Skip to main content
Advice for HomeownersAtmosphereDecorating My Home

Ask Maria: Help Me Decorate My Home Office

By 11/16/2020May 4th, 202328 Comments

Like many of us, this reader turned her guest bedroom into a home office. However, it still doesn’t feel productive and energizing. Does this sound familiar? Here are some tips to help you decorate a home office you’ll actually want to work in.

We moved into a new house shortly before the pandemic and planned to use this little den as a guest bedroom. But then my job turned into a work-from-home situation and I started to turn this room into a study. I bought the vintage bookshelves to fill the back wall and moved my desk in here.   
Unfortunately, some of the things I got for the guest bedroom are just feeling too relaxing for an office. When it was supposed to be a bedroom, I had planned to paint the walls a dusty pink to match the rug. I had no extra seating for this room so borrowed the white patio chair from outside for now. The white cotton curtains now also feel too relaxed for an office. A more minor issue was I thought the bottom left corner of the rug appeared to be mustard yellow online when i ordered it but when it arrived, is definitely more of a green beige (and not matching the yellow in the curtains), so that’s also bothering me.
My question for you is: what can I do to wake up this room so I can feel more productive and energized?? I am definitely keeping the rug because it was a big part of the budget for decorating the room. Should I paint the room a brighter green or pink? Change the curtains? Get rid of the rattan? Or something else?? I live in Maryland and while this room has a South and a North window and can be bright, it’s often cloudy and dreary here and i’ve stayed away from white walls in the house. 
If you have any tips for me please let me know. Thank you for writing your blog, I’ve learned so much about decorating over the years of reading it. Jean
Here’s the corner of the rug that was supposed to be more ochre

Help Me Decorate My Home Office

Many of us have been forced to work from home this year, and creating a functional office space was suddenly catapulted to the top of our to do lists. Most of us don’t have a blank canvas empty room to work with, so as Jean did, we improvise.
And that typically means working with things that aren’t perfectly suited to the situation. But if you work full time (or even part time) from home, chances are you will spend a lot of time in your home office (or closet or corner as it may be). It’s worth spending a bit of time and money to make it not only functional, but also a beautiful space you enjoy.
The word that stood out for me in Jean’s note was ‘energized’. Even more than ‘productive’ a space that allows us to be energized is fundamental.
I believe that a beautifully decorated space is not a distant luxury, but a necessity for a good life and a positive and productive state of mind. 
There are many things that can really sap your energy in a room. And I don’t think it comes down to mere ergonomics, though that is important too.
But back to things that can quickly zap your energy in room from a decorating perspective. 
First, your home office should feel like it was put together with care and love. The person using the space will mirror that mood inevitably. Who wants to work in a room full of messy storage tubs and clutter? It should be organized so you can focus on the task at hand without the nagging feeling that you really should deal with the mess. 
Office spaces tend to have the spare room syndrome. They are too often are treated as afterthoughts, or worse, the catch all of rooms. They are not the master suite or the great room. They don’t get the budget or the care. 
So kudos to you Jean for clearly hurdling this issue and creating a workspace for yourself that already looks loved and considered! It is really close to being perfect. But when it is still bothering you, it’s not finished yet. And that feeling will continue to nag at you.
Here is Jean’s pretty home office below.
So first, you have everything you need already on your bookshelves to create a good shelfie.
Objects, books, a vase, candleholders, I even spy a decorative box or two. Check out this post I recently wrote on my restyled bookshelves
I like the way the pattern in your curtains repeats the base of the lamp. I would buy another set though for each window so they look a little fuller.
Your curtain rods are hung perfectly though.
A curtain rod should always be installed at least 10 inches past the window on each side. This way when your drapes are open they hang beside the window NOT in front of the window. 
Just like the curtains in Jean’s windows.
Love your ceiling light fixture, I have considered the same one for my house.

What is holding you back?

Which brings me to another related issue. I know you already know this, but I do agree that your rug is holding the room back a little.
The shape isn’t ideal for being off centre with the shelving unit. The pattern feels too contemporary for the vintage boho vibe that is coming together beautifully in your office. The curtains are perfect with the floor lamp and the vintage shelving unit. Very charming. 
I know area rugs can be expensive. All day and night I help clients with a dated area rug that they “have to work with” because it’s an heirloom, or it cost SO MUCH.
But if it’s the piece that is bossing your room around, and throwing off the harmony, it’s just not worth it. My advice is to sell it, gift it, shift it to a different room where you can decorate around it. 
The problem with going out of your way to work with an element that just isn’t right is you will end up going in circles, tweaking everything around it (and spending lots of time, money and energy doing it) and STILL not be happy.
That is also draining your energy and productivity. 
If you’ve ever decorated a room, but couldn’t put your finger on what is still missing, area rugs are often the culprit. Choosing the right area rug for a room is REALLY HARD. Even for decorators. It’s why so many people (including designers) often choose a natural fibre, seagrass or jute rug. And THAT is even easier to do right now with the current trending look of black, white, cognac, yellow, and natural fibre/basket weave colours. 

