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Returning to the Office? Here's How to Make Your Desk Look Chic

Fun and bright design office with desks and chairs.

Design: Mindy Gayer; Photo: Vanessa Lentine

Heading back into the office after a year-plus of working from home may bring about a lot of mixed emotions. In addition to wondering what exactly you left atop your desk in March 2020 and debating whether you’ll be able to make it through an entire workday while wearing *gasp* real pants, you may also be concerned about making your desk feel cozy after months of happily answering emails from the sofa. Perhaps you’re worried you’ll miss the comforts of home and family when returning to a stark corporate space that never totally felt like you.

“As we venture back to working in offices, it’s helpful to take the things we enjoyed about our home spaces and adapt them to our office as best we can,” designer Rande Leaman explains. Here, she and other stylish experts shared their tips for making any office desk feel chicer.

Meet the Expert

Rande Leaman is the founder of Rande Leaman Interior Design in Los Angeles and approaches her interior projects with a fresh perspective and attention to detail.

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Incorporate Art

Desk decor with art and plants.

Design: Mindy Gayer; Photo: Vanessa Lentine

“A piece of art that is meaningful and makes you feel good does a lot to lift your spirits, as we negotiate this new normal,” Leaman says.

Don’t have a go-to piece in mind? If you’ve been feeling crafty during quarantine, go ahead and frame a favorite needlepoint canvas or make a collage featuring images from thrifted coffee table books. Personal is the way to go.

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Add a Table Lamp

Neutral desk space with large wall calendar and desk lamp.

Cathie Hong Interiors

“Office lighting is exhausting, and nothing feels cozier than a small table lamp with a softer bulb,” Anastasia Casey, founder of The Identité Collective, explains. The best part about decorating an office is that you can experiment with styles you may never actually incorporate in your own home—whether that’s because your partner dislikes certain hues or you simply prefer unwinding in a neutral space.

So, if you spot a neon green lamp at your favorite home store and are sure it will make the 3 p.m. slump feel that much more bearable, go ahead and grab it.

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Introduce Plants

Neutral desk with small plant.

Pure Salt Interiors

There’s no need to add stress to your workday by worrying about keeping a green friend or two alive in addition to tackling your to-do list, so opt for plants that don’t require too much TLC.

“Maidenhair ferns are large and can live beautifully indoors,” Casey says. “They are easy to maintain with a simple squirt bottle mist every other day.” 

And don’t skimp on planters. “Buy some beautiful planters instead of settling for whatever pot you bought the plant in,” blogger Kate Dreyer says. “This set with classic blue and white chinoiserie details is one of my favorites, and the planters are perfectly sized for most desks.” 

Affordable fresh flowers are another pleasant touch. “My old office was within walking distance to a Trader Joe’s, and once a week, I’d do a flower run to spruce up my workspace,” Instagrammer Sarah Jacobson explains. “Nothing lifts my mood more, especially on long, stressful days.”

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Display Cheerful Cards

White desk with Mac and pinboard with cards

Pure Salt Interiors

“At the office, my desk was dressed to the nines with photos and mementos—company birthday cards, printouts of particularly funny emails, snapshots of my friends and family,” Jacobson adds. “Much like fresh flowers, these little bits of ‘home’ helped ground me on good days and bring me back to center on bad ones.”

The next time you leave an event that has a photo booth or receive a particularly sweet postcard from a friend, toss the evidence in your work tote and pin it to your bulletin board the next morning.

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Style a Shelfie

Wood office space

Reena Sotropa

Sure, office bookshelves are primarily functional, but they shouldn’t be totally bland.

“If you're lucky enough to have a shelf in your office space, take the opportunity to style it as you would in your home, with objects from your travels or just ones that you find to be beautiful,” Courtney Sempliner suggests.

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Rethink Basic Supplies

Desk with gold accents

Ursula Carmona of Home Made by Carmona

Your sticky notes, pens, and other day-to-day essentials don’t have to be boring. “I would opt for non-traditional colors for office accessories,” blogger Carla Bethany Hayden says. “Change out your mouse and desk accessories for items with more personality.”

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Get Warm and Fuzzy

White office space

Pure Collected Living

This is key both literally and figuratively, Instagrammer Hannah Hamburger explains. “Your workspace is an extension of you, and where you might spend a significant amount of time,” she says. “Fill it with things that make you happy.”

Hamburger agrees that art and framed photos are wonderful additions to a desk, but notes that physical comfort is important, too. “Bring a throw blanket to drape over your chair,” she suggests. “It adds a cozy factor and fights the perpetual cold office air conditioning.”

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Skip Scents

Clean minimal desk

Rush Me Home

You may have enjoyed burning candles during your work from home days, but unfortunately, they aren’t office-friendly. Don’t try to compromise by setting up a diffuser—Sempliner suggests staying away from anything scented, period. After all, she notes, “scents can be polarizing and likely not appreciated by office mates.”