Follow these expert tips to create a calming and practical home office

This article is reprinted with permission from The escape house, a newsletter for second home owners and those who want to become one. Subscribe to here. © 2022. All rights reserved.

Now we know. What worked in coworking spaces works even better at home. Gone are the days of forgotten guest rooms and dusty offices. The home office is no longer a single room, but an environment in a day full of interactions, multitasking and recharging.

Founder Alda Ly and Director of Interior Design Tania Chau Alda Ly architecture created some of the first coworking spaces that blended home and office life. Nationally known and named among the Top 50 Interior Design Firms 2020 of Architects’ Newspaper, they designed the initial locations for The Wing, the first co-working space exclusively for women. They have since expanded into healthcare and wellness.

“The focus of our projects is how do we make people feel comfortable and safe?” Ly said on a Zoom call in New York City. “We use different strategies like biophilic design, which we bring to almost every project, and the psychology of space and what it can do for people in a positive way.”

Thanks to their foresight, what was a legitimate “office” became more than an open floor plan with cluttered workspaces and cubicles. The stunning spaces attracted attention because finally a beautiful alcove, a comfortable chair and a bespoke bookcase that could hold a laptop seemed suitable and professional enough for work. As the color palette, layout and furniture of traditional office life changed, so did the sense of quiet productivity.

The Escape Home’s Abigail Napp speaks to Ly and Chau for their recommendations for creating an empowering and calming home office, with tips from The Wing and other projects.

Alda Ly.

Christine Han

Tell me about your interior design practice? What makes you different from others?

Li: We are commercial interior designers and architects. We work with many entrepreneurs and start-ups and even more established organizations. They are all excited to do something new and [that has] has never been done. What we’re really good at is listening to them to find out who their users are, who’s going to be using the space – whether it’s daily staff, executives, visitors or operations staff running the business. On most of our projects, we carry out a fact-finding due diligence process, where we talk to as many people as possible inside and outside the organization to get an insight into their daily lives and what they get out of it want to extract space for how they are going to use it. The magic happens when we think about what to design for our clients.

In your opinion, what are the values ​​that a room should have?

Chau: We want every space to reflect the needs of the customer. How they need the space to function and be experienced. To some extent, each space will be slightly different and represent different values ​​depending on who is using it. In doing so, we consider all dimensions, not just the visible with colors and materials, but above all all the senses. How does the room smell? How does it sound? The auditory qualities are just as important as the materials.

Li: Alongside The Wing, much of our work has been in the health and wellness space. The focus of these projects is how we make people feel comfortable and safe. We use different strategies like biophilic design that we try to bring into almost every project and think about the psychology of the space and what it can do for people in a positive way.

Chau: It’s about problem solving – thinking about the challenges and problems of a place and solving them in a beautiful and functional way.


An interior by Alda Ly Architecture.

Trevor Tondro

Let’s talk more about biophilic design. What is it?

Li: Biophilic design is about reconnecting people with nature and how it plays with all your senses. It’s not just about having plants around and seeing plants. There are so many other things about it. Above all, it is a way to promote calmness and reduce stress. So if you consider the sound of water or fresh air like a window opening next to you. Or let a curtain sway a little in the wind and have a wall covered in dappled sunlight created by the leaves of a tree near your window.

How do we work in biophilic design with home offices?

Chau: Plants and greenery are part of biophilic design, but not the only thing. There are a set of 14 principles and we’ll look at what we can apply. There are many different ways this could work. Access to greenery is definitely a part.

In the home, a quality to think about is light and how it invades the space. Also the audio quality and the sound of water as you can bring in and introduce multiple sensory elements.

Li: We also like to design a room with patterns from nature. That can bring peace. This can be wallpaper, a tile pattern, a carpet or a chair.

In reality, many of us still start at the desk. Does that still make sense when designing a home office?

Chau: I think it depends. The office is a place where you do things and work. A desk may be the way the majority of people work, but it’s not the way everyone wants to work. Think about whether you’ll need to work with a computer or interface, or whether you’re getting older. How will you integrate other forms of work while offering other types of seating positions? We need to think about the different ways our home can become an office.

Li: Funny you should ask about the desk. I just got rid of a huge desk that was way too big for what I was doing with it so I got rid of it. Now I only have my monitor and laptop on one of the shelves so it’s become a storage wall and a work surface. I can walk away from my new “desk,” sit on the couch, and take calls or Zoom calls. This works better for me.

For many of us, Zoom has become something of a showcase. For those working from home, everything they communicate on Zoom needs to convey their company culture. What types of risks do you recommend them to take and what should they avoid going into the frame?

Li: I don’t think it’s necessary to put your logo like “this is my company and this is what we do” but it’s about creating an atmosphere with a background. What you see with colors, objects and composition represents who you and your brand are.

Chau: I watch YouTube videos because a lot of people create content from home and it’s not the same as zooming from home with those staged home sets. That can feel pretentious. And knowing that it’s not really how anyone would live.

Li: Yes, if it doesn’t look too staged, it radiates honesty.


The Wing’s DUMBO location, designed by Alda Ly Architecture.

Tory Williams

What five design elements from The Wing can homeowners use to create an empowering workspace?

1. Create a variety of seating and table configurations. Some examples are the standard table and chairs, a sofa with a C table, and a counter with stools. We also like floor seating with a coffee table.

2. Make sure you create workspaces next to a window. Daylight not only keeps you awake and energized throughout the day, it also looks great on your face during Zoom calls!

3. Think of carpets and other soft surfaces to absorb sound.

4. Imagine a variety of ambiences with color and texture changes throughout the room.

5. Study biophilic design. For an in-depth look at biophilic design and its 14 attributes, visit Terrapin Bright Green, a sustainability consultancy that a Reference Guide.

How about designing a home office in a second home. What are some best practices that could be adopted for planning an inspirational yet calming space?

  • Soothing Colors. We like to think of the colors of nature. A monochrome palette, where you work with one color in light to dark variations, is a great way to create a calming, cohesive space.

  • Choose a spot near a window for the view and natural light source too. Add a task lamp for extra lighting and choose something you love so it can make a design statement on your countertop.

  • Make space for storage so things can be put away and clutter removed.

  • Add art, decorative items or personal items that can inspire joy and creativity, especially where you can see them in front of you and not just behind you as a zoom background.

  • Add plants! Green can reconnect you with nature.

Home office redecoration – where should homeowners start?

  • Measure, measure, measure.

  • Understand what you have to work with. Need to maximize space for Zoom? Need to hide areas to avoid clutter? If you don’t use a zoom background, furniture like a bookcase can be easily ordered and is a personal reflection of you, and you don’t have to control it through daily tidying up.

  • Lighting, especially for Zoom calls. Avoid backlit scenarios.

  • Ask yourself again how much time will you spend there? Do you want to work and move a bit on the side or do you need privacy and quiet? These different considerations affect the environment you create.

  • Think about multiple uses. What else will you use the room for besides work? Will the guests sleep there? Will you have exercise equipment there?

  • Allow yourself flexibility and think beyond the four walls of your office. You can create beautifully lit areas and stage spaces anywhere in your home.

This article is reprinted with permission from The escape house, a newsletter for second home owners and those who want to become one. Subscribe to here. © 2022. All rights reserved. Follow these expert tips to create a calming and practical home office

Brian Lowry

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