Home & Garden

6 ideas for turning a spare closet into an office

Accommodating big brain power in small spaces

A small desk is tucked into a closet Credit: Getty Images / archigram

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When your guest bedroom is pulling double duty for remote learning and work calls, and your dining room table is running interference between Zoom time and mealtime, finding a private workspace can be necessary, but challenging. Barring a floor plan with an actual home office or a shed out back, most people need to use their living space wisely.

Enter the cloffice. Consider it the WFH super couple (albeit more successful than Brangelina). When you build an office in a closet, say hello to fold-up desks, shelving systems, hideaway chairs, and clever lighting, as you make a designated work area behind closed doors.

Carlos Coronado, lead designer at NYC-based custom-design build company Muretti, says, “We have been asked by many of our clients what is the best way to create an office space utilizing an existing closet. Finding practicality and cohesiveness in a design to maximize the usage of space is especially important.”

Here are a few ideas from experts on how to do it.

1. Size out your desk

desks
Credit: Hashtag Home / Restoration Hardware Teen

Size matters in a closet, so when it comes to selecting a desk, make sure it takes up less space.

Whether your closet is a walk-in or in the middle of a hallway, it will have limitations. Translation: size does matter.

Sescie Antin, LA-based home organizer and self-proclaimed closet whisperer, explains, “Space is always a consideration. We like to look at the teen sites like Pottery Barn Teen or Restoration Hardware Teen. These desks are smaller than traditional desks, so it won’t overpower a closet.”

But, there are other styles of desks you can find while shopping around that have smaller footprints, like a slim secretary or a floating desk that you can hang from a wall or the back of a solid door.

As your closet multi-tasks, so should your furniture in it. Especially when space is at a premium.

Editorial director of RUE Media Group, a home design and lifestyle multi-platform media company, Kelli Lamb says, “Having multi-functional pieces allows you to work without feeling cramped and cluttered.”

For WFHers with walk-in closet space, try seeking out a multifunction desk that offers surface, three drawers, two electrical outlets that you can use to plug in your laptop or lamp, and two USB ports.

2. Know where to tuck stuff

rolling cart
Credit: The Container Store

A rolling cart can hold office supplies and store files, based on your needs. Plus, it can move out of the way, easily.

Mark Cutler of Los Angeles-based Mark Cutler Design, says, “A cloffice is a space that’s doing double duty, and the way to make this successful is with a real plan about organization. This means having a designated space for everything is crucial. Without it your new room will descend into chaos very quickly.”

Cutler’s go-to organization expert is The Container Store for box collections that blend well with cloffice vibes.

Coronado suggests that adding a cabinet under the desk can allow you to better organize documents or items to keep your workspace clear. “The fewer items you have on your desk, the easier it will be for you to keep it tidy,” he says.

Diana Weinstein of Diana Weinstein Interior Design in Glen Ridge, N.J. agrees, favoring Elfa from The Container Store as a cloffice hero.

She says, “A filing cabinet or drawer system placed under the desk is important because it can feel very claustrophobic to have papers and office items lying around in a small space.”

If you’re using a built-in closet shelf as a desk (meaning you’re without drawers), Lamb argues against reaching for a basic plastic tub. “Choose a stylish storage box or bin that can hold your essentials while still adding a chic element to the space. Another option is a multi-tiered container on wheels that can be rolled into a different part of the house at the end of the work day.”

To maximize your space, Obvus Solutions' Minder Laptop Tower Stand adjusts your laptop height to up to 21 inches. Translation: You can turn any small table into a standing desk, then tuck it away when the 9-to-5 is over. When work requires two monitors, the new SideTrak Swivel attaches to your laptop and pulls out for a second screen (one that rotates 270° and swivels 360°)—no extra desk space is needed.

Keep in mind the space your chair requires and accommodate the cabinets to the chair versus the other way, Coronado warns. Find a desk chair that can be tucked under your desk.

3. Cheer up the space with bold wallpaper

wallpaper
Credit: NuWallpaper

Fun, soothing patterns can brighten and enlarge a small working space.

Fight the “walls are closing in” feeling that working in a small space can cause by choosing a fun patterned wallpaper.

Weinstein says, “Since Zoom meetings are a huge part of our days, having a visually appealing backdrop is more important than ever.”

She points to peel-and-stick wallpaper such as WallPops for big impact in a small space. She suggests wallpapering the inside of the closet, including the door, for a chic and interesting workspace. Don’t be afraid of using a bold pattern, which can actually create the illusion of a larger space.

This design technique even works for a hall closet. Cutler suggests, “If you’re doing your cloffice in a hall-style closet rather than a walk-in, add wallpaper to the back wall,” suggests Cutler. “It’ll give your workspace a lot of character and a nice pop of color.”

4. Maximize vertical space

Doors and walls are fair game when playing up storage needs.

Weinstein says, “Purchase a bulletin board, dry erase board, or cork board to hang on the door. This is a simple way to keep your office space tidy and organized.” Also consider peppering the walls with pegboard or wire baskets.

During off hours, you can even store your laptop vertically with a space-saving desktop laptop stand.

5. Lighten up the atmosphere

lighting
Credit: West Elm / Room Essentials

Since closets rarely have a source of natural light, you'll need a desk lamp or perhaps a wall sconce.

There’s a reason why monsters are closets’ number one resident. It’s dark in there. But it doesn’t have to be.

Cutler explains, “A lot of closets have no natural light, or at least very little, whereas a workspace really needs light to function.”

He suggests sconces for hall closets as they will give you both ambient (general surrounding) and task (focused) lighting, and will also keep your desk area clear for more workspace.

Coronado adds, “Under-shelf lighting will automatically brighten your space when you’re using it.” Consider LED strips that mount under shelves or along the walls. Add in a chic desk lamp, and you’ll make the space warm and inviting.

6. Add fresh air and plants

No, this isn’t the office with a window you had hoped for, but that doesn’t mean cloffice life has to be dull.

Cutler offers, “Don't forget to add some decorative accessories. A plant is always a great way to brighten up your workspace.

As greenery doesn’t flourish sans sun, reach instead for faux succulents, silk plants, or even florals like fresh-turned-faux roses, gardenia, and hydrangea that last up to a year.

Antin adds, “We also always recommend getting an air purifier. Fresh air in small spaces makes it feel larger.”

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