A note from our editors: 

It’s time for one of our favorite traditions! Each year, we spend the holidays reflecting on the stories and articles you loved most. It’s the “Best of Rue” and this is one of 2019’s top stories. Enjoy!

Previously published on May 14, 2019:

It’s rare to feel excited about an office — it is the place for work, after all — but when Anne Sage is behind the design, it’s a thrill! The blogger, designer, and author lovingly transformed the second bedroom in her two-bedroom home into a beautiful workspace for her husband Ivan, a VP in the marketing department for a large corporation. “His whole team works remotely, so he needs a dedicated home office,” Anne explains. Before the transformation, the room was a makeshift assembly of rejected furniture. “A wobbly IKEA table, some wall-mounted bookshelves that used to be in our living room, a chair I’d bought for our bedroom only to discover it was too big for the space,” she recalls. “Because the room had that castoff vibe, it was very easy for it to become a dumping ground for overflow from other rooms. The desk got buried beneath old papers, the shelves became loaded with junk, the chair was drowning under laundry. Eventually it started to feel like the room that time forgot—and I started to feel really guilty that Ivan had to work in there all day!”

The space now conveys a feeling of serenity, thanks to a smart storage system and thoughtfully selected art and accessories. We sat down with Anne to chat about the design process and snag the specifics on the space:

I imagine designing for a spouse can be tough! What were some things Ivan was set on that you weren’t keen to include, or vice versa?
Because I was determined to create a room that Ivan looked forward to spending his days in, I went into the project with the singular mindset of making him really happy. So for that reason—along with the fact that he trusts me as a designer—we fortunately didn’t have any friction.

That said, he did have his wish list that I made sure to satisfy. He’s a big music buff so an easily accessible spot for his turntable was at the top of that list. He also requested that the art in the room reflect his tastes and interests. And of course, the function and comfort aspect of his desk setup was key, since he spends upwards of 8-10 hours there a day!

We had a shared wishlist, as well. Since this is our second bedroom, we wanted the option to sleep guests here if needed. As well, Ivan uses the closet in this room to store his clothing, but there’s never enough space for his extensive sneaker collection. Reserving some of the built-in office storage for his shoes seemed like a good solution to that problem.

What was your first step in the design process?
I had an incredibly clear vision of what I wanted for the built-in desk, storage cabinets, and shelving surrounding the windows. So I did a drawing that I sent to several carpenters for cost estimates. They all quoted me in the $15k range, which was well beyond my budget! I was about to give up, and then it occurred to me to reach out to California Closets and see if my design was something they could implement. I’d had friends do great closet, media room, and pantry projects with them, so I figured a home office could be within their capabilities as well!

Immediately, California Closets matched me up with one of their local designers named Darlene, who is quite possibly the sunniest, most wonderful human I’ve ever met. Darlene got really excited when she saw my design ideas and definitely felt that California Closets could implement the office. What was even better, because the brand uses a track-mounting system for their installs, they were able to price the whole room at a fraction of what the custom carpenters were quoting me. Darlene and I worked together to iron out all the details—even though I had a picture of how I wanted it to look, Darlene was the expert when it came to the nitty gritty—and eventually we had a working design complete with a 3D rendering! The finish we chose is the color Natural from the brand’s Albero collection. It has a beautiful wood grain and pale hue reminiscent of bleached white oak.

From there, it was just a matter of pulling the trigger and setting an install date for the California Closets team to come in and make it happen. The install itself took less than a day, WAY less time than it would have taken one of the carpenters I’d received quotes from.

Once the major foundation was in place, how did you layer in other elements?
My first stop was to Design Within Reach, as they have a great mix of sophisticated and high-quality staples that I knew could withstand the wear-and-tear that Ivan would be putting on things. We replaced hideous ceiling fan that came with the house with a sleek Altus Ceiling Fan in brushed aluminum. (We have the same fan in black in our bedroom, so there’s a nice sense of continuity.) Then, Ivan wanted a chair with arms, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the Hoffman Side Chair in natural, so we went with that for his desk chair. Its blonde wood shade perfectly complements the finish of the shelving! Lighting in an office is so important for mood and productivity, and the Pleat Drum Floor Lamp in the corner casts a cheery glow over Ivan’s shoulder as he works.

Since Ivan often changes clothes in here—and since the window looks into our neighbor’s yard—it was definitely key that we have a window treatment that lent plenty of privacy. I’d used Blinds.com in another of my projects and was really pleased with both the design quality and the customer service, so it was a no-brainer to go with them again. I selected a linen Roman Shade in their Somerset fabric collection, using the color Alabaster. I chose the Roman shade for its clean box valance and crisp folds to echo the modern, architectural feel of the built-ins that surrounds the window. The fabric I selected is a subtle crossweave linen that picks up the varied hues in the wood grain finish of the shelves. Best of all, the shade opens both from the bottom and from the top, meaning Ivan can let sunlight in but keep the lower part of the window closed if he doesn’t want people creeping on him while he works!

Believe it or not, the floor covering was the piece I had the hardest time choosing! I must have tried seven different rugs before I landed on this super understated but super beautiful Dash & Albert Hooked Wool Rug in Ivory. I knew I wanted something that would add texture and softness to the space, but everything I was sampling was either too one-note or too busy. The Dash & Albert piece is the ideal happy medium. It has a crosshatch texture that’s multidimensional but still very subdued. And it’s a soft, high-quality wool that feels cushiony underfoot. Now I just have to keep the cats and their claws away from it!

