Elance Blog

If Your Home Is Your Castle, Why Does Your Office Feel Like a Dungeon?

Does you home office make you feel like you are serving time, instead of working at what you love? The insights of architectural psychology (the overlooked human factor in design) can guide you to improve your workspace. Linda Varone is an award-winning consultant, author and professional speaker. She is the author of The Smarter Home Office and writes The Smarter Home Office blog. (We’re giving away two copies of The Smarter Home Office – scroll down to the bottom of this page for more information.)

"Order, comfort and connection."

Many people think a functional home office is a desk, a chair, a computer (with the appropriate peripherals and gadgets) and paperwork in a reasonable state of order. But you may have set up your office like this:

  • Have you positioned your desk against a wall and unconsciously re-created a drab corporate cubicle in your own home?
  • Are you still using the desk lamp that got you through college and wonder why your eyes are tired and you have headaches?
  • Do you feel restless or distracted when you work?

No wonder you flee to the local coffee shop to work!

Learn practical tips, based on architectural psychology, on the best way to position your desk, what kind of lighting reduces strain and how an understanding of your personal workstyle can improve your work life, using what you all ready own.

Positioning Your Desk for Maximum Efficiency and Energy

“We moved our desk by the window. I can’t believe how different it feels in there now.” – email from client.

It is not just about what is on your desk, but it is about where your desk is in your home office. Move your desk next to or near your office window. Natural light is the best light, make the most of it. Position your desk perpendicular to the window and your work surface will be bathed in sunlight. Near a window your work space will feel expansive and energized. With a window to your side, you can glance up and enjoy a view of nature or city life and rest your eyes and your mind. Note: Do not move your desk so you face out the window as you work, looking into sunlight can be too distracting and fatiguing.

In addition to natural light, recent studies are confirming that contact with nature decreases stress-induced high blood pressure and the incidence of illness.

No window handy? Set a small potted plant on your desk and bring the best of nature indoors.

If moving your desk near your window exposes you to nosy neighbors or sun glare, then you need the right window treatment. A pull-down shade is the worst solution. Why move your desk to get closer to nature and light and then shut it out? A bottom-up pleated shade is the answer, you can raise the shade just enough for privacy, while having views of the sky and natural light. A pleated shade will softly diffuse sunlight. If intense glare or sun-generated heat is an issue, then get pleated shades with a light-proof lining that can be partially or completely closed for part of the day.

The Best Lighting for Stress-free Work

Even with your desk near a window, you need good artificial lighting.

“I can’t believe how much easier it is to work with the lamp on my desk. It was such a simple thing to change.” – client.

Inadequate or inappropriate lighting cause eye fatigue and headaches, which in turn destroy focus and productivity. These usually come in three forms:

  • Are you working under a 60-watt ceiling fixture or the latest recessed lighting? By the time the light travels from the ceiling to your desk it is too weak and you cast a shadow on your work – you are essentially working in the dark. And thinking your computer screen to give you adequate light is a mistake.
  • Are you using a desk lamp with an opaque shade? It makes a circle of very bright light on your desk with darkness beyond. The contrast between extreme light and dark causes eyestrain and fatigue.
  • Are you working under a bank of fluorescent panels, too many for the space? This results in over illumination, which is just as bad as working in the dark.

Steal an idea from the executive suite: Use a table lamp on your desk with a white or off-white translucent shade. The table lamp brings light right to your work surface – better than a ceiling fixture. The translucent shade diffuses the light – without the sharp contrast of light and dark of the desk lamp. The lamp should be tall enough so the bottom edge of the shade is about the same height as the top of your computer screen. This prevents you from seeing the light bulb and gives you the largest spread of light.

Ideally you should have two sources of light: your table lamp and light from a window, your table lamp and an overhead light source, or your table lamp and another lamp in the room.

Warning: Not all Compact Fluorescent Bulbs are Created Equal

The first compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) made your home look like a cheap discount store. That was because they were “cool white” or “bright white” bulbs. You can now get CFL’s that are closer is light quality to incandescent (Edison) light bulbs. Look for the words “warm white” or “soft white” on the label. This gives you warmer more welcoming light while still being Green.

