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SHELTER, BY PATRICK J HAMILTON
Remember when we thought working from home, in our pajamas (or not), never getting out of bed, would be, like, totally awesome? Yeah, about that…
Welcome to the never-ending snow-free Snow Day, sponsored in part by COVID-19. We’ve all been sent home and, for many New Yorkers, with our roommates and one-room living, that often also means “go to your room.” It’s created some problems. Fear not. We got this. Wash your hands, roll up your sleeves, and let’s get you from WTF to WFH.
A reader asks: The Hell’s Kitchen studio apartment that was once a space I just came back to sleep in has become a place to work and live, as well as crash. How can I define the areas so I don’t go stir crazy?
Patrick answers: In a small or large space, dividing up an open plan isn’t always easy. And rethinking a space you’ve lived in for a long time but you now need to use differently really isn’t easy. Trust me: I had to rethink my 485-square-foot studio apartment when a career change turned my living space into live/work space, with all the swatches, samples, and paper of my current livelihood.
The key is to consolidate, locate, and zone. When everything is scattered all around your home, you will be too.
Start by getting a little Kondo on your co-op. While I don’t agree with everything Marie Kondo, the patron pixie of decluttering, has to say, I do like her strategy of putting “like with like” as a first step, to take inventory. But as you sort and separate, instead of the Kondo categories, focus on function. And (not to sound like wall decals from Home Goods) sort your stuff into Work, Eat, Relax, Sleep categories. While Marie will tell you to put all your books together, I’d say put your work books in your Work pile, your pleasure reading in your Relax or Sleep pile, as one example.
Think of all these functions as self-contained islands in your apartment archipelago, then determine where all these things are going to happen. Ask yourself questions like: “When do I do the most work?”, “Do I read in bed every night?”, and “Do I eat at a table, or always in front of the TV, Netflix and chili?” These questions will help you determine that maybe your work space should be by the window, that the bright lamp by the sofa is best used bedside, and that the dining table should be the new normal spot for your laptop or desktop.
And ignore the floorplan your realtor showed you. There are no rules, especially now. In my studio, the floorplan suggested a dining area, but that was the best place for my bed. I then used color blocking and curtains as bed hangings to block my sight lines, so when I’m in bed, it feels like its own room – I’m not reminded that I’m only four feet away from the front door.
At all costs, plan to get as much work function away and out of view from your Sleep space.
Once you’ve consolidated your stuff, and defined your spaces based on function, how do you define the zone? My top tools are rugs, color, furniture placement, and curtains.
Corral your furniture on to that main area rug, to reinforce your seating area, or lay your hallway runner down parallel to your bed to define that transition. Get some paint up (or draped fabric, or even a favorite piece of art) to anchor, define and separate your Work and Relax zones, even if it’s just a block of color above your dining-table-turned-corner-office.
Then get moving that furniture. Smart furniture placement not only defines zones but also creates zoned sightlines. Point your Relax chair away from your workspace, or turn your sofa perpendicular to your wall so when you’re trying to wind down, staring at a stack of bills or your Post-It notes of pending deadlines isn’t winding you right back up.
If you have a niche where you do most of your work, consider closing it off with curtains. And think about storing work stuff in boxes and drawers, so even if you can’t close the door at EOD, you don’t have to see it when in-home Happy Hour starts.
Some of these ideas may seem like small things, but training your eye and mind to pick up on visual cues as you shift from function to function in your one-room home will really help sort things out.
Patrick J Hamilton is an interior designer, writer, stylist, art consultant, and activist, living and working on the northern edge of Hell’s Kitchen, in the studio Apartment Therapy named its inaugural “Smallest, Coolest Home.”
His work has been seen on HGTV, HouseBeautiful.com, TheKitchn.com, Apartment Therapy, on the pages of Traditional Home and Holiday House: Ten Years of Designing for a Cure, which he co-wrote. He’s contributed to The Bilerico Project and HuffPost Gay Voices. He spearheaded and appeared in “It Gets Better: NYC Designing Men,” a video supporting The Trevor Project, and is a founding member of Safer Spaces: Design for Gun Safety Awareness. He blogs infrequently, but thoroughly, at Ask Patrick. Insta: @patrickJhamiltondesigns
If you’d Like to Ask Patrick a question, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
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