Simply Framed from a collection of cards printed by Michael Dumontier & Neil Farber.

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  • Reply Megan September 28, 2021 at 2:37 pm

    A thinking room ❤️ I love that.

  • Reply Judith A Ross September 28, 2021 at 2:44 pm

    Brilliant, as usual! Can’t wait to see where you take this.

  • Reply mackenzie September 28, 2021 at 3:41 pm

    I love your decorating style Erin. It is like a breath of fresh air 🙂

  • Reply Kim P September 28, 2021 at 5:27 pm

    Looks great to me! How do you like the schoolhouse lamp on your worktable? Does it hurt your eyes? I was looking at that lamp online.

    • Reply Julie September 29, 2021 at 3:24 pm

      I was going to ask the same thing! I love their products, but that one confuses me. It’s beautiful, but is it just as functional?

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 29, 2021 at 3:59 pm

        Welp, probably depends on who’s using it! We’ve had this little lamp for many years now and we love it. We tend to move it around a lot and at this point it’s lived on just about every surface in our last two apartments!

  • Reply Ma September 28, 2021 at 5:36 pm

    Not upholstered, but the eames rocker is very tiny (and – with the authority one gains after breastfeeding for nearly a year, mostly on said chair – very comfortable). I often see it on craigslist and other such places for a fraction of the original price

  • Reply Sara September 28, 2021 at 9:04 pm

    How lovely to reimagine a space in this way. And, as a repeat customer, I second Simply Framed. They have done a beautiful job framing various pieces in our home, including an intricate paper cutting that required creative mounting to let it shine.

  • Reply b September 29, 2021 at 5:33 am

    i’m curious about the little round wooden ball on the desk—is that a timer? (if so, would you be willing to share where it’s from?). i struggle with adhd/time management and have used kitchen timers in the past, but this option seems more aesthetically pleasing.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 29, 2021 at 9:15 am

      it’s a music box!

  • Reply Anna September 29, 2021 at 7:05 am

    Dear Erin,
    first: my english is a german one… Sorry for that.

    I just want to say thank you for your writing, your thoughts, your ideas. Your blog feels so comfortable, and makes me breathing.

    But: if I look to our house with two twin boys, I feel overhelmed by the stuff.
    Do you have any suggestions if the appartment has low walls and “modern” equipment? There is no charm of old history.
    The kitchen feels cold and uncomfortable. And if I decorate a little bit it looks immediately cluttered and not calming….

    Thank you for being here in this loud social media, your voice meens so much for me.


    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 29, 2021 at 9:17 am

      thanks so much anna! for me, i typically try to bring character into a space with the functional objects. vintage and antique furniture, an old framed mirror, a patinaed wooden crate…little functional things that add a touch of warmth without crowding it!

  • Reply Sue September 29, 2021 at 7:57 am

    I do love to see a well used small space and this is surely that. You have made it seem so much bigger than it actually is, something that I have been working hard to achieve in my new small home.

  • Reply Elizabeth September 29, 2021 at 10:34 am

    This feels as shocking as the chandelier. It’s a stage dressing room to the left of your usual style. I’m looking forward to seeing what you’ll do with it.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 29, 2021 at 11:10 am

      ha! i’m not seeing the shock value, but i am looking forward to some subtle changes!

  • Reply MC September 29, 2021 at 12:15 pm

    Longtime reader here, based in the Southeast; I think I know historical society you are talking about, and if I’m right, two of my dear friends currently live in the back apartment now. Thanks for this thoughtful post. It’s so helpful as I start to dream up/create my very own first true home office space.

  • Reply Sara September 29, 2021 at 1:43 pm

    As always, a pleasure to read. It’s refreshing too that you show that making a house a home is a process, not a miraculous overnight sensation. Balm for me.

    I am *thrilled* for you to have this Thinking Space and a spot for your dear C to sleep unbothered by noisy bigs (it’s not just mine who treat our apt like a gymnastics studio, right?). Mine have happily slept in closets for years — the youngest currently lodging in a medium sized crib in our bedroom of the roomier apt we just moved to.

    The kind of chair you’re looking for is my siren. I am defenseless against them. I have the best luck just perusing thrift stores and used online — the stature of an older chair is much more demure than the behemoths of today and will do beautifully to enhance the thinkability of your space. Excited to see the next phase of this project.

  • Reply Erika September 29, 2021 at 3:08 pm

    Who in the house is reading Jane Jacobs? I started that years ago, and it’s just sitting on a shelf kindly waiting for me to finish.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 29, 2021 at 3:11 pm

      not currently reading; just one of those grad school books that’s made the cut to keep

  • Reply Amber September 29, 2021 at 9:44 pm

    It’s so fun to see a new space and what you’ll do with it.

    I wish you lots of luck on the chair. I desperately wanted a pair of Napoleon III style chairs to reupholster, and it took me months to find some that weren’t $6k (in worn out fabric or muslin!). I almost caved and got that chair you posted, but I finally found some in an online auction in Texas of all places (I’m also in NYC) and an affordable shipper. The fabric is a tapestry of fruits, but they have potential. And the scale is perfect. Hope you find a similar unicorn!

  • Reply Swissrose October 4, 2021 at 1:08 pm

    Any French company is likely to have smaller armchairs – I find them all tiny and low, doll‘s house furniture indeed!! Some older slipper or dressing chairs are also smaller. Maybe the key is „European“ (Italian, too, comes to mind!), where homes (UK!) and the scale of older furniture in particular, are smaller altogether…

  • Reply Alana March 21, 2022 at 5:52 pm

    Just came searching for this post to see how long the desk is. Interested in making something similar for my husband and I to share, but curious on how you find the length.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 22, 2022 at 4:09 pm

      Oh, ours works great for us, but very specific to the room/our stools/etc. Truly the beauty here is being able to make it to suit all of your own specifics.

  • Reply Denise from Kontor Malmö January 30, 2023 at 11:15 am

    You did a pretty good job setting up the working space in a small area. Looks nice. But what I noticed and liked the most is that on the desk there is nothing redundant.

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