How to Shop for Area Rugs Online

A rug is NOT something you can pick out of context. Most often, you need to see it in the room to really know if it’s right. Remember when I showed you the design boards for my friend’s living room refresh? It helps to create a rough design board first with the other elements already in the room.
Here’s another tip for buying an area rug online. Always order the smallest size in the rug you are considering (say, in a 2×3′ size) to make sure the colour, pattern, and texture really does work with the rest of your furnishings before committing to order the larger size you need for your room. 
Or, at least make sure the supplier has a flexible return policy.
And if it’s not perfect, return it (or maybe find another room for it). 
I know they are heavy, and awkward and expensive to ship. But time and time again, it’s a much less than ideal area rug that holds a room hostage. 
Jean sent me the rug as she found it online and they only show one image. Like this (below). Here with the image from the site, it does look correct. They don’t show it installed in a room (which often looks a lot different). This can make it even harder to choose the right rug for your space.
I know it’s tempting to order a rug in the size you want AFTER you’ve finally made a decision, gone round and round, waffled for weeks maybe months, or even years, you just want that rug in the room RIGHT NOW. 
But if the retailer only shows one image of the rug, it may be best to order the smallest size first to make sure it’s the right colour.
If you’re impatient (like me) I would only order it in the right size IF they show it installed in a room, in addition to the flat image (like the one below). And bonus, if the site has reviews. Reading the reviews will also help you get the colour right because people talk about it.
I recently ordered this leopard rug from Wayfair. Notice how different the images are.
I think a round rug would fit better and add some much needed soft curves. It would make better use of the off centre position near the chair that you need to have room to roll your work chair around. 
Here’s a rug that I recommend for your home office. Here’s the rug shown both ways.
how to shop for area rug online
This particular rug also had several dozen reviews and a few customer images to look at. Sometimes this will also give you a better understanding of the colour as well.
shop for area rug online
With this rug, you could pull out the soft green from this pattern for your wall colour to flatter your warm vintage wood tones.
BM Maid of the Mist CC 728
And then for your chair, something warm and plush in a mustard gold like this one:
The only other comment I have is that I would choose a desk lamp that coordinates better with your standing lamp:
This one is a splurge but it’s a classic and would look fabulous:
Here’s another, less expensive lamp that would work too:
Hope this helps! Who has re-done their office since this year? Suddenly a room that didn’t get used a lot became a full-time space for many of us!

Have a decorating question for me?

If you have a question for my Ask Maria posts, email me GOOD photos (they’ll have a higher chance of being posted) here.

If you’d like help choosing the right colour for your office, see my one room eDesign package here.
Related posts:
62 pins


  • Nancy says:

    Maria – I would love to see her office with your suggestions .
    Love that chair and the lamp you picked .
    Think that rug would work better also .thank you

  • Judy says:

    I vote for a large sisal/jute rug and a sofa bed for the far wall. Excellent seating and reading area plus keeps the room available to short term guests. Or, put the desk in the middle of the room in front of the bookcase to give the room more presence.

  • Sheila Gustafson says:

    I agree with the issue regarding the difficulty of choosing a rug online. I’ve experienced that myself and, oddly enough, it was also a rug that skewed ‘mustard’ in the online photos and turned out to be ‘beige’. But there were many other colors in the rug that looked right to my eye so I kept it.

    That being said, I am a naysayer with the round floral rug. It looks way more like a sleepytime bedroom rug than an energizing office rug. I would vote for something more contemporary with stronger colors. And I like the green paint color for an accent wall, maybe on the window wall, to give those white curtains something to ‘pop’ against.

  • Kim says:

    Great suggestions, Maria! Love that rug for her office and that soft green wall color would be beautiful. I hope if Jean utilizes your ideas that she will follow up with an updated photo for us to admire!

  • Wendy says:

    Love your rug input, so super helpful! Especially the tip to purchase smallest size to check color. Building a room from the rug upward is a tip I always tell clients…

    Back to Jean’s you suppose she could switch the rug’s orientation so it lines up along bookshelves? Then her desk could float on it, centered in front of bookshelves. The window would be on her left when seated at the desk, which might reduce glar on her screen. Her “shelfie” would be stellar!

    She could keep her rattan piece, and maybe even get a chair with a rattan frame, repeating the Boho vintage feel. Perhaps her desk lamp could have a rattan base…I’ve seen several cute ones.

