How to Set Up a Home Office in a Small Apartment
Need ideas for a small cozy home office? Here's our best tips for creating a home office in a living room, or how to make a home office in a small space, small room or small apartment.
You’re probably scrambling to set up a home office, or at least, a peaceful and inspiring place in your home where you can work. Whether you have a new remote job, a job that ‘went remote’ or are looking for a remote job, you’re at the right place!
Your home office should be more than a spot on the couch where your WiFi is strong. Maybe you’re going to try to emulate coworking space vibes or simply try to forget you’re stuck in your studio apartment with your plants, or with your significant other.
A home office should be conducive to getting work done and should be a place where you feel inspired, focused and motivated.
This is much easier said than done, as you may have never in a thousands years pictured that you may need to set up a desk in your living room, or carve out a corner of your bedroom to be a workspace, in order to work from home.
Work is changing all the time, as is what companies need and what companies want. What you need and what you want is also changing all the time too, which is why adapting is such a great skill.
Adapt to the remote work world with some of these helpful remote work apps and websites in this guide.
I never in a million years saw myself as the type of person who’d wind up working from home. I started working remotely while traveling, and it was a bit different because I hardly had to set anything up.
These days, I do have a spot on the couch (it’s my after-hours spot), but I also have a designated seat at my dining table that has proper workspiration elements. I make sure to follow all the rules of sharing an office space with my partner, Dan, when we’re working from home at the same time.
How hard is it to set up a home office, especially in an apartment?
That probably depends on who you ask. For anyone who has a vision for this, the answer is: “easy.”
If you reside in one bedroom of a four-bedroom Manhattan or San Francisco apartment and live with a revolving door of roommates, the answer might be: “a dab more challenging.”
So, how can you set up a home office that’s both comfortable and conducive to a productive schedule?
The key is in your products and your home office setup.
Our favorite products for setting up a small home office
If you think you can sit down at your dining room table with your laptop and charger and you’ll be ready to go, you could be doing yourself a favor by working from home in a much more comfortable way.
As a home office should be a place where you feel both focused and motivated, consider that a few more handy items make the journey much more comfortable.
Get a laptop stand to create a work setup you’re used to.
We use the adjustable and portable Roost Laptop Stand Affiliate link as our work-from-home favorite. It’s fully collapsible, has a universal fit for all MacBook and PC models and finally, can give you a ‘lift’ between 6 and 12 inches. We leave the stand at our shared desk and rotate in a few different laptops depending who is sitting at the desk. For times when we want to tear down our work area, the stand folds down very small! The folded down size is perfect for travel, by the way. A less expensive alternative to the Roost Laptop Stand is the Nexstand Affiliate link.
This laptop stand is great for people who don’t want to crane their neck too far down or up, depending on the height of the surface at which you’re set up. We love it.
Find a wireless mouse you actually want to use.
Personally, I’m a fan of wireless mouses. I traveled for four months with Remote Year, and during this time of moving from city to city as a digital nomad remote worker, a travel-size wireless mouse Affiliate link was part of my remote work tool kit, so to speak.
For working from home, we recommend the Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse Affiliate link. This one’s not as travel-sized as my small palm-sized Logitech mouse Affiliate link, but it’s good to have at home where you don’t have to move around constantly like during travel. We also recommend Apple’s Magic Mouse Affiliate link or Magic Trackpad Affiliate link as well.
If you want to use the MX Master with two computers, use a USB Unifying Receiver Affiliate link with a USB hub. The mouse will work with both computers with no bluetooth required. Dan uses this method to use the same mouse with both of his laptops.
The Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse has a comfortable contoured shape for your hand so that you don’t get cramps. It also has a speed-adaptive scroll wheel and a unique thumb wheel in its build. Lastly, you can use it for cross-computer control, navigating on up to three monitors.
Buy a wireless keyboard that makes typing feel great.
We like the Apple Magic Keyboard Affiliate link. It’s great for us when we travel and it’s convenient for our home office. We can easily stash it away when we’re not using it. It’s a Bluetooth rechargeable keyboard and it lets you type quietly. It’s a lot like a laptop keyboard in that it takes up hardly any space.
