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A Simple Trick for Finding Space to Work (or School) at Home

By: Alison McLennan | September 14, 2021

Topics: Homeowner Tips

Many moons ago, when we began our work-at-home / school-at-home journey, we didn't know many other families in our shoes. 

At that time, remote or home-based jobs were rare, and most of our friends' kids attended school somewhere other than their living room. But after 15 years and 1 global pandemic, times have certainly changed.

Remote work is now common, sometimes even required. Homeschooling is on the rise, as are remote learning programs through private and public schools.

These changes are welcome by some and challenging for others. Either way, there is one universal need felt by every family that works or schools at home: dedicated space for productivity.

Make Space for What Matters

When we moved into our home in 2012, we made some minor alterations, but for the most part took the house as it came. We used the living room as a living room, the dining room as a dining room, etc.

That plan would have worked just fine if we weren't running a business out of our home while simultaneously homeschooling our children. To do both well, we needed a dedicated (and relatively sound-proofed) home office, and a designated spot for me to teach the kids and store school supplies.

Our home had a small den off the family room, which seemed like an obvious choice for our home office. We installed a full-light exterior door between the family room and den to dampen noise, and managed to fit in two comfortable work stations for my husband and I.

School space was not as easy to come by. The first year in our home, since I had only one student, I settled for converting a corner of the living room into a school station. It was pretty basic, but pleasant—just a bookcase for materials and a small table by the front windows. 

boy practicing handwriting at a table

The following year, my student roster went from one to three, as my younger children were ready to begin learning. Our living room setup was no longer adequate.

It was time for a classroom, but where?

Rethink Every Room's Job

I remember walking through the house, considering each space. None of the obvious choices seemed to suit, for various reasons.

  • We didn't use the family room often, but it was right outside the home office, so sound could be an issue even with the exterior door between them.
  • The sunroom was bright, but not insulated, so it would only work in the spring and fall.
  • The basement was finished (decades ago), but the old dark paneling and lack of natural light made it feel more like a cave than a classroom.
  • If the girls bunked together, we could convert a bedroom into a classroom, but the downsides of that scenario definitely outweighed the benefits.

I ended up back in the family room, which was located in the middle of our home and served as a thoroughfare. Because of its central location, it had no windows, but it did have five doorways that led to other rooms. This created constant foot traffic (which impeded furniture placement), so we rarely used the family room for its intended purpose. It was essentially wasted space.

Pondering, I moved into the adjacent dining room. It was on the small side, as dining rooms go. We enjoyed having families over for dinner, but in the few months  we'd lived there, it had already proven challenging to crowd ourselves and our guests into the little room. There was barely space to get past the chairs when people were seated. 

I turned back to the family room. In comparison to the dining room, it was huge, with plenty of space to extend the table or pull up extra chairs. It was also open to the kitchen, whereas the dining room was a separate space altogether. And as for foot traffic, dining furniture would be far easier to navigate around than love seats and coffee tables. 

In that lightbulb moment, I knew exactly what to do. Overnight the family room became the dining room, and the dining room (which had plenty of natural light and was easily closed off for privacy and quiet from the rest of the home) became our new classroom.

homeschool desks in a dining room

Is Your Home Serving You Well?

Most remodeling projects happen because a homeowner's space is not functioning in a way that serves their family. Often the only way to provide the functionality needed is to alter a layout or update fixtures. However, sometimes the problem isn't with the home's shortcomings, but with the way it's being used.

The blueprints might name your rooms, but you’re the one who lives in them. Is it possible that repurposing rooms could provide the functionality your home is missing?

5 Questions to Help You Repurpose Your Space

To help you get started thinking outside the box, here are a few questions to consider:

  1. What are my family's needs right now? What are they likely to be in 3-5 years?
  2. What activities does my family engage in most often at home?
  3. Why is this room the _______________?
  4. If I could add one room to my house, what would it be?
  5. What can I change right now that will provide a trial run without significant expense?

Needs Change...and So Should Your Home!

Our family's needs seem to change with the seasons. As the kids have grown and our careers have evolved, our need for office and school space have continued to fluctuate.

Our business is no longer run from home, but from an office/warehouse space in a nearby business complex. The dining room is no longer a classroom, but my home office. The den that originally became a home office is now a classroom for our youngest child. Our sunroom has become our living room, and our old living room is now a classroom for our two high-schoolers. (Are you dizzy yet?)

The point is, your home is there to serve you. If it's not serving you well, maybe it's time to give your rooms some new job descriptions. 

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Written by Alison McLennan

Alison is President of McLennan Contracting, which she owns alongside her husband, Tim. Together they have three children, whom they homeschool. When she isn't working, teaching, or planning the family's latest RV trip, Alison can be found introverting with a book in one hand and coffee in the other, or playing video games with her kids.

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