You mentioned using the space for houseguests as well?
In my attempts to make this space sleepable for guests, I picked a Bludot Day Jumbo Bench from Perigold. We toss a sleeping pad over top of it when someone stays the night, for added comfort. The ash wood mirror—which is the only full length mirror in our house and therefore the one we both use when getting dressed—is also Bludot from Perigold. I really appreciate how both those pieces continue the monochromatic vibes of the space as a whole, while also adding their own personality too.

When the bench arrived and I got it into the space, it looked a little stark for my liking—so I had a custom bolster cushion made in a fabulous Crypton Home corduroy fabric. The color is a really pretty doeskin hue, and I adore the hit of ribbed texture that the corduroy adds. The bolster has the effect of elevating the bench and making it feel like a petite sofa! Plus, the Crypton fabric technology means that I can easily clean the cushion without concern over staining such a light color.  

The art seems like it was made for this space! We’d love to know more about your selections.
When it came time to choose art, Ivan had already made clear his preferences: He wanted cool music and hip-hop culture references, and would also fully support anything to do with dogs. (We have a running joke that 98% of the time, he’s thinking about dogs.) That being said, I knew that a room full of music and dog art could get old quickly, so I also kept my eyes peeled for abstract fine art to elevate the mix.

We ended up choosing a ton of the artwork from Saatchi Art.  Their mission is to bring original artwork to the public, direct from the artist themselves. I had a blast scrolling through thousands of works from around the world and curating a selection for Ivan review and give his thumbs up. And then, when the artwork arrived, we loved unpacking each piece and admiring their intricacies; they’re even more beautiful in person than online! It’s really exciting for us both that there’s so much one-of-a-kind art in the office. It feels like we’re doing some hardcore adulting. Then, for the rest of the artwork, I used a mix of pieces that some of my artist friends had given me, and I also cut some photos from art books!

Selecting art was one thing, but then deciding how to frame it was a whole other ballgame. I personally hate choosing frames because the possibilities and permutations seem endless. I get serious analysis paralysis! For that reason, Framebridge is my permanent go-to. Not only are they experts at framing even the most delicate fine art, but they provide personalized framing recommendations to help you narrow down the options for frame finishes and combinations amongst all your pieces. Plus they make it so easy to ship your artwork off and have it arrive back ready to hang and enjoy! (Keeping things civil with Ivan while we hung the artwork on the wall together was a separate challenge, but we survived!)

One thing that stands out is the perfectly chosen accessories — dare we say your speciality!
Those small finishing touches take a space from good to great. I’ve always loved Bungalow 5 for furniture (years ago, I used to wistfully press my nose against the glass of their showroom when I was just a struggling advertising intern in Manhattan) but lately I’ve also been tapping them for accent pieces too! They have a rapidly expanding selection of lighting, sculptures, vases, bowls, and desk accessories that feel really luxe. I’m especially partial to the bronze statue on Ivan’s desk; it feels like something I scoured the flea market for hours to find!

Last but not least, I layered in a few global organic touches around the room to ensure a feeling of softness amongst all the right angles of the built-ins and furnishings. Bloomist is a fantastic resource for found handmade objects, all of them inspired by the natural elements. I incorporated pieces like a stoneware tray to corral Ivan’s desk accessories, and a chunky wood chain that I’ve since become obsessed with. I never knew we needed a wood chain til we had one, and now I don’t know how we lived without it.

The white books = totally epic. How did you pull that off?
This is where I have to give a shoutout to my friend Sarah Walker, an incredibly talented interior designer who lives in the Toronto area. Sarah was my sounding board for many of my design decisions (that’s a nice way of saying she was the recipient of many a panicked text throughout the process!) and it was her idea to fill the shelves with white books. When she suggested it, I immediately both loved and resented her, because I knew her idea was genius, and because I knew I couldn’t rest until I bought enough white books to fill every inch of space! I went to twelve different thrift stores throughout the Los Angeles and Palm Springs areas, buying every white book they had until I’d purchased enough. And, since I was shopping based on color, not on subject material, we now have the world’s most eclectic library.

Do you have a favorite element of the room?
It’s so hard to pick, because I love it all! That said, the biggest change in this office is the improvement in the quality of the light. Before the makeover, the room felt really small and dark, thanks to a large hedge growing directly outside the window. In addition to all the interior decor changes we made, we trimmed that hedge back so tons of natural sunlight could stream in. (We did so knowing that our Roman shade would help maintain whatever privacy we lost in the pruning process.) It’s a great reminder that sometimes the best makeover isn’t about what you add, but rather what you take away!

And what about Ivan? What does he love most in his new office?
Ivan’s an efficiency nerd, so he’s thrilled with the versatility and function that the California Closets built-ins afford. The doors open with a simple spring-loaded touch. Everything but what he’s currently using his neatly hidden away! He’s able to run multiple computers and charge all his devices, without getting tangled in a single rogue cord. We can easily print documents thanks to the slide-out printer cabinet. And his sound system runs like a dream, with plugs and portals for each element. Plus, he never has to dig in his closet to find the perfect pair of sneakers; they’re all arranged in ombre order at his fingertips!

See more, including links to create this look in your space, in the slideshow!T