The 3'x3' Office

vertical office
I've been slowly but surely working on improving my house's second bedroom since we moved in a few months ago, especially as an office space.  Here's what I've come up with. 

The bedroom currently serves these purposes:

  • Husband's closet
  • Craft Room
  • (second) TV Room
  • Reading Room
  • (eventually) Guest Bedroom
  • My Office

All well and good, but here's the dimensions of the room--9'x11', and two walls have very large windows.  The natural lighting is really excellent, and the room is always bright and cheery when I come in every morning.  Downside of that is that placing large furniture in it is a bear, and in order for it to all work, I had to get innovative, especially with my office area.  Here's how I made a complete office which holds two computers, an all-in-one printer, filing system, and full set of peripherals and office supplies fit in a 3ft by 3ft space.

Step 1:  What NEEDS a Desk?

The key to the teeny-weeny office space is deciding what had to have desktop space.  I've always been a laptop girl, and my primary 15" Macbook Pro obviously got first placing.  My USB hub is actually plugged in on the far side of the room, so it couldn't move any further inside the desk than it already is.  I recently upgraded my budget speakers for a pair of larger Bose Companion II speakers, so those also got first dibs on my limited desk space.  I also needed a place for my wireless mouse, and that was it for essentials.

Step 2:  What Goes Down?

My desk advertised that the baseboards couple be used for storage, which is precisely what I've done with it.  My

Vertical Office
printer and printer supplies went down immediately, filling half the space, and the other half went to my work binders--unit plans, production books, manuals, and the Worksheet Hospice (any teacher will know what I mean--that place where spare worksheets go to die).  I also keep those Very Important Documents in a binder--you know, stuff like birth certificates, teaching certificates, insurance info and warrantees.  Nothing in those binders get worked on very frequently, and they are essentially the archive of my professional career.  Still, I need them handy for reference.
Step 3:  What Goes Up?

This is where most of the creativity of my office design comes in.  I'm the sort of person who needs everything in the open--if I can't see it, chances are I won't remember I have it.  I also don't like to waste space, and walls provide a lot of it.  Here's the way I began:

Buy the biggest bulletin board available.

Trust me, if you also need lots of things to be visible, a large BB will be invaluable.  Check the density of the board before you buy--if it looks like porous board, it will be too weak to hold anything heavier than paper.  Mount it on the wall oriented like a portrait--this makes best use of tiny space and makes the next element of vertical organization easier.  Of course, it goes without saying that the board should be mounted securely.

Use clipboards.

I got this one from my mother--for years, every time I'd visit her office, she had clipboards mounted on the wall with paperwork for all her projects.  Mom always splurged and bought neon plastic boards (my love of bright colors is also inherited), but I find that I'm so hard on boards the utilitarian MDF boards work just as well for me.  No matter what, though, buy clipboards which have a small tab with a hole that slides out of the top--this will be what you use to attach the clipboard to the wall.  Standard pushpins can hold a fair amount of weight in paper, but if you don't mind putting a puncture mark in your wall, it's also possible to use small nails to hold very heavy clipboards (when I was directing a play and needed quick access to all my paperwork, I used nails successfully).

I've used clipboards two ways--as part of the GTD system (each clipboard represented a context, so I could pick it up and go immediately), and as a straight Clipboard=Class/Project system.  Either way, when mounted on the wall you have all the sorting options of folders, but can flip through them rapidly for what you need.

Buy a small shelf.

As you can see in my photos, I'm using a corner shelf to hold my two external hard drives.  However, don't follow my example to the letter on this one--don't use a glass shelf if what's going on it has cables.  If you can, buy a wood shelf and use your drill equipped with a hole saw or paddle bit to put a discreet hole near the back center for cables.  Getting the glass shelf set up to accommodate four cables for the USB drives (plus a power cord for my lamp) was a real pain in the ass.  However, it keeps my hard drives secure and close, and even makes a nice little techie display.

Wall mount CD carrels.

