The cloffice — a closet that doubles as an office — wasn’t born during the pandemic. The concept has been around for some time. But with the explosion of working and learning from home, more people strapped for space have taken a good, hard look at the tiniest nooks in their homes.
“All of a sudden, with people being at home all the time, our houses were faced with so many needs and were being stretched,” says Mary Maydan of Maydan Architects in Palo Alto, Calif. “People needed more spaces to work and speak quietly and be able to close the door.”
Cloffices sprang up on Pinterest, and Instagram was peppered with #cloffice selfies. It struck a chord, especially with those struggling for privacy in small apartments and those looking for a separation between work and living spaces. Cute little workspaces with simple white desktops, bold paint or wallpaper, and compact pastel office chairs have emerged. Others have a modern, minimalist look, with white walls, wood or stone desktops, and sleek lighting. Some people use cloffices as tiny craft rooms. And in larger cloffices, a laptop and files may share space with shoes and party dresses.
When the pandemic began, Christine Warnke already had a cloffice in the entry hall of her two-bedroom Washington, D.C., condo. Warnke, who works in global business development, had turned part of a closet for out-of-season clothes into a compact workspace using the Container Store’s Elfa desk and shelf system. “It was so great during COVID, as I needed a designated space to clear my head,” Warnke says. Her small desk is big enough for her laptop, calendar and lamp, plus a vase of flowers. She swiped one of the fuchsia Trica dining chairs she had bought at the D.C. shop Theodores to put by the desk, because it was the perfect scale for the space. Mirrored sliding doors from Home Depot add sparkle.
Nina Cooke John of Studio Cooke John in New York created a clean and modern cloffice for psychologist Eva Burt in her Upper West Side apartment. Burt’s family of four was stretched for working surfaces, and she wanted her own space for conducting telehealth appointments with patients and storing family paperwork. Cooke John took a deep storage closet with 10-foot ceilings and tricked it out.
Cooke John put in a combination of closed and open storage and made space for keeping files, manuals and kids’ artwork. She installed double French doors, because, she says, “if the office was going to be in a closet, then the doors had to be translucent. She could close the doors and still get light and not feel like she was sitting in a closet.” Cooke John says she’s always figuring out how to make use of every square inch in a home, but during the pandemic, this became even more important.
If you’re a bit handy and creative, you can install a basic cloffice yourself. If you need some help, though, or want something a bit more custom, a handy person, interior designer or remodeler can help you.
Alexandra Gater, a Toronto home-decor YouTuber who specializes in “helping millennials decorate their rental spaces on a budget,” installed a cute cloffice in her 800-square-foot apartment. “I did it pretty soon after I moved in. I had just started my business, and I needed a place to store my laptop, stationery — everything,” she says.
The previous tenant on the top floor of the Victorian had used green paint in a three-foot-wide storage closet, which opened into the living room. For $200, Gater transformed it. First, she painted it with Modern Love, a “warm, muted pink” by Backdrop. “Pink is my favorite color,” she says, “and I wanted to create separation from the rest of my apartment.”
She added components from Ikea: the Ekby Alex shelf with drawers; a Lack wall shelf; and the Skadis pegboard, which, she says, maximizes her vertical storage space. At the end of the day, she closes the doors, so she can put her work behind her and relax. “In the pandemic, it’s been a great thing to have, to create separation between my living space and workspace,” she says.
Last year, two D.C.-area designers, Pamela Black and Don Love, collaborated on a cloffice when they ran out of room for a home office as part of a Foggy Bottom condo renovation. They took a 7- by 7-foot closet and designed a desk and cabinetry to provide storage for files and room for a printer. A grass cloth (Shinto/Jute by Clay McLaurin Studio) wall covering added texture and color. “We really like to use wallpaper in small spaces, such as powder rooms, since they can be so boring,” Love says. “It really makes the space.”
Maydan recently turned a small closet off a kitchen in a 1930s San Francisco apartment into a private office for a client. She says the goal is “to make even a tiny space feel more welcoming and open and airy. You don’t want to feel like you are stuck in a closet.”
In this 8½- by 6-foot cloffice, a sliding glass door was installed to let in natural light. She’s a big fan of floating desks in little spaces such as this. She suggests avoiding anything chunky in terms of desks or built-ins, which can overwhelm a small space. She also prefers drawers over open shelving to conceal clutter.
“Lighting is important in a small space and such an amazing way to make a statement and make a space look styled,” Gater says. Her closet came with a single lightbulb. “I changed the ceiling light to a hanging simple pendant to look more decorative,” she says.
For the Upper West Side apartment, Cooke John installed a modern brass light fixture with three adjustable heads. One of them can act as a task light. “This client doesn’t like too much glare on her computer, so we did not put in under-cabinet lights,” Cooke John says. “Sometimes, for other clients, we have added a task light on an adjustable arm that attaches to the wall.”
Cloffices can reflect your style, whether Bohemian or corporate, and your personality — or not. The most important thing is to ensure the space is comfortable and cool. Choose a sturdy and, if possible, ergonomic office chair that’s scaled to your space. Add a small rug, plants and a wastebasket, and install organizers to hold your office supplies.
Chuck Ludmer, an executive coach in Palm Beach, Fla., needed space in his two-bedroom condo to hold videoconferences. New York designer Michael Borden saw potential in a 6-foot-wide closet in Ludmer’s guest room. Ludmer asked for “something with a nice high-tech feel.” The result was a sleek black granite built-in desk and a white faux leather office chair. Ludmer wanted his meetings to sound professional, even if he was talking from a former closet. “If you’re in a closet, you don’t want it to sound like you’re in a closet,” Ludmer says. He ordered wall-mounted acoustic panels from Amazon that have textured fabric to absorb sound. A black steel rolling mobile pedestal file cabinet from Staples provides three drawers to hold office essentials.
And comfort is about more than just a plush or ergonomic chair. Burt says low air circulation in her cloffice sent her on a search for a fan. She found a small bladeless fan on Amazon that operates quietly. “I plug it in, and it creates a little bit of a breeze,” Burt says.