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How to create space for quiet when everyone is at home

Find a space in the house, such as this cozy corner designed by Pamela Harvey, to take a few minutes for yourself to refresh. (Stacy Zarin Goldberg)
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If you ask families, roommates and couples if they would like a little privacy now, the answer is likely to be a resounding yes. With stay-at-home guidelines, household members are often working or doing school assignments in the same space where people normally relax, and that can put a strain on even the best relationships. Everyone can use a place in their home where they can escape for a little bit of quiet.

We asked interior designers for ideas on ways to carve out that space to make it easier to handle the emotional stress of the covid-19 pandemic.

“Find a spot with a view,” wrote Pamela Harvey of Pamela Harvey Interiors in an email. “A breakfast nook or kitchen island might be an ideal spot to sneak away while still keeping an eye on the family. If it has a view, even better. Deep breaths and a chance to sit down for a minute go a long way.”

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Creative ideas for designing privacy

Most people don’t have extra rooms to designate for meditation or reading, but sometimes a little rearranging of furniture or an online order of an inexpensive item can help create the illusion of separation.

“A bookcase or shelving system on wheels can create a movable privacy option and can be a practical solution for storage,” wrote Gabriela Gargano of Grisoro Designs in New York City in an email.

If you don’t own a system on wheels, you may want to temporarily move an existing bookcase or table to create a division of space.

Finding that personal space is particularly difficult in a small apartment. Tyler Hill, co-owner of Mitchell Hill Interiors in Charleston, S.C., owns a 1,000-square-foot apartment.

“I think one thing that could really help is roping off a section of a room and reserving it for a small home office,” Hill wrote in an email. “Preferably this needs to be away from the television and any other distractions. If you have a foldable decorative screen, this can greatly help to divide the space and make it feel like you are in your own quiet cocoon.”

Susan Jamieson, founder of Bridget Beari Designs and Bridget Beari Home Store in Richmond, recommends expandable spring tension curtain rods for temporary privacy that can be ordered online.

“They come in a variety of sizes, are easy to install and won’t damage walls,” she wrote in an email. “Mount them in the doorway of your dining room and drape with sheets or fabric that you already have. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on interim solutions. When the fabric is pulled closed, it means private time is in session.”

Jamieson also suggests turning a walk-in closet into a hidden haven.

“I have a small desk set up in mine that works as a quiet place to sketch, read and write,” she wrote. “If you don’t have a demure desk, look around your home and see what could [do] double-duty. Perhaps a folding game table or smaller console. Bring in a tiny table lamp and pull up a chair. What’s more, you may be inspired to declutter your closet and when we’re all out and about again, donate those items to Dress for Success or Goodwill. Or just roll out your yoga mat and take a nap in there.”

Sometimes a quiet space can be as simple as an extra table and chair in the garage or a chair in your living room or bedroom, wrote Gargano.

“The important part is to have the seating face away from the rest of the room,” she wrote. “This is a simple way for you to signal you're taking some personal time. While this space doesn't offer the privacy of a separate room, it can help create a visual cue that you're not to be disturbed unless truly needed.”

Workarounds for working at home

Although a home office with a door is better than having to work with others nearby in the kitchen, Harvey suggests that switching work sites can be a way to find some privacy and a new perspective under any circumstances.

“Think about finding another spot or two to camp out for an hour or so,” wrote Harvey. “Moving around, especially if you can look outside during the sunnier days or even better, go out on a porch, might bring some energy to your day.”

Chad James, founder of the Chad James Group of interior designers in Nashville, wrote that it took him three attempts to decide where he could be productive in his home.

“Only [when] I realized that sunlight was a necessity did I find my spot,” he wrote in an email. “I suggest finding a spot out of the traffic zone of your home. It’s just not fair to expect other family members to conform to a working office at the kitchen island. ... Spare yourself and your hubby or honey the stress that this will inevitably cause.”

A designated quiet zone for video calls is a necessity for many people working at home.

“The room should be well-lit, decorated with a clean background and perhaps a few accents such as art or a plant, but be kept professional and very tidy,” wrote Gargano. “I recommend a shared calendar for the use of this space. While the primary need is likely for video calls, it can also be used for those needing a quiet room to do homework, personal conversations, meditation or anything that requires true solitude. Adding a door tag or sign when in use is key to avoid interruptions.”

A little ingenuity can help make everyone more physically and mentally comfortable while keeping safe at home.

Read more:

Everything you need to know to set up a home office fast

How to actually do this remote-learning thing while also working from home

How to make it work when your apartment is also your office