    I get so nervous about green paint if woodwork is orange in tone! It’s like a redhead in a green sweater…sometimes it’s too much. But a blue from the rug could be lovely. Then a couple of blue items on her shelves. She’d be SET!

    Love your blog, and how you deal with everyday design dilemmas. Keep up the GREAT work!

  • BillP says:

    I like the current boho-chic look. The orange chair would be a wonderful addition, and more comfortable for visitors. A sea grass rug may be more in keeping with the look than the faux oriental pattern, which would take the room a different place (grandma’s dining room). A round rug might not work as well if the desk chair gets a lot of use. The round creates that on/off problem for the desk chair. Putting the standing lamp behind the chair would create better lighting for reading in the chair, brighten an otherwise dark corner and not conflict with the desk lamp. The book cases are wonderful.

  • diana says:

    As you say Maria, the rug doesn’t work and the round rug is too small, busy little pattern and frilly. USA Rugs have some great boho rugs at good prices.
    Like the paint color.
    Like the idea of the desk being in front of the shelves with a chair on castors so she has room to turn around and move a bit. Clear plexi chair on castors would look nice. A clear chair mat won’t interfere with colors of a different rug. The other chair could be the one you posted.
    I don’t know what her career is and I think it is important to know. I realize this is free advice and you only have so much time in the day.
    My very best to you.

  • Leslie says:

    I love all the ideas except the round rug. Dislike the shape and the pattern feels off. I like a sea grass or jute better.

    • Janelle says:

      Yes, I agree the area rug has to go. It will be difficult to get a proper rug because what might be the right size for the room will end up being too close to the desk and therefore would be a constant pain to not be able to easily push her chair back without picking it up over the edge of the carpet. I disagree on the desk chair—the colour might be nice but the practicality of that chair is not good for an office chair that one sits in for several hours for work on the computer. She needs one that has good ergonomics—knees/hips/waist at 90 degrees, plus lumbar support.

  • priscilla says:

    That is genius to order the smallest size, Maria. (That’s why you get paid the big bucks!)

    I’d be sorry to lose the curtain/floor lamp situation, Jen. Also, I think Maria is completely right about working around something that really isn’t right. it will never get right when it’s wrong. And that’s a lesson you can learn only from experience.

    Please send Maria pics when you solve this work from home situation, you’re going strong, keep up the goodness! xo

  • Linda says:

    My dining room has been my husband’s office for 9 months now. We eat all our meals in front of the TV because the table has a giant monitor on it! Been trying to talk him into moving to one of the spare bedrooms. Am happy he has a job, but the office in the DR is getting old.

  • Robin says:

    When ordering a rug on-line, I buy the smallest size to test how the colors work in the room and then return it. If I like it, I just order it in the right size.

  • EDITH A FOLTA says:

    Why not keep the rug and change out the curtains and wall color? I agree with other comments below that the round rug would present problems, and it’s interesting to consider moving the current rug to along the bookshelves (which are terrific, by the way!).

  • Benesse says:

    As difficult as it might seem to put the rug elsewhere, I would, and then get a sisal for the room–fresh and casual. It would go better with the bookcases and allow you to bring color and “energy through fabrics, upholstery and Roman shades on the windows.

    • Benesse says:

      Also…white walls. It would make it more contemporary and bright and add to that medium range of wood floors and wood bookcase.

  • Lucy says:

    I wonder if she rotated the rug if the color would look different. All rugs look different depending on which side they are being viewed. Her room is difficult because in order to move the desk chair the chair needs to be off of the rug no matter round or rectangular. To my eye the drapes as pretty as they are need to be replaced with something darker to pull out a color in the rug. She can then choose the paint color.

  • Angela Foster says:

    I had a designer help me choose a rug. Saved me money and lots of time. She gave me two high end, two middle and one for a lower budget. I had spent some time looking at rugs online and in stores without making a choice. Having her narrow my choices helped so much. She chose a look in a rug that I would have never picked. Since she had worked with the company before and knew it was an easy return, I went for it and I’m grateful. it was a big improvement. I recognized that it’s okay to get help with these decisions.
    Love your posts!

  • Susan Hilger says:

    I think the rug maker sent her a different color version of that same patterned rug. From forest green to medium blue? No. This is the same patterned rug in a different color combo. Can it be returned?

  • Donna says:

    Why can’t she turn the rug long ways centered in front of the bookcase with her chair and desk on it? I see she has another rug under her chair. Also, turn the rug so that the blue square is near the curtains and the beige is under the desk and chair. Then near the window she can have seating such as chairs, sofa bed (if needed) or loveseat. The wicker can go. I don’t care for the round rug since she wants to go more office like and get away from girly.

