Small-space desks that don’t sacrifice style

If square footage is a luxury, these pieces put small spaces to work

August 27

Pencil Desk (West Elm/West Elm)

Is the home office doomed? Laptops allow us to work almost anywhere, paper storage has gone digital, and for a growing number of apartment-dwellers, the notion of having the square-footage for a home office is a pipe dream. Yet, for some, the ease with which we can now work from home has made a designated work space even more important.

“When I talk to customers, they often talk about wanting a special place to work in their home, even if they’re low on space,” said Lisa Scroggins, the retail market manager of Room & Board on 14th Street NW. “Because so many of us can work from home these days, it’s nice to have a little area to focus.”

Scroggins said the majority of Room & Board’s customers are urbanites living within five miles of the store. Because of that, she said, it’s virtually unheard of for shoppers to request the clunky, executive-style desks of yesteryear that would span more than 65 inches wide and weigh about 200 pounds.

“People want something thin, light, minimalist and multi-functional,” she said. “We talk a lot about the concept of ‘office anywhere,’ which means catering to people who are more mobile.”

Finding such a piece sounds easy enough, but desks can be surprisingly expensive, particularly when they come with a bunch of cabinets, drawers and shelving. The trick, Scroggins said, is to keep it simple. Think of the desk as an apartment hack: Just about any small table near an outlet will do.

Consoles are easily swapped in for desks because they’re closer to dining height than coffee tables and are often underused. Place one against the back of a sofa. If it’s high enough, tuck two stools or a bench underneath to be pulled out for seating. A vase and picture frame make for nice around-the-clock display items, so when it’s time to work, all you have to bring is your laptop.

If a table doesn’t offer enough storage, desks are still a viable and stylish option. Interior designer Lauren Liess, who is based in Great Falls, suggests looking for something “clearly desk-ish,” and placing it wherever you have space, whether it’s in the living area or by the kitchen. Hang a bulletin board with personal cards and photos nearby to make the area feel special, and accessorize the desktop with a lacquer tray to keep clutter organized. Extra points if the chair can be used for extra seating in the living or dining room, she said, and no matter what, “always finish with a great lamp.”

Different desk styles offer different benefits. Bookshelf-style desks, such as the Gallery Leaning Desk from Room & Board ($499), emphasize the ceiling and make a room appear taller. Roll-top secretary desks are master clutter concealers. West Elm’s modular Mid-Century Office Shelving ($75-$84) can be hung right onto the wall, serving as a cabinet and fold-out desk. And Sara Harter, director of visual merchandising for CB2, said not to discount desks with wheels. Mobile and adaptable, they can sit against a wall or sofa and be pulled out to use as a small dining table or buffet when company is over.

Clean lines are crucial, she added, so that the piece doesn’t visually overwhelm the room. The Intimo Secretary Desk ($399, www.cb2.com), which was designed by Jannis Ellenberger, is just 33 inches wide and has a flip-down hinge top that conceals the desktop when it’s not being used. Tucked underneath the body is a hidden shelf to stash phones and laptops.

“As paperless as we are, there always seems to be something to file and cords to hide,” Harter said. “A single drawer can be a huge help in hiding clutter.”

Of course, there’s always something to be said for thinking outside the box. Ben Homola, who co-founded the District and Baltimore furniture shop Trohv with his wife, Carmen, said there’s a widespread misconception that small spaces call for small furniture.

“It’s more about the room as a whole,” he said. “The truth is, if you can find a large, versatile piece — say, one gorgeous industrial dining table instead of a tiny table and a tiny desk — you might be better off. Sometimes, to really avoid clutter, bigger is better.”

See some of the our picks:


Intimo Secretary Desk from CB2. (CB2)


C&B's Sloane leaning desks. (C&B)

3. Modular Mid-Century office shelving from West Elm


Modular Mid-Century office shelving.

Another version of the modular Mid-Century office shelving.


Gallery leaning desk from Room and Board. (Room and Board)

Buerger is a freelance writer.

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