By Jennifer Dorsey // Photographs by Ryan Jones
For author Tina Welling, it’s where household chores fade from mind and fictional characters come to life. In graphic designer Katherine Tomkinson’s case, it’s a place to create posters, web pages, books, and more as her two little boys play nearby. And for Ashley Wilkerson Moore, it’s a nighttime retreat where she can edit her photos while her eighteen-month-old toddler slumbers upstairs.
“It” is the home office, a species of interior design that comes in infinite configurations and sizes—though for real estate reasons, the Teton variety is often small. No matter the dimensions, home-based businesspeople and creative types find a way to make their spaces work.
A Homeside Study
“It’s a room I can find refuge in as well as be productive,” Welling says of her office area. “It’s a good room for daydreaming.” Welling’s room is actually outside of the home she shares with her husband, John Buhler, in Hidden Ranch. In what was once the ticket office for the National Elk Refuge sleigh rides, she has completed three novels, a writing book, and is now deep into a young adult environmental mystery. “It came with a woodstove and some cowboy counters, and I pretty much left everything as is,” Welling explains.
What she did add was a good-size desk that belonged to her father, a futon, lots of Buddhas “to invite calmness,” and rocks, bones, and other natural objects she finds inspiring. Welling also has her toys, from snowshoes and cross-country skis to a fly rod and knitting supplies. “Surround yourself with things that remind you of your best self,” is her suggestion for people who make their living at home.
It all works perfectly. Welling can lay pages on the counters and “see how they’re feeling when all spread out.” She can stretch out on the futon or gaze out one of the three windows. Perhaps best of all is that she doesn’t have to worry about dusting and tidying. “It’s a room that I never feel like I have to organize or clean or make ready for company,” Welling says.
A Common-Space Nook
Tomkinson doesn’t have that luxury. In her home, graphic design central is a desk built into a nook in the living room. “The main-floor space allows me to keep a close eye on my boys,” she explains, “but it definitely makes it harder to concentrate and take work calls when they are running around and playing.”
Fortunately, Parker, who is four and a half, and Chase, three, understand that business is business. “The boys know that mommy’s workspace is off-limits,” Tomkinson says. So although there is a cabinet of toys directly next to her desk, she claims her boys are generally pretty respectful of her space.
Tomkinson would like a more comfortable chair, seeing as she often spends fourteen hours a day at her desk, but she’s content. Her husband, Tim, of Tim Tomkinson Illustration works downstairs. “I do love it because it’s my space and no one else’s,” she says of her own nook. “I do miss the creative process of being around other designers and bouncing ideas off of each other, but I also have Tim to do that with. … And I can email my designer friends and get feedback from them. I know they will be brutally honest.”
A Dungeonesque Retreat
Moore works in the guest bedroom in the basement of the townhome where she lives with her husband, Trent, and their son, Jackson. It’s far from enticing—she jokingly calls the space her “dungeon”—but it does the job. Moore has a large desk that nicely accommodates an iMac, a Canon printer, more than a dozen hard drives, and “a big cup of coffee.” The guest bed is nifty, with a storage area under the mattress where she can stash lighting equipment, camera gear, and backdrops.
Between weddings, family portraits, kid portraits, and business shoots, Moore works with about forty thousand images a year and spends forty to fifty hours a week at her desk. She hasn’t childproofed the office for the mere fact that when she’s with Jackson she wants that time to be all about him. So that means she gets to her desk at night.
“If he’s sleeping I’ll come down and edit,” she says. “Luckily, he’s a really good sleeper.”
Moore’s advice to people who want to prettify their office is to “have wall art that you actually like.” She has taken some of her favorite wedding images and blown them up into gallery-size canvases. “There’s also a 1968 Singer sewing machine that hangs out on the desk next to me,” she adds. “It says, ‘Hey, remember those things you were going to make for Jackson before he was born?’ ”
Sometimes computer work brings on a case of cabin fever that can only be cured by a bike ride or walk. “When I get stir crazy I need to go outside,” Moore says. “My goal is to celebrate the fact that I live in Jackson Hole.”
Home Office in a Nutshell
You don’t need to tell Samantha Danahy Ludwig, owner of the professional organizing and relocation service In Place LLC, what it’s like to work in a small space. She knows.
“My office is also my husband’s closet,” Ludwig says.
Here are some of her tips for keeping things under control:
- Purge. Get rid of what you don’t use, then figure out where to put the things you need.
- Those storage baskets in the Pottery Barn catalog may be cute, but might not suit your needs. Don’t buy organizing materials until you have a plan.
- Create boundaries between your office and areas that are for your spouse and children, even if it means simply allocating a corner of the kitchen table. This can be an opportunity to teach your kids how to organize their stuff, too.
- Keep your office clean or at least in a state where it can be cleaned up in less than fifteen minutes.
- Organize files—whether paper or computer—so you can quickly find what you need. Separate “fluid” files, the ones you open frequently, from “stagnant” files, which hold business licenses, operational documents, etc. And move files you don’t need to storage.
- Do you drag your heels about starting work? Maybe your desk is too small and you feel buried by all your stuff. Get as big a desk as your space and needs will accommodate, and then make everything else fit around it.
- If you lack space for a permanent office, create a mobile workstation that you can carry to the kitchen table or somewhere else.