Winters here are cold, dark, gloomy, gloomy, and also gloomy. The room we had pegged for our office / den was on the northeast side of the house. The paint scheme included bluish charcoal walls, blue-grey window and baseboard trim, a dingy white ceiling, a tan door, and taupe baseboard heaters. Yes, that's five colors in a small room, none of which actually worked with one another. The wood floors were spotted with water stains and an add-on closet consumed more floor space than it provided in utility. Rough walls, cracked and peeling paint, and some truly hideous granny drapes finished it off. After experiencing the darkness of winter — because of our village's location in a valley, sunset in December starts before 4pm — we decided that our home office needed some serious pop to combat the gloom.
Our goals for this project
- Kill the closet. This early twentieth century add-on was in rough condition and offered little usable storage space. Removing it would free floor space for a desk.
- Fix the walls. A leaky window had resulted in window trim in need of repair, while walls full of cracks and holes needed patching.
- Integrate the ceiling. We call the ceiling "the fifth wall" — it's an opportunity for color and interest, particularly in smaller rooms that lack compelling details.
- Provide workable comfort. Yes, this would be our home office. But because we both work on laptops and like to move around through the day, it needed a variety of casual seating options.
We wanted this to feel like a lounge more than an office. While we occasionally work at a traditional desk, we're far more likely to move around through the day. Fitting a variety of seating choices into this small room required some creativity.
We started by designing a new sofa just for the room. Our Ashley sofa's modern lines and low-profile back cushions give it an understated presence, but it's the bench cushion that maximizes the usefulness of this compact 81-inch sofa. Because we have a big white dog and have been known to eat snacks on the sofa, we opted for stain-proof Sunbrella fabric. Our Atticus armchair in bold Holstein hair-on-hide sits in a sunny corner. It's positioned to offer a great view of the garden. A simple metal desk and file cabinet offer a more traditional work surface and storage space. For more storage, we used two of our Takeout Tables.
The final piece of furniture needed to be built. Chris worked off of plans from Ana White's terrific DIY blog to build a Rustic X Bookshelf. He built it on the summer's hottest day, resulting in a pretty fantastic sun burn. We painted it before dark and brought it into the room a few hours later. Fast turnaround and less than a hundred bucks in supplies — that's tough to beat.
The fifth wall
We started by removing the useless closet. Because we didn't intend on using this as a bedroom and the closet was too small to be of any other use, we opted to reclaim the square footage. This gave us enough space for a desk along with a sofa and armchair in the relatively compact room.
Our color palette would use a few tricks to enhance the space. First, we were treating the ceiling as a wall, applying Benjamin Moore's bold Peony to it. The walls, trim, and baseboard heaters would all be painted in bright white paint. Because nothing in our house is level, painting the ceiling fuchsia and the walls white would have highlighted the wavy and sloping lines of the ceiling. By dropping the ceiling color down to the upper walls, we were able to disguise this and improve the appearance of the room dramatically. The floors — which, like those in the rest of our house, were too worn to survive another refinishing — received a coat of porch paint in pale gray.
This was yet another room in our house with boring sheetrock. Our solution was to create a board-and-batten effect using inexpensive lattice strips. We established a stopping point for the white paint and created an interesting graphic line. The effect serves to visually raise the ceilings and greatly enhances the feel of the room. This technique can be done in a day and costs at most a couple hundred dollars in supplies.
Light control was a unique challenge in this room. Because it's at the north side of the house, the room can be very dark. At the same time, the morning sun does come in strong in the summer and, in winter, the bare trees don't offer any privacy from the road behind the house. We chose traditional opaque roller shades that could be opened entirely, quickly disappearing to offer an unobstructed view, while still providing light control.
Because this room would be used as an office, we knew the door could always remain open. To free up floorspace and create a cleaner look, we removed the door from its hinges. Bonus: Our hallway gets bathed in morning sunlight.
Chris' poster-sized black-and-white photographs depict one of our historic spa village's abandoned hotels (which, coincidentally, is visible from the room). Roger found fuchsia velvet pillows with chartreuse welting, combining them with a few neutral throws during winter months. We arranged the bookshelf with art books, novels, our pottery, and some adorable porcelain bunny nightlights. Oh, and a skull. No...not a real one.
We absolutely adore spending time in this room. Even during the gloom of winter, this study remains cheerful and fun. During the day, it is a functional workspace. And at night, it offers a cozy retreat for curling up and watching Netflix.
Thanks Chris and Roger! For more photos and to see how they created this fun room, check out Chris and Roger's blog post.
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