Fine-tune Your Home Office to Support Your Personal Workstyle

You are familiar with the many distractions of a shared office: people moving around, noisy office equipment, noisy co-workers, and the resulting decrease in your performance. But a home office with too little environmental stimulation: sight, sound, movement, texture and temperature, makes for a boring office.

A Boring Office Is Just as Counter-Productive as a Cluttered Office.

Too much sound from a busy household can be masked (white noise effect) with a CD player, iPod, fan or streaming audio. A too quiet home office can also be remedied with music. Analytical work is supported by nature sounds or harmonious music such as Jazz, Baroque, Bach or Mozart at a quiet volume. Repetitive work that requires less mental focus and more physical activity is boosted by upbeat music with variations in tempo such as Beethoven, reggae, rock and opera, all at a moderately loud volume.

Adjust your visual stimulation to support your work style. Clutter is visual noise and is an ongoing battle, myself included. If you do focused mental work, then less visual stimulation in your home office supports your needs. Mindfully select those decorations that mean the most to you and give you the most pleasure. If you do more repetitive tasks, your walls can be filled with your art and memorabilia. Display your collections.

Whatever you choose, be sure to include photos and mementos of the people, places, and events that you love and inspire you: your dream house, your dream vacation, or reminders of those people you love the most.

About the Author
Linda Varone is a home and office design consultant who specializes in addressing the human needs for connection, privacy and nature, based on architectural psychology, in her consultations, writing and professional speaking. She is the author of The Smarter Home Office and writes a blog by the same name. She has been quoted in Entrepreneur magazine and Family Circle. She speaks of the human aspect of design, nationwide.

The Elance Smarter Home Office Giveaway
Elancers! We're giving away two copies of The Smarter Home Office right here on the Elance Blog. All you have to do is follow us on Twitter @elance and tweet us your idea or ideas that you use for a smarter home office. We'll be selected two winners at random to win a copy of The Smarter Home Office along with other Elance goodies next Friday, July 9 2010. Tweet us to win!


Ms. Varone, I now have a little less clutter on my desk. Thanks for this article. I was especially interested in different types of music supporting different types of work.

I noticed a few typos. One is in the second paragraph under the heading A Boring Office Is Just as Counter-Productive as a Cluttered Office. It looks like the "If" should be "if" (lowercase i) in this sentence: "Since clutter is visual noise, (Clutter is an ongoing battle, myself included.) If you do ...".

I just signed up for Elance--yes, as a copy editor--and was happy to see your article. Now to go turn on some music....

Camille DeSalme

In my college days I had a cat who was my "study buddy." She spent many hours purched on my stomach as I studied. She made a great book rest and confidant. We shared cramped quarters and long hours in studying together. Now, years later - a bachelors and masters degree later - I have moved on to larger spaces, but still long hours of work. I have new "study buddies" in my life: 7-month-old puppies. I have learned over these years that survival of long hours of work depends on the diversions that come from the simple pleasures and creatures in life: those who ask for something as simple as "scratch my ear" to "lets play ball." Success in personal, accademic, and professional life depends on balance in who we are, what we do, and what we value. My advice for those who work long, concentrated hours of work is to find that balance and include those simple plearsures and diversions in life.

Thanks for the terrific tips! As a full-time freelance writer, for years I have always had my office in whatever little corner of the house I could fit in--but then I decided to take a stand, and take a room just for me. Since, my productivity and motivation have gone through the roof and my business has expanded ten-fold.

Next I decided, I would go all out and actually design and decorate my little corner of the business world for optimal workability and of course, beauty. I am installing bookshelves on three walls as I have a passion for books and they inspire me just to look at. Then I will design a work area for my computer work and one for design work with lots of cubbies for supplies at a big work table.

The grand finale? I want a pure white office with lots of texture and tone-on-tone furniture and a French chandelier above my desk! I specialize in Interior Design, Architecture and Home Products Writing so finally this time it's all about me :) Thanks for letting me share! And yes, I have that window you suggested...

Thank you, very useful
You are right, we should be more serious about our home office organization, since we spend here 100% of working time.
Interesting, how much I may be fined by health control and sanitary inspection If I was an employer and keep working places like I do at home.
*went for new bulbs"