Building the Perfect Freelance Office

on January 19, 2012 in Work at Home Parents, Working From Home
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The environment I’m in influences the quality of my work, or at the very least how I feel about the work. For example, I can’t write in bed. I can’t sit with a laptop in bed and expect to create great things. I’d rather just sleep so long as I’m there.

I need a real office space where I feel empowered and professional in order to run my business effectively.  For years I’ve struggled to find the place in my home where was going to create this perfect office set-up.

Freelancing with Family

Over the years I’ve tried any number of set-ups to make this writing career work with my growing family. I started in a shared office with my husband. When my first son was born we moved the two computers into another bedroom. Then my second son was born and we got kicked out of that room, too. We then had two home businesses running out of our bedroom. Naturally we were on different schedules and his music drove me absolutely nuts when I did pretend to sleep with two toddlers in the house.

When we moved, we swore up and down that we would need two distinct working spaces along with the three bedrooms. Naturally, when we arrived in the new house there was a master bedroom, a bedroom for each boy and a small office for my husband who was, at the time, working exclusively at home. Mom, ever the flexible one, got to set up a folding table in the bedroom and pretend it was an office – again.

Settling In

I’ve now been in my house for three years and I’ve had offices in four spots. I worked next to the bed in the master bedroom. I worked in the corner of the master bedroom when we bought new furniture. I worked in the corner of the dining room for a time and briefly, as I was laying hardwood in this room, I worked in the middle of the foyer. But now, the end is very close indeed. I’m going to have the perfect office just as soon as I finish building it.

After staring at a dining room that went almost completely unused, I sold the nicest piece of furniture in my house and cleared out the forsaken dining space. I moved my folding table in and called it my library.

I’m now in the perfect mom spot. I’m literally in the center of the house – I can hear my kids playing above me. I can keep an ear on anything in the oven, and I can stop by and check in on my computer any time I walk through the room.

Making the Perfect Freelancing Office

At this point, it’s just a matter of creating the perfect library setting in my 144 square feet of dining room space. I started with the wood flooring. For about a year I had an old folding table on a new hardwood floor.

Then I moved in an antique secretary I grabbed on Craigslist to dress up the corner. I added some valences to the tall windows along the wall and picked up an excellent chair from Pier One for Christmas thanks to my husband.

My grandmother’s antique marble coffee table makes an excellent end table and the round pedestal table and antique chairs I scored off Craigslist have been refinished and are a great spot for the boys to work on book reports and color (or play Legos) while Mom does a bit of work. In a pinch they can also be used for family meals.

After two years of planning and adding bits and pieces to the dream office, I’m finally on the last big project. I’m creating a wall of built-ins including my desk. The bookshelves have been in place since December. They span a twelve foot wall with space at one end to give headroom over the desk, or rather where the desk will go. My tired, old folding table is sitting there now, holding the spot where I’ll be installing the base cabinets and then the countertop that will serve as the top of the desk.

I am, as I write this, admiring the perfect set-up that is almost complete. I have about three hundred books at my finger tips. I have soft throw pillows and blankets waiting on my chair behind me for the chances I’ll have to read one of those books. My walls are a rich merlot and my floor is oak.

It might have taken me six years, but the home library set-up I’ve dreamed of is finally within reach. It’s a heady experience. The toughest part will probably be letting go of this old table – we’ve been through a lot together after all, and these are our final months together.

It will be a bittersweet moment when the project is complete.

Are you in your ideal working environment?

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13 Comments

  1. Jennifer Mattern January 19, 2012 Reply

    This is such a timely post for me Rebecca.

    As you know, I recently moved as well. I’m fortunate in that my fiance and I don’t have to share office space. I have the office downstairs and he has a spare bedroom for his. My office is far from my ideal place at the moment, but that’s a project for another time. I have the basic setup I want. It’s really more aesthetics that I’ll want to change.

    Like you, I had to have a lot of room for books. I plan to put in built-ins down the road, but for now bookcases are working just fine. (You should have seen my fiance’s face when I casually mentioned that I can’t wait to take a sledgehammer to these walls to set in my shelves. I’m a DIY-er. He’s not so much.)

    I have that “real office” feel which I love (and need). My biggest thing was that the room had to have a door so I could shut the world out. There’s a study that we’re converting into a library. It already has some nice built-ins and would have usually made a great office. But there’s no door, and the area doesn’t really lend itself well to adding one. I couldn’t work like that. I’m completely envious of writers like you who can work from the hub of the home or make any space work when you need to.

    I broke up my office space into three work zones. I have my old L-desk which I love. That’s where most of my writing happens. I have a makeshift standing desk that’s much better than my old standing solution. It’s great when I need a change of pace. And I have a big puffy chair and ottoman. Like you, I can’t write from bed. But if I’m going to work on a long project like a manuscript, I do like to be a bit more comfortable and get out of my typical work mindset at my desk. That area is for those projects.

    So no, it’s not my “ideal” work space (yet). I’m a big fan of antiques like you seem to be. And eventually I’ll swap out what I have for that cozier feel. But I have the layout and functionality I want, and while I’m still figuring out my post-move productivity plan, having the right office helps a lot.

