How To Avoid The 5 Worst Home Office Design Mistakes
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How To Avoid The 5 Worst Home Office Design Mistakes

We asked designers and architects for the inspiration-crushing gaffes they see in residential workspaces, and what to do instead. Plus: the most egregious home-office setups they’ve witnessed.

By Rachel Wolfe
Tue, Feb 23, 2021 4:20amGrey Clock 3 min

FOR A YEAR now we’ve all been getting copious advice on how to make our remote workspaces worthy of our toil. Why then, incredulous designers want to know, are they still seeing people’s unmade beds during video calls?

“Professionals should exude professionalism,” said New York designer Vicente Wolf, who’s seen home offices cheapened by obviously plastic floral arrangements. “Keep the space clean and tidy. Straighten pictures, edit your bookcase. Take the time to see your background as it is conveyed by your computer’s eye.”

Here, interiors pros share five other home office blunders they’ve observed, and what to do instead.

Dead-end Desks

The quickest way to make your office feel like a college dorm room? Shove an undersized desk against a windowless wall, warned Dallas architect Eddie Maestri. “Nothing looks more sad and depressing.”

Instead: “What you see affects your mood and increases your work performance,” said Mr Maestri. If a real vista isn’t available, he positions the desk so its occupant has an expansive view of the room.

Cable Mayhem

Leave webs to the spiders. “I hate when tangled cords dangle from the desk in plain sight,” said Dallas designer Traci Connell.

Instead: If you have scope to place your desk against the back of a sofa or love seat, suggests Mark Lavender, an interior designer in Winnetka, Ill., “cords can then run behind the sofa, and the desk lamp pulls double duty as a sofa light.” Ms Connell channels cords through grommet holes she has drilled into desktops. Adapting the same idea, New York architect Eric J. Smith outfits a drawer or cabinet with a power strip and cables for an out-of-site charging station. Mr Maestri suggests this hack: “Connect all your cords to one power strip, then place the power strip and additional cord lengths in a small wastebasket under your desk.”

Workplace Drift

If you can’t shut the door on a dedicated workplace come day’s end, your “office” confronts you until bedtime, with files and monitors leering at you while you try to relax. Uncontained professional detritus compromises the life part of the life-work balance.

Instead: “It’s important to retain the other functions of the room,” said Mr Smith. Los Angeles designer Anne Carr’s stern advice: Order a cabinet, “preferably one with doors that close.” A bookcase with bins or baskets, she noted, can also hide essential but essentially ugly gear. Another option: a small, wheeled filing cabinet that can be pulled out during the day for extra desk space and tucked under a simple desk after hours, said Jerry Caldari of New York’s Bromley Caldari Architects. An inherently beautiful desk itself can pass for a civilized member of the family. Veronica Mishaan, a designer with offices in Bogotá, Colombia, and New York, chooses secretaries, whose surfaces fold up, or small, delicately curved desks. Both blend into a room without screaming “workspace,” she said.

Aping the Actual Office

“You don’t need an ordinary black faux-leather chair—or one that looks like your kid’s gaming chair—pulled up to a clunky wooden desk to make you feel that you’re ‘working’ from home,” said Spencer Bass, creative director for office furniture retailer Label 180.

Instead: While the ideal work chair is still ergonomic, you can de-corporate the rest of your space. Chairish co-founder Anna Brockway suggests swapping utilitarian task lamps for ceramic varieties with contrasting colour shades—a magnolia-green lamp and cornflower-blue shade, for example. Hang artwork that inspires you, “and don’t forget about desktop accessories like vases with fresh flowers and beautiful vessels to hold your paper clips,” she said.

Permeable Portals

Pocket doors and sliding barn doors leave gaps that let the voices of remote-learners and WFH mates bounce right through.

Instead: Get a real door! Swinging solid ones are Brooklyn designer Adam Meshberg’s first choice, “not only for your privacy, but for the rest of the [household which] likely doesn’t care much about your conversations.” If natural light is a concern, he said, frosted glass doors let sunshine through but not the gaze of curious kids. Mr Meshberg also finds virtue in hardware that locks to let the “Zoom calls we’re all constantly on” unfold uninterrupted.

DESK SCARES / The worst WFH setups pros have seen

“A home office situated inside the walk-in closet…with the clothes hanging all over the work area.” —Vicente Wolf, designer, New York City

“I designed a home for a family that bought two used cubicles and put them in their formal living room. It was quite the negotiation to get them to sell the desks and start fresh.” —Kiel Wuellner, vice president of design at Vesta

“I had a client who was a big-game hunter and wanted me to make the legs of one of his safari animals into desk legs. I had to take a hard pass on this job.” —Chris Goddard, designer, Springdale, Ark.

“A urinal in the room! Can you imagine?” —Elizabeth Krueger, designer, Chicago

“An office that was covered floor to ceiling in white boards with words and tasks listed in tiny handwriting everywhere. It’s instant overwhelm.” —Christina Kim, designer, Manasquan, N.J.



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Is ‘Rizz’ the Secret to Getting Ahead at Work?

Whether you call it charisma, charm or magnetism, some people seem like naturals. Good news: It can be learned.

