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

Kate Glantz lives in a cozy English basement studio in Columbia Heights. Conveniently, that’s also where she works. (Jason Hornick for Express)

Kate Glantz is making a makeshift situation work. When she left her job at the Peace Corps headquarters last summer to focus full time on the charitable wedding registry company she’d founded,, she didn’t expect to work from home for the long term. But she’s still working out of her English basement studio in Columbia Heights, sitting on her couch and using an end table as a desk.

“It’s mortifying,” she says with a laugh. “I didn’t prioritize setting up a space for working, and now I’m so overwhelmed in the day-to-day of the business that I haven’t been able to set up a proper workspace.”

But working from her apartment helps her save on overhead costs as she’s growing her company, and it’s got its perks. “I do love the flexibility of being able to do errands or work out at any hour of the day,” says Glantz, 30.

Working full time from home when you live in an apartment can be tricky. Space is usually already at a premium, so creating a work zone often requires creativity. But there are lots of renters out there finding ways to do it — and enjoying it. And it’s probably easier to do now than ever.

“Over the decade I’ve been working from home it’s become so much more possible to work in a very small amount of space, and I think the reason for that is clearly technology,” says Janel Laban, executive editor for Apartment Therapy who’s based in Chicago. Gone are the days of big, boxy computer monitors and towers that took up a lot of space — and looked unattractive.

“Now people can have one slim laptop, a cellphone and a pair of wireless headphones, and they’re pretty much set,” she says. And tools for sharing documents, like Google Docs and Dropbox, eliminate the need for piles of papers cluttering up your workspace.

Laban suggests having some kind of separation between work and non-work areas. If you don’t have room for a desk and work from your couch like Glantz or at your kitchen or dining-room table, this can be as simple as having a drawer or cabinet where you stash your laptop and other supplies after closing out the work day. “You want the spaces where you rest and relax to remain the spaces where you rest and relax,” she says.

Alex Durand, 26, is lucky enough to have a second bedroom in the condo he rents in Chinatown. He uses it as an office, where he works full time running his career-coaching company Frable Consulting. That comes in handy, since his partner is a full-time student working toward her master’s in nutrition and dietetics. She needs her own work-study area in the living room.

“It’s helped that we each have our respective spaces we can occupy, especially if we need to spread out some papers or lay out books,” Durand says. “But it took some trial and error to figure out how not to interrupt each other when we’re both home.”
To avoid that, the couple shares their school and work calendars to juggle schedules and work needs. This shows when one of them might be on a phone call or need some extra quiet time. But others who work from their apartments could have the opposite challenge: feeling isolated.

“I do feel like I’m missing that interaction with people,” Glantz says. “So I try to get out and try to swap phone calls for coffee [meetings].” And when she’s sick of staring at her four walls, she works at the Halcyon Incubator in Georgetown, which provides support for social entrepreneurs, and makes use of Cove’s community workspaces.

With nine locations around the D.C. area, Cove offers memberships that allow workers-from-home to drop in when they want to network with others, use Cove’s printers and other equipment, or just get off the couch.

It was started by Adam Segal, who had found that he didn’t exactly thrive working out of his apartment.

“I was often distracted by the allure of premium cable; that was nearly my downfall,” he says. “I found myself going to coffee shops to work, but they’re not designed for being productive; they’re designed around making a great cup of coffee.”

For folks like Glantz and Segal, a place like Cove provides the social connection you don’t get when working alone in your apartment. “I think that’s really important from a sanity, general happiness, and wellness perspective,” Segal says. “You have a sense of belonging that you wouldn’t have just sitting in a coffee shop or your living room.”

Advice from those who WFH:

Whether you’re thinking of ditching the office for home or have done that already and are struggling to make it work, here are some key pieces of advice from renters who have turned their apartments into their workplaces.

Dress the part. “For me, it’s important to get dressed for a normal day; I don’t spend the day in sweatpants,” says consultant Alex Durand. “I shower, properly dress myself, put shoes on. Those little things just put me into work mode.”

Punch the clock. “I try to be in work mode at a normal hour,” says founder Kate Glantz. “So I tend to open the laptop around 8:30 or 9. And putting on a pot of coffee is always helpful with that.”

Take a break. “I have something on my iPhone that reminds me to drink water, a little ping that goes off three times a day,” says Apartment Therapy executive editor Janel Laban. Her Apple Watch also alerts her when she hasn’t moved in a while, and when it does she spends a few minutes doing chores like laundry. “Letting some of that technology remind you not to be still for 10 hours straight really does help improve your mood.”

More about renting in D.C.:

The pros and cons of living in an apartment building frequented by college students

The key to finding a random roommate you’ll love to live with

These D.C.-area apartments help residents bond with clubs for yoga, trivia and more