Dan alternates between the one above and the Anne Pro 2 keyboard Affiliate link, which has 8 hours of wireless usage and has ‘tall keys,’ which is good for you if that’s your preference. He usually leaves it plugged in, though. The Anne Pro 2 is great because it’s highly customizable. It’s perfect for storing away when you’re not using it, or bringing it back and forth to an office.
Pick a desk or writing table that’s an appropriate height for you.
We mentioned in our article about how to start working from home that your designated office room or area will determine how big of a desk you can get.
If you’re not happy with your kitchen counter or dining room table as your home office desk, check out a writing table like this minimalist white work desk Affiliate link we got a similar one recently. It fits well in a corner of our living room, and when it’s not a desk, it’s where our plants live.
Choose an ergonomic chair that won’t give you back pain.
The amount of space you have, and the desk or table you’re using, will determine what kind of chair you can get.
For a chair with wheels, we like something like this simple desk chair with wheels Affiliate link and if you’re feeling more wild and want to lose the wheels, we considered getting this patterned chair Affiliate link for home office use.
If you have the budget and are looking to make an investment, consider a Herman Miller Affiliate link. It’s one of the best chairs that you can buy, but it’s very expensive. We’ll often hunt around Craigslist or Facebook MarketPlace for one – but have no no success yet!
Make sure that your chair:
- is the right size for you (if you’re very tall, or short, for example, then do some research)
- is padded, rather than plastic or wood, for comfort during an entire workday
- has wheels, if you’re used to this from your ‘real office’
- fits with your room aesthetic
- fits under the desk surface when it’s pushed in, or else it may cause space issues
Our friend Sara studied ergonomics, and has some additional tips to add about your home office chair.
- Keep your legs at a 90-degree angle.
- Lumbar support (spine alignment) is the most important thing to keep in mind. Your back shouldn’t be twisted or feel uneven.
- You need ergonomic arm rests Affiliate link; even if you’re using a laptop, stack up some books to bring the laptop to eye level (or use the Roost Affiliate link).
Order noise-cancelling headphones to block out noise and focus.
Dan uses his Sony Bluetooth wireless noise-cancelling headphones Affiliate link to take meetings while I’m in the room, in order to keep distractions for me to a minimum. So thoughtful! He loves these headphones to get into a deep work focus.
When we’re on the road, those headphones are one of his favorite travel things to pack because they drown out noise when we’re on a plane, train or bus. Crucial.
When we’re working from home as a couple, Dan will use his noise-cancelling headphones to block out my voice, if I’m the one on a phone call.
Opt for a second monitor or iPad.
Dan found a way to start using an iPad Affiliate link as a second monitor so that he can work from home with a two-monitor set-up. Having two monitors may be something you’re used to at work. It may be a set-up that you need to recreate at home in order to feel efficient.
Set up your iPad monitor with this small and simple iPad holder Affiliate link that barely takes up any space. It’s also travel-sized.
If you use an iPad as a second monitor, guess what: you can use it as an iPad later, or within the same day! After Dan’s work is done, we “watch TV” on the iPad (but really, we’re watching Bon Appetit cooking shows on YouTube).
Treat yourself to a strong mini Bluetooth speaker.
Our pick is the JBL FLIP Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker Affiliate link and we like it because it charges quickly and it’s small enough to sit on a table, ottoman or counter-top. We found that it has some of the best audio quality from other speakers that we’ve tried in the past.
It has sound that fills our apartment, so when we’re working from home (or entertaining friends), we put on some jazz or salsa (have you ever tried ‘working to salsa’? It’s the best) and it sounds great.
Consider a place mat or laptop case to keep your laptop from sliding.
We use a few gray place mats Affiliate link, which are durable and perfect to use as surface cover in an office. They also double as our eating placemats!
I also tend to use a laptop case as a soft base for my laptop. This felt laptop sleeve Affiliate link we recommend is compatible for 13’’ MacBook and PC laptops, like my Dell XPS 13’ Affiliate link’. It’s made of felt, so it’s soft and the gray color matches mostly anything. When it’s not being used on a table, I use this case for transporting my laptop to cafes or other places that I am working from.