By Rachel Feintzeig
Mon, Jul 22, 2024 4 min

Great leaders have it. Gen Z has a new word for it. Can the rest of us learn it?

Charisma—or rizz , as current teenage slang has anointed it—can feel like an ephemeral gift some are just born with. The chosen among us network and chitchat, exuding warmth as they effortlessly hold court. Then there’s everyone else, agonising over exclamation points in email drafts and internally replaying that joke they made in the meeting, wondering if it hit.

“Well, this is awkward,” Mike Rizzo, the head of a community for marketing operations professionals, says of rizz being crowned 2023 word of the year by the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s so close to his last name, but so far from how he sees himself. He sometimes gets sweaty palms before hosting webinars.

Who could blame us for obsessing over charisma, or lack thereof? It can lubricate social interactions, win us friends, and score promotions . It’s also possible to cultivate, assures Charles Duhigg, the author of a book about people he dubs super communicators.

At its heart, charisma isn’t about some grand performance. It’s a state we elicit in other people, Duhigg says. It’s about fostering connection and making our conversation partners feel they’re the charming—or interesting or funny—ones.

The key is to ask deeper, though not prying, questions that invite meaningful and revealing responses, Duhigg says. And match the other person’s vibes. Maybe they want to talk about emotions, the joy they felt watching their kid graduate from high school last weekend. Or maybe they’re just after straight-up logistics and want you to quickly tell them exactly how the team is going to turn around that presentation by tomorrow.

You might be hired into a company for your skill set, Duhigg says, but your ability to communicate and earn people’s trust propels you up the ladder: “That is leadership.”

Approachable and relatable

In reporting this column, I was surprised to hear many executives and professionals I find breezily confident and pleasantly chatty confess it wasn’t something that came naturally. They had to work on it.

Dave MacLennan , who served as chief executive of agricultural giant Cargill for nearly a decade, started by leaning into a nickname: DMac, first bestowed upon him in a C-suite meeting where half the executives were named Dave.

He liked the informality of it. The further he ascended up the corporate hierarchy, the more he strove to be approachable and relatable.

Employees “need a reason to follow you,” he says. “One of the reasons they’re going to follow you is that they feel they know you.”

He makes a point to remember the details and dates of people’s lives, such as colleagues’ birthdays. After making his acquaintance, in a meeting years ago at The Wall Street Journal’s offices, I was shocked to receive an email from his address months later. Subject line: You , a heading so compelling I still recall it. He went on to say he remembered I was due with my first child any day now and just wanted to say good luck.

“So many people say, ‘Oh, I don’t have a good memory for that,’” he says. Prioritise remembering, making notes on your phone if you need, he says.

Now a board member and an executive coach, MacLennan sent hundreds of handwritten notes during his tenure. He’d reach out to midlevel managers who’d just gotten a promotion, or engineers who showed him around meat-processing plants. He’d pen words of thanks or congratulations. And he’d address the envelopes himself.

“Your handwriting is a very personal thing about you,” he says. “Think about it. Twenty seconds. It makes such an impact.”

Everyone’s important

Doling out your charm selectively will backfire, says Carla Harris , a Morgan Stanley executive. She chats up the woman cleaning the office, the receptionist at her doctor’s, the guy waiting alongside her for the elevator.

“Don’t be confused,” she tells young bankers. Executive assistants are often the most powerful people in the building, and you never know how someone can help—or hurt—you down the line.

Harris once spent a year mentoring a junior worker in another department, not expecting anything in return. One day, Harris randomly mentioned she faced an uphill battle in meeting with a new client. Oh!, the 24-year-old said. Turns out, the client was her friend. She made the call right there, setting up Harris for a work win.

In the office, stop staring at your phone, Harris advises, and notice the people around you. Ask for their names. Push yourself to start a conversation with three random people every day.

Charisma for introverts

You can’t will yourself to be a bubbly extrovert, but you can find your own brand of charisma, says Vanessa Van Edwards, a communications trainer and author of a book about charismatic communication.

For introverted clients, she recommends using nonverbal cues. A slow triple nod shows people you’re listening. Placing your hands in the steeple position, together and facing up, denotes that you’re calm and present.

Try coming up with one question you’re known for. Not a canned, hokey ice-breaker, but something casual and simple that reflects your actual interests. One of her clients, a bookish executive struggling with uncomfortable, halting starts to his meetings, began kicking things off by asking “Reading anything good?”

Embracing your stumbles

Charisma starts with confidence. It’s not that captivating people don’t occasionally mispronounce a word or spill their coffee, says Henna Pryor, who wrote a book about embracing awkwardness at work. They just have a faster comeback rate than the rest of us. They call out the stumble instead of trying to hide it, make a small joke, and move on.

Being perfectly polished all the time is not only exhausting, it’s impossible. We know this, which is why appearing flawless can come off as fake. We like people who seem human, Pryor says.

Our most admired colleagues are often the ones who are good at their jobs and can laugh at themselves too, who occasionally trip or flub just like us.

“It creates this little moment of warmth,” she says, “that we actually find almost like a relief.”

MOST POPULAR
11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

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Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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