If you ever own one power tool in your life, make it a drill.  If you don't think you need any power tools, you need a drill--you'll use it everywhere around the house, and in order to get your ugly old CD carrels out of the way and put to good use, you must have one.  Here are the steps to this extremely easy project:

  1. Start by taking all the discs off a 50 or 25 disc carrel (I haven't tried this with a 100 disc carrel, so if you use one, do so at your own risk).  Using a magic marker, draw an equilateral triangle around the center of the carrel, about an inch inside the rim.  The points of the triangle will be where you drill.
  2. Using a drill bit appropriate to the size of the wood screws you will be using (I used an 11/64 bit), drill 3 holes on the triangle points. 
  3. The next step is cheap and dirty, but it works.  Place the carrel on the wall where you want to place it, with one triangle pointing straight down.  With a pencil, mark the holes on the wall.  The paranoid should use a stud finder first, but that's all.
  4. Use the same bit to drill into the wall.  I strongly recommend inserting plastic anchors at this stage, especially if you haven't used a stud finder.  They're very cheap and can be found at any hardware store (if no one knows what a plastic anchor is, I've found calling it a "screw condom thingy" gets the point across better).
  5. Exchange the drill bit for a screwdriver bit instead, place the carrel on the wall with holes aligned, and screw in wood screws.  If you're using a carrel with a raised bottom, don't screw in so far that the plastic bottom begins to crack.
  6. Put discs back on, put the carrel cover back on (if you wish), and enjoy!
Step 4:  Organize the Little Things.

I don't know about you, but I am constantly losing little pieces of tech stuff--cables, converters, and that pesky little Apple Remote.  I'm also incapable of using a "junk drawer"--I hate tangled wires and only ever seem to come out with a handful of knots.  Out of necessity, I've devised a system for keeping many of those things readily available.  Fortunately, creating places for all the tiny tech stuff is pretty simple, with a few tools.

Tool 1:  Velcro Tape.

Use this on solid but light items which you move a lot--I've put it on the bottom of my Apple Remote and the back of my iPod (which is in a hard plastic case).  Available anywhere sewing notions are sold, this tape comes in a package as two small rolls and is extremely cheap (if you've paid over $2.00, you've paid way too much).   One roll is the fuzzy side of velcro, the other is the hooked side, and both rolls have a pretty strong adhesive backing.  With a utility blade or strong pair of scissors, cut a small length from each roll--place the fuzzy side on the object you want to stick, and the hooked side on the surface you want to stick it to. 

Tool 2:  Wood Screws.

I use these for exactly one object--the interchangeable power supply piece

which comes with all Apple laptops (if you haven't got one of these, go ahead and move on).  Seek a small wood screw with a flat head.  You want the head of the screw to slide easily into the piece's locking groove, yet be tight enough that it can't be pulled out sideways.  Screw the, um, screw into a convenience place for the piece (I put them on the side of my desk), and leave a 1/8" gap between the head and the surface.  Slide the piece on.

Tool 3:  Binder Clips.

What a wonderful invention.  After playing around with some the other day, I realized I could use them to organize the cables and forgotten earbuds I have lying around.  This is a very simple trick--the key is the size of the clip--make sure the cables fit snugly in the open part of the clip, but do not get pinched.

Loop your cable or earbuds loosely with one hand.   Clip them together with a binder clip from the inside of the loop.  Flip the metal pieces around and you can use them to hang on the bulletin board.

Tool 4:  Pushpins.

I don't know if mine are industrial strength or what, but mine are strong enough to keep various A/V cables up, and my Apple Mouse.  For short cables, push pins in at an angle around the cable, near the largest end of it.  For the Mighty Mouse, hold the mouse up where you want it, and push the pins in at such an angle that they match the curve of the mouse.  In my experience, this will keep the mouse up top, but it's not terribly stable, and would probably come down if your walls shook too much.

Step 5:  Office Supplies.

This is all personal preference, but my stapler and hole punch reside behind my laptop screen, and my stickies dispenser is on one side.  That's all that lives on my desktop, but on the unused keyboard shelf I keep supplies--binder clips, stickypads, staples, etc.  In my opinion, these are the least essential office items to place correctly, since they move easily and don't take up a lot of space. 

That's my home office--not quite in a nutshell, but it's fully functional and very compact.  If you're working in a tight space and are going insane, I hope you've taken some ideas away from this write-up. 

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chickenbiskit on Mar 21, 2007:

I'm really into using vertical organization right now. Love your ideas! I too have an office/guest room/craft room/storage room so I need to utilize the room space as much as possible. Thanks for the tips.

jasimar on Mar 20, 2007:

Really love how everything is wall mounted and the clip boards?  Brilliant.  I've seen this used in office spaces but for some reason I've never taken the tip home.  Well done.  I'm very inspired.

bruno on Mar 19, 2007:

Wow, great post. I don't think I even knew such a thorough write up was possible. I really like how creative you've been about using the little space available.

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