Bonus things to have at home for working from home
While these items are not as crucial as the ones above (which are more like hardware), the secondary items below are based on preference, taste and how you function as someone who now works from home.
Your coffee toy of choice
An array of teas in your cabinet
Pretend your home office is a coworking space, and have a set of teas to choose from in your cabinet. We like Twinings teas and Yogi teas Affiliate link, which come in an array of delicious unique flavors.
A cute succulent or plant in your space
Having a living being (plants are alive!) in your space reminds you that an office doesn’t have to be stale.
If your home office is a guest bedroom that hasn’t been decorated yet, or a small room with a narrow window, having a plant nearby will clear your head.
Try a cute and green succulent family Affiliate link to add to your office space.
A SodaStream for seltzer all day long
Dan will tell you that he can’t function without his SodaStream Sparkling Water Maker Affiliate link, because it’s how he stays hydrated throughout the work day when working from home.
Consider that every time you use your SodaStream and make a liter of seltzer, you’re saving a plastic bottle! It’s one of our favorite ways to lead a sustainable lifestyle.
A mug that you love
We have a few simple minimalist white mugs Affiliate link that we like, as they all came from a set. We also have a few wildcard mugs like a massive one from my parents’ house, and a vintage ZABAR’s mug that’s pretty cool.
Make sure your mug is one that you like looking at!
Avoid using disposable cups or goods in your home office. It’ll make you feel wasteful and less comfortable than using a ceramic mug or glass mason jar. Using reusable and durable goods is a way we like to form sustainable habits during travel and while at home.
Extension cords that don’t tangle
It probably goes without saying what these do for you, but if you’re taking up real estate in a new part of your house or a new space in your living room, making sure that your laptop charger and all your ports are connected is a big plus!
Dan talks more about his favorite electronic devices for connectivity in his remote work packing guide. Check it out for additional ideas of USB hubs, international adapters and batteries.
A desk-riser for creating a standing desk setup
What’s a desk-riser? Well, it’s a great alternative to a standing desk, because you can use it with a regular desk.
We recommend this adjustable desk-riser Affiliate link, which is affordable and will fit your laptop and an external monitor very comfortably.
You can even get mini desk risers Affiliate link just for a laptop if you don’t work with any external monitors.
Why work while standing? Well, working while standing allows you to stretch your back and not get locked into a single sitting posture. You can even do stretching while you’re in a phone call, or squats!
Soft lighting options like lamps
Maybe you like working under fluorescent lights, but… we don’t. By default, we set our home vibe with soft lamps, and we have three in our living room (which doubles as our office for now).
Depending on how much floor space you have, you might opt for a floor lamp, and depending on how many shelf surfaces you have, you might want a lamp that sits on a surface with no tube.
We like minimalist lamps that don’t distract from the workspace itself. Check out this simple and chic metal desk lamp Affiliate link.
Curtains or blinds for shading your space
Maybe you’ve never sat at your dining room table for an 8 or 9-hour work day and maybe you never noticed that at 3 pm, the sun shines through so brightly that you need sunglasses to look at your email.
Consider getting curtains or blinds, if your windows are lacking. While this can be overwhelming, because it basically brings you back to the days you moved in and had all these decisions to make, something white and simple will do the trick.
A small candle or two for cozy vibes
Guess what – you work from home, so you call the shots!
If the sun is setting early at 4 pm during winter (I see you, New Yorkers and New Englanders, and all of Canada!), light a small candle near your desk (away from your mouse area) and feel the warm vibes come into your workspace.
For a while, and until I burned through it, I was using a vanilla soy wax candle Affiliate link that smelled fantastic.
A yoga mat near your workspace
We mention in our work from home schedule article that having a yoga mat near your work area is inviting, and will give you the idea to do some stretching in between meetings. This is a way to keep your health in check, as a remote worker.
We recommend the ultralight mat by YOGO because it’s made from vegan plant-based materials and looks great in your home.