  • Sonja says:

    I love the hunt when buying secondhand goods but will never agree to buy anything with green in it without seeing it first hand. Digital photos do not translate green properly and it always looks different in reality. Secondly, I’ve also been working from home since March but there’s no way I could have my desk in front of my window as much as it would look great decoratively speaking. Squinting into the light while trying to look at a computer screen would be very taxing on the eyes.

  • Mary says:

    The bit about rugs made me laugh; my daughter did just what you described. She’d been looking for two years – but the USA Rugs site (and maybe others) allows you to put a rug in a photo of the room. It worked very well – to the point that when she sent me a photo of the actual rug in her living room I thought it was the photoshopped photo. The real thing looks great!

  • Keep the rug and center it, pull the desk off the wall and pull it into the room facing the door, back to window or side to window.

  • Brenda Pawloski says:

    I scrolled back up and imagined the office with that rug in a round shape and the green wall color, the mustard chairs – beautiful!

  • Sandy says:

    I agree with the alert reader who suggested that the rug company sent the wrong version of the rug – I took a second look after reading that, and noticed another difference. The triangle above the rose-color is a pale blue-gray in the room, but more like a pinky-beige in the image from the site. Taken together the color differences are too much to be just a variation due to the lighting.
    Best wishes on the changes (Tizio desk lamp – be still my heart) and like many others, I’m hoping the homeowner sends “after” photos of her lovely workspace.

  • Simply Cheryl says:

    I have a question about hanging curtains. In my house EVERY air vent is 10-12″ away from the windows. I can’t move all the ductwork. I currently have 2″ wood blinds on each window but I would love to have curtains at least hanging open in my bedroom. I can have my master carpenter hubby (handy man to have around) build a wooden cornice to go with the crown molding but can I just hang “fake” curtains that are only the width of them open so that it looks like I have full curtains but they don’t close? The window is 72″ wide so if I put up real curtains and didn’t cover the vents they would cover too much of the window.

  • Barbara Briske says:

    Maria, I have been a feng shui consultant for over 25 years. I realize this was not a concern/request in this post, but in my experience I would ask she look at the position of her desk. It appears her back is to the door. When this is the case, people, things and/or situations can sneek up on you unexpectedly. Instead she may want to put herself in a command position by having her desk come out from the window facing the door. This will give her the energy and confidence in whatever challenges she may face in her work. When this is done then the shape and size of the rug will be easier to determine. As far as color, the light blue or green (wood elements) could work well here. She could also look at a rug with navy (a water element) to ground her attention to the work at hand. Or as you suggested have black accessories (such as the desk light) throughout the room. Best of luck to enjoying and executing your design plan.

  • Michelle says:

    There’s a lot going on with that pink/mauve/blue/beige rug. It’s beautiful in the right setting. If she’s a beauty consultant, it fits the esthetic of “makeup” colors applied to the face. To my eye, it’s a very feminine rug and would do well in an esthetician’s office or similar setting. If that’s the case, she can bring other feminine elements into the room. Right now, there’s not much decor in her office that ties in effectively with that rug. The current design trend is one of neutrality. If she wants to be trendy, a woven rug in a natural fiber is actually more than trendy, they are timeless because these rugs have been used for years inside and outside. The Asian/Persian inspired rugs are also timeless, so that round rug fits the bill, but, again, round brings an element of femininity, so it’s up to the client to go square or round.

  • Valerie says:

    To me, the best way to be energized in a home office is to be sitting in the most comfortable chair. The one Jean has is pretty, but it’s making her feel tired from her muscles having to compensate. I bought a good one this summer, and it made all the difference for me. An adjustable chair will allow her to take her desk off those little risers and still be the right height. Casters would allow it to slide along a bigger rug, too. I agree that the colors in the rug are completely different from the picture, so if it’s new, perhaps she could get her money back. If not, another bigger boho rug, to go all the way under the desk chair.
    I agree that the room would look better with the desk in front of the fabulous shelves, but Jean may love looking out the window while she works. The desk may not have a finished backside too. The tall lamp would add needed light to the chair area: the pattern is on the drapes on that side, too, so you’d still get the effect. Love your orange chair, as the white chair doesn’t quite fit the vibe, but only if her budget allows for a better desk chair. I love her existing desk lamp; the tripod look is such a classic midcentury design element to tie into her shelves. If she needs more black on the desk, perhaps black desk accessories or a blotter? Or a black desk lamp (there’s a small one on the top left of the bookshelves), leave the tall lamp where it is, and put it on the tripod lamp on the table next to the chair.

Leave a Reply