  2. Damaria Senne January 19, 2012 Reply

    My office space is OK, though it still needs some work. I have a bookshelf, a built in cupboard where I store my files, a large desk where I usually work on my main computer and laptop and a small table with another computer on it. I also painted a chalkboard wall, which is where I scribble my plans/objectives for the week. I’d love to have an empty table, where I can just sit and write by longhand or spread out my papers to read or look at artwork. I’m also not using the shelves well and need to clear them out, give them a paint job and then organise them to suit my work requirements better.

    • Jennifer Mattern January 19, 2012 Reply

      I’ve seen that chalkboard paint. And I’ve considered using the similar whiteboard paint in my office. My concern with either is that the paint might be too thick or textured to paint over it easily later if I decide to move things around (which I most certainly will). Having it up, do you think that would be an issue? Or does it seem like typical primer and paint would cover it like any other paint job?

      • Author
        Rebecca Garland January 21, 2012 Reply

        I have used chalkboard paint in both of my boy’s rooms and I’ve used it to create a chalkboard on the back of the panty door. (I’m a total DIY kind of girl). It’s a great deal like dark gray or black wall paint. A layer or two of primer and it fades away when you’re ready to paint over it.

    • Author
      Rebecca Garland January 21, 2012 Reply

      I do like the antiques in here – especially since they remind me of my grandmother who passed this year. If I didn’t have to keep an ear on the house and my little men all the time I’d love a room with a door. As it is, I still write at night when they are sleeping, I never turn the music up very loud and I listen constantly. I’ll probably have an anxiety attack the day they leave for college and I have total adult freedoms again!

      The big thing I’m missing now is my actual desk. I’m doing a 12 foot wall of built-ins and I need to go get the cabinets, install them and arrange the work surface (not sure if I’m doing granite or wood yet) so that I can finish this room out. After 7+ years on a 6 foot folding table, I’ll finally have a “real” home. Maybe I’ll include pictures with an updated post when I finally have it all ready and brag-worthy. :)

      • Jennifer Mattern January 21, 2012 Reply

        I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother.

        I’m glad you’ll finally have your ideal workspace set up. I hope it’s finished up soon. And absolutely share the pics here. I’d love to see how it turns out. :)

  3. Jake P January 19, 2012 Reply

    Count me in as another recent move, swapping my old office for my son’s bedroom. He’s doing crappy in school, so we downsized him and moved him adjacent to our master bedroom.

    For me, flooring is psychologically important, so I ripped out the carpet and installed some dark, wide-plank hardwood floors. I also painted, and will be totally done once I finish up the trim this weekend.

    The new room is 20% bigger, so I have a much more substantial bookshelf, which makes me happy as well as being practical. My desk is the same one I’ve had for more than a decade–an old, battle-worn architect’s drafting table that my wife bought for $25 at a yardsale. It’s got the surface area of an aircraft carrier, with the additional benefit that there’s no bulk underneath it, so I can stretch out.

    • Jennifer Mattern January 19, 2012 Reply

      I’m with you on the carpet. I can’t stand carpet in an office. But the seller here put in all new carpets before closing, so we’ve opted not to rip them up yet. Instead we’ll keep them a while and not worry about destroying them with other reno work and then we’ll do hardwood throughout the downstairs. None of our rooms work well with w2w carpet.

      I like the idea of a drafting table for a desk! Like you, I’m stuck on an old one. I got it cheap a long time ago during some back to school sale at a big box store. I’ve had to reinforce it after the last two moves — wasn’t cut out for moving. You’d have to pry it from my cold dead hands. I can’t find a good substitute anywhere. It’s as if desks have gotten smaller over the years, and I need my space.

  4. Lori January 20, 2012 Reply

    Totally with you on this, Rebecca. I have a dedicated office. It’s great to know that my stuff is there in some orderly fashion ready for me to dig in. I’m not nuts about one aspect of it – this massive metal file cabinet to my right – but I’ve managed a way to make it look more appealing and functional instead of the metal eyesore it really is.

    Wood floors. Couldn’t do carpet in here. It would drive me nuts.

    Last year I bought my oak desk, and I swear I get more done at this desk than I did at that nasty thing I had before it!

  5. Tamar Cloyd January 20, 2012 Reply

    Love this!! I struggle with the same issues. I don’t mind working from the kitchen table or bedroom though. I often put on my headphones when there’s too much noise and the music is sufficient to keep my creative juices flowing :)

    I am looking forward to the day when we get a house where I can have my own “legit” office. Oh the options for decorating! But, I digress. I’ve been freelancing full-time for almost two years now so baby steps and patience are needed until that time comes….

  6. Allena January 22, 2012 Reply

    We have an office with a “library” type table (high table) that has three seating areas. We use two- mine and the husb’s. The third space is kept clear for editing printed (large) galleys, or other things that need a “spread out” space. This set up also works well for clients to visit- they can set up their laptop in that space. I have a futon in the office for reading, too.

    • Jennifer Mattern January 23, 2012 Reply

      I like that you thought to have that “spread out” space ready and waiting when you need it. That’s the one thing I’ll need where I have to shuffle things around. I don’t feel like I have a great manuscript editing process in place yet. Other than allowing more room to spread out, any tips for the home office environment that would make the process easier or more comfortable?

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