By Kathryn Cherne, owner of DESIGN INSIDE

Well, my fellow parents… we’re in for it now! Our twins’ school year is about to become a strange one, and it certainly has us thinking twice about the spaces in our home. Dedicated home schooling area? Where is that going? A place where Bill and I can take calls without two 7-year-old voices in the background? Good luck. Post-bedtime cocktail station? Yes, please!

As Bill and I approach these unprecedented times as parents while also designing new spaces for our clients, I couldn’t miss this opportunity to bridge the two. To help you manage this new work-from-home reality and create spaces that will help your kids thrive nearly as well (better maybe?) than they would at school.

The secret? Zones, my friend.

Creating zones in your home, or “zoning,” has been happening for most of history. Think about it… you wouldn’t dream of sleeping in the kitchen or trying to make an elaborate dinner in the living room, would you? Our homes are full of spaces already carefully designed for specific uses.

The only difference is how our spaces are being repurposed. For example…

  • Craft rooms are being transformed into learning spaces
  • We’re saying goodbye (hopefully temporarily) to guest bedrooms and dining rooms and hello to home offices
  • Living room rugs are now doubling as wrestling mats during “recess” (joking, sort of…)

Sure, this is our new normal (for now, anyway), but that doesn’t mean we need to settle for makeshift spaces that don’t meet our needs. So in that vein, I want to share 7 interior design tips with you today. These can help you define your spaces more clearly, maximize productivity for everybody, and yes, even boost happiness all around.

Tip #1: Location, location, location

Whether you are a parent to little kids or teenagers, location matters… for your home office, as well as for your children’s schooling needs.

  • If you have younger kids who need to eat every 1.5 hours, then your home office should probably be near the kitchen. After all, snack time can strike at any hour. 
  • If you have older kids who quibble with each other every 5 minutes, then your home office probably needs to be on a different floor altogether! (Or give them separate spaces.)
  • If you have kids of any age that need help focusing on school work, you need to be cognizant of sightlines so you don’t have to leave your office to check in and help keep them on track.

You know your family best. So when selecting a location for your semi-permanent home office or their learning space, simply think through your day. And recognize that over time, your needs might change, which is okay!

If you start out believing you can simultaneously work and homeschool in a single room, and that simply isn’t working, don’t sweat it… we are only a phone call away to help you reimagine your space.

Tip #2: Curate Your Space Carefully

Bill and I both have fathers cut from the same mould…they have industrial engineers’ brains and are obsessed with time-studies. As much as we like to tease them about this, the truth is that many of their concepts do apply to functional interior design. For example…

What do you need?

When curating your space, consider the items in your home that you interact with regularly, and how often you need them. Those items should be easily accessible in your home office and organized in an aesthetically-pleasing way. If your storage bins are an eye-sore, upgrade them to ones you’ll be happy to see every day.

What don’t you need?

And what you don’t include in your space is equally as important. Time and time again, we see clients who fall victim to over-engineering design solutions. They purchase a handy, on-the-wall mounted gift wrap system and then use it less than a handful of times each year. (Items like that need to be tucked away in deep storage, not left to clutter up your space.)

How can you clear your mental space?

Once your physical space is clear, the next step is to tackle your mental space. Shared family calendars (think large magnetic whiteboards divided for personal and professional use) can be a huge asset. Not only do they provide visual cues within your day (and allow you to block off work time), but they also help organize the mental clutter that often stands between you and ultimate productivity.

To time-block your day well, first determine your minimum unit of time for mental focus. For example, Bill and I both work best in at least 2-hour blocks. Then think through what else has to happen in your day-to-day routine and pencil. it. in.

Tip #3: Manage Clutter & Schoolwork with Strict Storage Systems

Part of keeping your space clean and organized is having adequate storage (and the corresponding systems) for sorting, filing, shredding, and tossing. Visual clutter creates roadblocks, and when you’re wearing so many hats at one time (parent, employee, teacher, etc.), reducing mental clutter is paramount!

At your regular workplace, you likely have these systems already in place — it’s pretty standard for any established office environment, from law to healthcare to business. While we don’t suggest anything remotely resembling a cubicle, recreating those systems in your home office space can be highly effective.

The same goes for your kids… nobody will be happy if your home becomes one giant pile of papers. Just like you probably have storage for their toys and clothes, make sure to give them storage space for their school supplies as well.

Similar to their lockers at school, this established storage space will give them a sense of ownership and stability, which can help them feel more secure during these topsy-turvy times.

