According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 8 million Americans work from home full-time. That figure doesn’t include millions more who split their time between home offices and public workspaces, such as traditional offices, coworking spaces, and coffee shops.
As the work-from-home market grows, home office design is hitting its stride. If you’re willing to pay thousands to retrofit a spare bedroom or bonus room, you can easily create a stunning home office space worthy of an interior design glossy.
Most full-time home workers don’t have an expansive budget, though. And that’s okay. Follow these tips to create a budget-friendly home workspace out of found, made, or strategically purchased furnishings and fixtures.
Affordable Home Office Design Options
1. Your Workspace
Your home workspace doesn’t have to be fancy or extensive. It should be spacious enough to comfortably accommodate your basic professional needs:
- Sufficient desk space to accommodate your work process and computer setup
- Auxiliary furniture sufficient to accommodate office equipment, such as a printer and desk phone
- Sufficient storage and filing space
Nowhere is it written that your home office must comprise an entire room, though working in a multi-purpose room may jeopardize your eligibility for the home office tax deduction. Rather than commandeer a spare bedroom or playroom, consider finding under-utilized space in:
- Large entryways
- Three-season porches or sunrooms
- Alcoves or closets under stairways
- Kitchen eating nooks
- Corners of larger rooms, such as your master bedroom, spare bedroom, or living room
By efficiently arranging your furniture to fit the available space, you might be able to fit your professional life into a smaller volume than you imagine. For spaces without doors, consider a portable partition, like these options from Walmart ($40 to about $300, depending on size and style). differently and better utilize the space in your home.
If your work demands more space — for instance, you’re an artist or design professional working with large-format schematics or specialized equipment — then you probably will need a standalone office separated from your home’s living area. Depending on your budget and the size of your house and property, this could be:
- A finished basement
- An accessory dwelling unit standing separate from your main house
- A bonus room above an attached garage
- An addition to your main house
2. Your Work Surface
Your desk is the centerpiece of your home office. It’s where you do most of your work, and organize most of the items you need on a daily basis.
Office desks come in all shapes, sizes, and configurations:
- Standard square or rectangular desks
- Corner desks designed to fit into two-sided spaces
- L-shaped desks with two intersecting rectangular spaces
- Rolling desks, usually square or rectangular
- Adjustable standing desks (vertical climb desks)
You don’t have to pay office supply store prices to procure an affordable, attractive desk that checks all your boxes. Consider:
- Making a Desk From Found Items. Take a flat door, turn it horizontally, balance one end on the top of your filing cabinet, and attach two sturdy wooden or plastic pillars of identical height at the other end. This is basically what you get from entry-level Ikea desks — why not make it yourself and save a couple hundred bucks? If you don’t have a spare door at home, ask around the neighborhood, or pick one up cheaply at an office surplus store. If you need to cut the door to fit a smaller space, borrow a bandsaw from a tool lending library.
- Buying and Fixing Up a Used Desk. Don’t feel like repurposing another piece of office furniture? Scrounge through offerings on Craigslist (the free section is ideal) and at flea markets, garage sales, and pawn shops. You might need to sand and repaint or re-stain the desk (a $20 to $40 outlay, if you have to buy new paint or stain), but it’ll still be yours for a fraction of the cost of a new desk.
- Buying an Affordable New Desk. As a last resort, visit your local office surplus store to find a cheap desk that hasn’t yet found a willing buyer. This is usually cheaper than picking up a build-your-own desk at Ikea or Office Depot. Laminate desks are usually cheaper than solid wood; you can always paint yours darker to obscure its budget-friendly origins.
3. Your Seating
If you plan to work from home full-time, you’re going to be spending hours on end sitting or standing (or both) at your desk. Ergo, your seating and/or standing configuration needs to be as ergonomic as possible. (Pun intended.)
Rare is the office worker who can stand at his or her desk for eight consecutive hours or more. Unless you’re willing to do so, you’ll need a comfortable office chair that doesn’t swell your home office design budget. Rather than buy new, consider these options:
- Commandeer an Existing Chair. The cheapest way to procure seating for your home office is to borrow a chair from yourself. Commandeering a kitchen or dining room chair costs you nothing but the calories needed to carry it between rooms. The obvious drawback here is selection — you’re stuck with what you have, even if it’s less than ideal. Most domestic chairs suitable for office use don’t roll or recline, for instance. If height is the only issue, choose a lower chair and add a pillow or two to raise your level.
