The Keys to a Perfectly Styled Desk

When striving for magazine-esque neatness in our homes, it's easy to fall short. The most difficult place of all to keep picture perfect? The desk. It's a catch-all space: mail collector, word processor, and bill receiver. How can you style your desk in a practical and maintainable way?

For starters, you need a clean slate. Desks become repositories, so there are undoubtedly things hiding in your drawers and under stacks of paper that no longer need to be there. Get rid of any trinkets you don't absolutely love or don't perform a task.

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Styling is all about conveying an idea or telling a story in a confined space. What is the very essence of your work style? What do you do in your space? Once you have answered these questions, create a narrative around it.

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I love Rodellee Bas's workspace in her Adore Vintage Studio in Los Angeles for this very reason. She's got a keen eye for vintage style and her desk tells you exactly that. The desk and chair are antiques and her work serves as art. It's organized thoughtfully and it's all there for a reason. Notice how vintage mail carriers store all her mailing supplies on the bottom of the desk. Important: it's organized, so it's not distracting. To add a bit of freshness, a simple bouquet of flowers sits alongside her adorable coffee cup. Can't you just imagine her sitting down right now and getting to work?

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Are you a mom who uses her desk to help her kids with homework? Then style your desk with items like colorful pencils and a simple, attractive calculator. Are you a blogger who writes about the movies? Then use the space to convey your interest. Turn an old camera lens into a pen holder and put your favorite movie posters on nearby walls.

The creative people who work with Bree Emery of DesignLoveFest in Los Angeles use a shared workspace that mixes business with pleasure. Desktops are neatly organized while walls are canvases for more artistic distractions. A pin-board truly looks best when it's a mess, so if you have a lot of business cards and notes you'd like to hang onto - this is the way to store them. Again, greenery adds a bit of life to any space and it doesn't always have to be a bouquet. Find a small evergreen and put it in a simple pot - it will add oxygen and life and even a bit of zen on a stressful day.

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Here's a checklist so you can get started styling your desk:

  1. Get rid of junk and store only important documents.
  2. Use a pin-board for all the small details like photos, business cards and postcards.
  3. Keep frames off the desktop. Instead, hang them on the wall.
  4. Think hard about how you use the space and build around it.
  5. Only place items you need on the desktop, but have fun with how you display them.
  6. Think in odd numbers. When styling a shelf or fireplace mantle, you've probably tried to place items in sets of 3s and 5s. Same idea applies here.
  7. Choose practical accessories that match your narrative. For example, calendars with architectural photography or a stapler in your favorite color.
  8. Reuse your favorite items in new, smart ways. For example, a beautiful geode makes a great paperweight.
  9. Add a bit of life in the form of flowers or an evergreen plant.

Images: A Creative Collective in Atwater Village Space Tour, Paul's Loft-Like Ambitions Tech Tour and Rodellee Bas's Adore Vintage Studio Tour)

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Liz is a writer and filmmaker from Minneapolis. She was nominated for a Webby and won an Emmy for Science of Watchmen, a documentary short about the physics in the comic book movie. She’s a tech obsessive, verified nerd and total Anglophile.