Tip #4: Boundaries Save Everyone’s Sanity

We have found that with our 7-year old twins, one of us needs to be close by when they are doing their worksheets. But we have also found that if we’re on a call, we need to make ourselves very unavailable… (You know what I mean!)

Since boundaries are more like suggestions in kids’ minds, setting parameters for your time can be tricky, but it is doable. We like to use visual indicators.

The stoplight solution is one of our favorites. To get started, find or create a magnetic board with a stoplight image on it…if you place the magnet on green, your kids are welcome to come in for any reason. Yellow means they should come in only if they absolutely need you. Red indicates they’ll have to wait.

It might take a bit of training, but kids are smart, and in time, this should help you set clear boundaries with your little ones. Plus… it’s kind of fun!

For older kids that are more sensitive to visual cues, communication is a bit easier. An open laptop at the kitchen island is still insufficient, but a simple sign on your door reminding them you’re on a call should be enough to deter them until you’re done with the task at hand.

Tip #5: Designate Spaces that are Just for Fun

Articles about working from home have abounded recently, and we have all read the research indicating that it is never a good idea to designate a workspace in the bedroom. Not only does it interfere with sleep, but it also blurs the lines between work and rest… and is a good way to get burned out really fast.

The same goes for your kids. Expecting them to both study and sleep in the same room is unreasonable. Their workspaces will be more effective if their bedroom is solely a place filled with toys, books, and things that stimulate their imaginations… or put them to sleep.

Kids need to continue to be able to be kids, so that the whole house doesn’t become their “school.” (A scary thought for any kid!)

Clearly organized and dedicated spaces allow both creativity and knowledge to flow. The bedroom should be for sleep and play. The living room for family time. The kitchen for meals together. And their homeschool space for learning.

Tip #6: Let the Kids Have a Voice in their Homeschool Spaces

Just like the benefit that creating a specific work-from-home setting has for adults, kids also thrive in designated spaces tailored to learning. All children, regardless of age, benefit from a space that feels like their own, and not just a room or corner borrowed from the family. (Note: Make sure to elect a room with natural light that will help keep your children focused and alert.)

No matter where this space is, there is power in allowing your kids to be part of setting it up and designing it. They become emotionally invested in it! Let them pick out the table or desk that they will work at, and help them decorate it with pencil holders and other storage solutions that they find fun and motivating. You could also add a whiteboard that can be updated each week with each day’s schedule of activities.

By letting your kids help you write out the weekly calendar, and getting their input on what to do for free-choice time, your children will feel empowered and less likely to complain… and you may be less likely to need that Moscow Mule after bedtime. 😉

If you don’t have room in your home or apartment for a dedicated homeschool space, don’t worry, you can still benefit from the psychology of visual cues. Simply allow your kids to pick out a tablecloth that you put on the kitchen table when learning is happening, and with consistency, their brains will make the connection, priming them for school time. Trust me, I studied interior design and psychology. 😉

Tip #7: Cherish the Time

As hard as the days may seem and as unconventional as life is right now, I hope you will remember that this too, shall pass, and life will resume as normal.

While we hate seeing our children unable to play with their friends day in and day out, and we are sad that so many of their favorite activities have been put on hold, Bill and I are doing our best to focus on the positives. Guaranteed family dinners. Mid-week game nights. Being as involved as ever with what our kids are learning, fostering great conversations. These are all silver linings during an otherwise frustrating time.

With all of the difficult news swirling around us on a daily basis, a remote or semi-remote 2020-2021 school year (depending where you are around Chicago), it is easy to fall prey to the negatives.

I strongly encourage you to try rezoning and thoughtfully designing your home. Even if it fosters creativity and productivity (for kids and adults alike) for just an extra hour per day, that is enough to make a difference in how you feel. Step by step, you can set the stage for a positive year ahead!

If you’re ready to take your home to the next level and design a dedicated work-at-home and homeschooling spaces, give us a call.

In many cases, we can transform a space in your home (without construction) into a functional, joyful space in a single day, offered through our Day of Design service, available both virtually and in person. Perfect for getting a speedy transformation before the school year starts… or once it gets going and you realize you need an update! 😉

These times might be wild, but Bill and I both believe that your home should support you and be a place where you love to work, play, and connect as a family… no matter what’s going on outside those doors. We can’t wait to help you achieve that vision.

Kathryn Cherne and her husband, Bill, are the owners of Design Inside, a full-service luxury interior design firm that can help you design the home you’ve always dreamed of.  They are highly-regarded members of the La Grange Business Association and passionate about supporting local businesses.