- Buy A Used Chair. If you don’t have an appropriate chair on hand, check Craigslist (starting at the free section) and eBay or scan in-person options: flea markets, office furniture stores, garage and yard sales, or starters. Since they wear out fairly fast and rarely hold their style, office chairs are among the easiest furniture items to buy secondhand.
4. Your Storage & Shelving
Your workflow is only as efficient as its organization, particularly if you commingle your work and non-work lives in the same room.
A sensible, scalable organization system is neat and (mainly) clutter-free, with straightforward indexing and categorization for items that aren’t visible at a glance. Depending on your needs, your home office’s physical organization system might include:
- One or more filing cabinets with hanging folders (for instance, these multi-drawer cabinets from Office Depot Office Max, starting around $70)
- Desktop paper trays for mail and near-term projects (for instance, these metal trays from Office Depot Office Max, starting at less than $6)
- One or more shelves for reference books and bulky files (for instance, these multi-tier office bookshelves from Staples, starting at about $50)
- Stacking drawers for office supplies, such as paper clips and printer cartridges (for instance, these stackable drawers from The Container Store, starting at less than $6 per drawer)
- One or more security boxes for sensitive items, such as physical storage media with confidential client files (for instance, this First Alert waterproof fire chest from Amazon, $80)
- Plastic cups for pens and business cards ($3 to $5 for a 100-pack at your local grocery store)
Consider these options to further reduce your out of pocket costs:
- Build Your Own. You can build sturdy wooden cabinets and shelves for a fraction of the cost of new, pre-built options. Spend a few minutes searching YouTube for how-to videos, then visit your local hardware store to pick up raw materials and tips from staffers. If you don’t need a ton of shelf space, consider DIY floating shelves that hang out from your office walls — they look great and don’t attract dust.
- Purchase Used. If you don’t have the time or skill to build office storage from scratch, you’re in luck — you can buy most, though probably not all, of the items listed above secondhand. You can also find used items to repurpose — for instance, magazine racks are great for storing and categorizing loose papers. For most of these items, office surplus stores are your best bet; cabinets and shelving tends to move more slowly than desks and chairs, so real discounts are possible here. Check local demolition companies and building contractors, too; they often have extra furnishings and fixtures from houses they’re remodeling. Otherwise, check the usual sources: Craigslist, flea markets, garage sales, and so on. If you obtain wooden furniture that has seen better days, sand it down and slap on a coat of paint or stain.
- Go All-in on Containers. If your budget is really tight, or you’re worried that putting new holes in the wall will reduce your apartment security deposit refund, increase your reliance on stackable plastic storage containers. Sure, a container-based paper filing system won’t be as crisp as a cabinet-based system, but clearly labeling and neatly stacking manila folders achieves pretty much the same result. For maximum visual impact, choose multi-hued containers.
5. Your Downtime
Downtime in a home office? Yes, it’s a thing — one that could keep you at peak performance through (and beyond) regular business hours. Rather than leave your home office to take an afternoon nap in your bed or on the living room couch, why not add a comfy couch or daybed (the ever-versatile CouchBed starts at about $300, for instance) to the space?
You don’t want your home office’s leisure features to distract you from business at hand, but you do have a vested interest in increasing your home office’s appeal. Consider adding:
- A pullout couch or daybed, like the CouchBed
- A cushioned or reclining chair (for instance, this theater seating recliner from Amazon, starting at $120 or less)
- A TV or monitor that can double as one
- A video game console
- Portable or fixed speakers more powerful than your laptop or desktop audio configuration
- Books and magazines to read for pleasure
Be forewarned that adding leisure furniture and entertainment equipment to a dedicated home office space may jeopardize your eligibility for the home office tax deduction. Before you retrofit an existing office, consult IRS guidance and your tax professional.
Setting up a productive home office doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg — nor need you sacrifice an entire room of your house or apartment to the cause.
It does require forethought, though. Before you dive into your home office design project, take the time to lay out your priorities and devise a vision that lives up to your professional needs, aesthetic standards, and unique workflow. With a little creativity and a lot of elbow grease, a stunning home office is within your grasp.
Are you in the process of outfitting a home office space? What have you learned so far?