See more easy at-home fitness ideas and tips in our guide for staying active and healthy when you work from home. The opportunities for staying healthy start here!
A compact fan for circulation
If you work so hard that you get overheated (people in my office surely used to seem overheated all the time, even in winter), you might need a short fan or tower fan to keep air flowing and keep your focus in line.
We have a Honeywell TurboForce Affiliate link fan, and it’s strong enough to cool down our space if we need some air circulation. It measures about 10.9’’ tall.
A notepad and pen for taking notes
If you like to write out handwritten to-do lists, or if you typically receive calls during the day and like to jot down notes in a scribble, have a notepad nearby. It doesn’t have to be big or cumbersome, but a small notebook will do.
And, as we’ll describe below, make sure it matches your vibe, so that you like having it there and feel that it fits in. This helps ease the mind, when everything matches and fits together. Your home office is a part of your home, which is a place to live, and now, a place to work!
Ideas for a productive home office in your apartment
If you want to know how to set up a home office in your small NYC or city apartment, consider it a challenge accepted. In an apartment of 580 square feet, or less, or more, if you’re lucky, you’re not going to grab an entire guest bedroom-worth of space.
Here’s what we’ve done with our home office, in order to maximize space and use our living room efficiently as a work-from-home workspace.
Choose a space that gets the least amount of distraction.
Here’s where it gets tricky: if you have roommates, consider that the living room is considered a communal space, and talk with your roommates before deeming it the best spot to conduct your work.
Whether you live alone or with a partner, I recommend opting for your home office space to be in your living room. Carve out a section and designate it the workspace.
This could be a specific side of your dining table, kitchen counter or a corner of the room that is saying, “Pick me! A small writing table fits here!”
In both of our apartments in Brooklyn, we’ve now created two different home office spaces.
In our Brooklyn Heights apartment, Dan chose a sleek bamboo full-sized desk, and we arranged the rest of the living room furniture based on his need for a desk area with a rolly desk chair.
As a side note, we chose an awesome desk chair that was multi-colored and really fun, and it served as an accent piece in the whole room.
In our current apartment, we have something like this white wooden minimalist writing table Affiliate link we mentioned above. We just bought a mid-size ergonomic office chair from IKEA to use at this table. It works like a pretty good match, in the corner of the living room farthest from the bedroom and kitchen.
Consider if you like to work in natural light.
In considering where to make a workspace, our bedroom was completely out of the question, because it gets less natural light than our living room.
If you thrive off natural light, take this into account when picking your home office space.
Set up your computer to face a wall.
This might sound boring, but it actually may make you feel more like you have less of your home to look at.
For me, when I look at my kitchen, I think about how I could do a few of the dishes or put away the ones drying, and when I look at the bookshelves in the living room, I start thinking about how I really should rearrange the books in alphabetical order –
Face a wall. It’ll help you stay focused and on task.
How to have a minimalist vibe in your home office
This is simple. Avoid having lots of things.
Pick one cup.
Pick a water cup, and a coffee or teacup. Use each for its intended purpose, and put your coffee mug or teacup away when you’re done sipping.
Avoid busy artwork or distracting photography for your decor.
It’s no wonder the ‘minimalist vibe’ is an actual vibe. If you are looking for ways to decorate your home office space, choose something simple, like art with shapes, or photography of scenery.
Oh hey, we know a photographer with some great scenery shots. Have you seen our photo galleries?
Put away the magazines, books and other distractions.
Think about what you have on your desk in your office. My desk in my office in Midtown Manhattan used to pile up with papers of all sorts – mail, contracts, brochures, promos, postcards, you name it.
I also would pin every single photo I took in a photo booth at a work event onto the thumbtack-able pushpin half-wall behind my monitors. Distracting!
Your decor for your home office should be (in my opinion) a piece of art you like, so that you don’t have a blank wall, a plant and perhaps one photo of friends or family.
If you make your home office too comfortable, you might never leave (kidding).
The key is to make sure that your home office space is for work, and your bedroom and living room are places where you want to live.