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.
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