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Get your working/living space in order

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Stylish office pieces that can stay out and trays to control clutter will help your dining room look less like an office.

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Stylish office pieces that can stay out and trays to control clutter will help your dining room look less like an office.

QUESTION: I work from home in a tiny two-bedroom condo where I live with my two girls. We're in between houses for the next year or so. Our dining room table doubles as my messy desk and our place to eat. I remember you gave a tip on how to make a dining table work as a desk on television, but I can't remember what the fix was.

Is there a special type of storage cabinet I can buy? Our house was magazine worthy. Can you help so our temporary home has a little panache?

ANSWER: One perk of living in-between houses is that you have less space to clean. On the other hand, small-space living forces you to be extra organized and tidy. I know this because I've been living this way for five years. But that's another story.

The TV segment you're thinking of is called The Switch, an HGTV web series. The series was about living in tight quarters with multipurpose furniture, such as a TV console that can transform into a bar, and, in your case and mine, a desk by day and dining table by night.

You don't need a magic cabinet, though I do like the idea of crawling into my buffet to get to Narnia. A console table or narrow server will provide a place for you to stash your work and office supplies. In the photo of my home-office-cum-dining space, the HomeSense console is 13 inches deep, with a shelf on the bottom. Be sure to measure to determine how much space you have for your dining table and console, especially if your table is centred under a light fixture.

One of the best and most simple tips I can give you is to use trays. I use trays for my desk accessories and files. I learned the hard way that keeping your papers corralled in a tray will save important documents (tax returns) from being used as placemats or coasters.

It seems obvious to have trays for glasses and plates to help you move things with ease from the kitchen to the dining table, but I use a tray for all my desk accessories and files. When you are finished working for the day, trays let you clear your desk in a jiffy. I store my trays on the console's bottom shelf to keep my work out of sight in the evening.

You have to look closely to see the tray on my dining table. Since my early magazine styling days, I've been obsessed with clear acrylic trays. The one you see in the photo is a garage-sale find, but you can find similar ones at CB2.com.

Back to your space: You don't want your dining room to look like an office. Avoid filing cabinets, chairs with wheels and phones that light up with multiple lines. Instead, choose stylish accessory-like office equipment that will fade into your dining room's scenery. My printer from Brother, for example, is super-compact and looks like a sleek piece of stereo equipment. I use a table lamp with a black shade (to pick up on my printer) instead of a task light. During the day, the lamp sits on my table and moves to the server in the evening.

To keep my electronics out of sight, I charge my iPad and phone in one of the drawers of the console. Have someone handy cut a hole into the back of one of the drawers for the charging cords. And, when I throw brunches, I set up my $20, black, retro-style toaster on the console because -- yes, I'm nuts -- it picks up on my dining room's other black accessories.

Lastly, wallpaper will cover blank walls and make your workspace feel decorated and homey. I recently papered my walls with Farrow and Ball's (farrow-ball.com) bold geometric pattern, Tessella. If your condo walls are creamy, wallpaper with a white ground behind your console is a small but stylish commitment.

All the best during this in-between stage, though I have a hunch that once you get your space in order, you won't want to work any other way.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 15, 2013 F21

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