Upgrading a home office can be an affordable project, with immediate payoff and long-term appeal.
Joe Noonan, office goods expert for CSN Stores, calls it "the new bathroom renovation. We've seen that people with shrinking budgets, who can't afford to remodel elsewhere in the house, are instead upgrading a home office. Or they're turning an extra room into one."
Retailers and designers offer some intriguing pieces that reflect broader decor trends.
"My goal when decorating a home office is to develop a space that inspires, that's as stylish and approachable as every other room in the home," said Jeanine Hays, a San Francisco-based interior designer and blogger. "The home office should support your creativity and be comfortable, reflective of you, organized and filled with things that give meaning not only to your work, but to all aspects of your life."
Those averse to brights might be soothed by softer, muted tones like shell pink, milk chocolate and aqua. Blu Dot has a desk and chair combo lacquered in cherry red for the go-getters, but the pieces also come in calming pool blue or ivory.
There are stationery assortments in botanical themes, feminine toile and lace prints, as well as bold, linear designs. Lily Pulitzer's new collection sets an upbeat tone in sherbet hues. Galison.com's clean-lined geometrics in cream and brown are smartly tailored, while Thomas Paul's new "Two Birds" and "Blue Coral" patterns bring artistry to the workspace, at seejanework.com.
Even those who run a virtually paperless home office still need to keep some hard copies. A set of matching file folders and binders that coordinate with the rest of the room keeps everything looking neat.
Benita Larsson, a Swedish visual merchandiser and design blogger, advises going for "good-looking, unified storage. It makes the space look less cluttered."
Others suggest dresser drawer organizers, which come in more interesting colors and patterns than basic office supply store models.
Lighting is essential, but if desk space is at a premium, consider CB2's "Johnny" Floor Lamp, which takes the iconic jointed study lamp and puts it on a long leg.
For task lighting, install some under-shelf pot lights on a dimmer switch, or buy a few adhesive-mount lights that go on and off with a push.
Vertical organizational tools are especially useful, and go beyond stacking letter trays. MOMA's design store stocks Barbara Flanagan's "Snap-it-Up Organizer," an acrylic stand with colorful elasticized bands to secure items. It's a great piece for arty types who gather inspirational ephemera.
Wall space can be outfitted with corkboard squares, magnetized blackboards or customized clipboards. Stand-alone magazine racks can substitute for file cabinets, too.
Those seeking green home office products should look at seejanework's pretty, recycled, painted clipboards and staple-less staplers.
Well-designed, stress-reducing products are a must for long hours. According to HGTV's ergonomic expert Mark Mullin, a desk should be 29 inches from the floor, no matter how tall you are. Consider a footrest to relieve leg strain and a lumbar pillow. Use a wrist rest at the base of your keyboard; there are gel-filled ones on the market, or make your own with a section of bubble wrap.
While there are many industrial-chic file cabinets and shelves on the market, if your home is more country cottage you might like Sundance catalog's sturdy, recycled chicken coops or pine lockers.
Some tips from designers
* Choose a base color and stick to it. Change accent colors and patterned pieces when you need a recharge.
* Edit. Do you need 30 pens or will 5 do?
* Make yourself comfortable. Back, neck and leg support are key, so invest in good lighting, a just-right chair and comfort underfoot with a plush rug or a footrest.
* Consider repurposing items from around your home. Vintage kitchen storage pieces make great containers. Small vases and mugs hold tools more attractively than a standard-issue plastic holder.