What your home office — healthy, messy or glam — says about your personality

PHOTO: Instagram/Heimholz

Show me your office and I'll tell you who you are, says An Bogaerts, interior design journalist and author.

No judgment here, folks. Messy or zen, playful or glam, there's no right or wrong when it comes to office design — and certainly no one size fits all.

In her latest book, Where We Work (Lannoo Publishers), Bogaerts takes on the role of a profiler matching individuals with their perfect (and most productive) home office. Like so many endeavours of the past two years, it is a product of the pandemic.

In publishing terms, its creation was a sprint, rather than a marathon. Barely eight months after conception in April 2020, by Christmas the book was on the shelves in Bogaerts' home country of Belgium, and a year later, is now published internationally.

The idea dawned during the first lockdown in Antwerp, when "everyone was complaining about home working". Deducing that this trend would not completely disappear after Covid-19, Bogaerts reached out to her network of interior designers and photographers looking for examples, then asking what worked and didn't work from their clients' perspective.

"The big thing I learned from [writing] this book is that the home office reflects your personality," she says. "You first have to know yourself before a home office works for you."

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Each chapter outlines a different home office design and which personality type it best suits, along with styling tips.

While the Library Office, groaning with books, is still the most popular, signs of our times include the Healthy Office, favoured by people (usually in good shape already) who like to keep fitness equipment on hand so they can, for example, lift weights while on a call.

Bogaerts sees this trend enduring since "it enables you to combine two crucial activities: Getting your work done and exercising".

The Glamour Office is for those who want to impress — even if only in that part of the home captured by a webcam. Writes Bogaerts: "Your house may be an absolute mess, but when your office is big and shiny and adorned with the right pieces of art and literature, it shows that you have made it in life." (Tip: the desk itself has to be really big and cannot be cluttered).

In the Natural Office, the occupant is typically an outdoorsy type who will demand non-toxic paints and furnishings, and fill the space with greenery. As with the Healthy Office, this one has sustainability written all over it.

The Messy Office isn't a sign that the occupant can't be bothered. Indeed, says Bogaerts, it implies "a high dose of creativity and intelligence". She's already seeing a comeback of mess in resistance to Marie Kondo-esque rigidity.

And for households where two people work from home, or you need to team up with a colleague at times, there are practical ideas in the Duo Office, along with etiquette tips.

Apart from including different and specific accessories, so that both personalities will come across, there's lots colleagues need to agree on — such as, who gets to Zoom first.

A chapter that will surely resonate with Hongkongers is the Tiny Office. If you have no option but to downsize everything to squeeze in the necessities, "this doesn't make you an inferior worker", writes Bogaerts.

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As with the Zen Office, maintaining it does take discipline, but there's an upside: The smaller the desk, the less clutter it will attract. For this design, good organisation is essential and aesthetics is key: Instead of a large ergonomic office chair, choose an elegant alternative.

Rather than a highly equipped office, it should blend in with your interior decor.

Small flats could also be a candidate for the Hidden Office. So that your work station isn't always there in plain sight, a converted wardrobe, or space under the stairs, can do the trick — just close the doors, and forget about it. If you only need enough space for a laptop, even a "floating" desk that folds out from the wall may suffice.

And if there's nowhere else but the bedroom to carve out a niche for yourself (the Bedroom Office), the author advises sitting with your back to the bed, lest said bed becomes more appealing as the day wears on.

When she started on the book, Bogaerts had no idea if she'd be able to fill the pages. In the end, she had to be highly selective: Of the 200-odd projects featured, there were "thousands and thousands of home offices" that didn't make it.

"The market has totally changed," she says. "A few years ago, not many people had a home office. The international designers I speak to tell me that when the pandemic is over, the home office won't go away. A brand-new function has been born into residential interior design."

A floating desk from Where We Work by An Bogaerts. This could be your Hidden Office. PHOTO: Ligne Roset

But this trend also throws up fresh challenges for architects and product designers, especially in the case of small or open-plan homes.

For architects, the task is to integrate home offices into the spatial planning, so they're no longer add-ons.

Designers will need to be more creative in finding multifunctional furniture solutions. For no matter how intelligently designed an office chair, it's still just that. You can't hide it away in a cupboard, and it has no place at the dining table.

How to figure out which home office style is the right fit for you?

If you fancy a zen vibe, Bogaerts suggests the following: "Try leaving your desk clean for a week — if tidying up every night is a problem for you, it's not your thing." When nature calls, spend a day in a garden and see if that inspires you. And if working for a few hours in an art-filled coffee shop gets your creative juices flowing, you'll feel right at home in the Gallery Office.

"The home office really is a reflection of your personality," Bogaerts says.

And while work is not the most important aspect of life, she adds, "working in an inspiring environment can definitely make your life easier".

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.