Back to school: 8 ways to create a study corner on a budget

As schools reopen, we ask two interior designers in Dubai for tips on how to create a pretty but practical home work area

Dubai-based interior designer Kathryn Hawkes recently created a study corner for her son using complementary dark colours and wooden furniture. Marli Smith
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They're arguably Dubai's best known interior stylists and are responsible for creating home studies as practical as they are beautiful both for their clients as well as their own families. Kathryn Hawkes is the founder of boutique design studio House of Hawkes, while Linda Dekkers is the head of creative consultancy Live Loud Girl, and together they have joined forces to collaborate on a new project called Fronteriors, which aims to transform standard Ikea furniture into unique pieces without the expense of designer goods.

So, who better to ask for simple yet imaginative ways to create a home study for a reasonable price? Here is their best advice...

Keep calm

Your study area needs to be a comfortable, peaceful space to ensure you or your children can remain focused while you work. "The space you use is really specific to each home, but I would suggest a quiet spot and one that could possibly accommodate two people side by side, if it's a shared family space," says Hawkes.

A recent project by Linda Dekkers of Live Loud Girl. Courtesy Live Loud Girl

A clean, tidy area is key. Make like Marie Kondo, creator of the KonMari method of tidying, and clear the area of any distractions to optimise productivity. "Pick a quiet spot or a space that really needs an upgrade so you can completely empty out the space and start from scratch," says Dekkers. "A blank, preferably white, canvas is the perfect starting point."

Be practical

Your home workspace needs to be ready for studying at all times. To that end, make sure it is not in a place that accumulates piles of paperwork or sports bags. Also consider lighting. "I always keep the end goal in mind when designing a room," says Dekkers. "A playroom should be vibrant to spark imagination, a master bedroom should be calm to ensure long and deep sleeps, and a study corner should have enough natural light to start off with. Maximise the light by opting for semi-transparent linen curtains rather than going for heavy materials or shutters."

Hawkes concurs. “Enough space for a desk and natural light is always ideal,” she says. “Keep work areas close to windows, where possible. I’m also an advocate for roller or Roman blinds, as they allow for loads of light to come into the room when they are installed sufficiently high above the window.”

Study corners should have plenty of natural light. Courtesy Live Loud Girl

Light or dark?

"Keep the colours light and subtle," Dekkers says. "If you are feeling a little adventurous, paint the walls in neutral tones. Alternatively, leave everything white and add one coloured wall."

Hawkes has a different take. "Your palette is such a personal choice and really depends on what would work with the rest of the space. I am really moving towards darker, richer colours," she says. "I have just created a study area in my son's room with a dark green wall – Northern Mystic by Jotun – and a navy blue desk from Ikea. The two dark colours are beautifully complemented by wood accessories."

Dekkers is also a fan of natural materials. "A wooden table is so versatile and can always be used for something else when studying is no longer a priority in the house," she says. "Reusing furniture and accessories is always a key element. So shop around in your own house and see what you can use to make this study a warm and welcoming place."

Get organised

It’s important to get the basics right before you buy. “If the desk will have a computer on it, then it’s important to ensure that there is sufficient depth to accommodate it,” Hawkes advises. “You also need enough space for a chair to move in and out comfortably. Place a desk near a power outlet for desk lighting and device chargers.”

Once that's taken care of, choose clever storage solutions to keep clutter to a minimum. A cable organiser and a hanging desk organiser are good examples. Hawkes likes to keep things simple. "I make use of boxes for storing anything and everything – it's the easiest way to keep things neat, organised and labelled," she explains. "I am also a fan of concealed, rather than open, storage."

Dekkers says you need to be brave in your choices when it comes to storage. "Don't be afraid to play around with the many options that are available – mix and match to create the perfect combination for the space. Colourful crates, such as those from Studio Mini Shop, can be perfect for a study space. Another favourite of mine is a wall cabinet."

Hawkes adds: "If the desk does not have a lot of drawer or cupboard space, additional storage can be achieved with shelving above or alongside the desk, depending on the orientation of the space."

Save space (and money)

Try to eliminate everything that is not necessary in this space. “You really don’t need much more than a desk and a chair,” says Dekkers. “Floating shelves work perfectly for storing books, folders and paper – just like you would normally use a wall cabinet. If you hang up shelves, you can even store crates under them.”

Hawkes is all for wall-­mounted furniture and storage, as she says it frees up floor space. “Wall-mounted desks that form part of a modular storage system are ideal for smaller spaces. In my son’s room, I hung an Ikea Besta cabinet on the wall for concealed storage and I customised it with a Fronteriors plywood door.”

For the kids

You may need to create a space that is suitable for a variety of family members. "If the study area needs to accommodate kids of different ages, keep it quite neutral and, if possible, ensure there is plenty of storage to conceal everyone's individual stash of goodies – be it art and craft supplies, or textbooks and stationery for older kids," says Hawkes. "Keep the desk at a standard height and accommodate little ones with higher chairs."

Dekkers says it’s easy to play around with accessories when you keep a space calm and simple in terms of colour and furniture. “Prints are a great way to make a space suitable for different ages. I am a big fan of Zoe Rumeau lights and Wall of Art prints. Meanwhile, a rug will make the study welcoming and allows smaller kids to play or read on the floor. Creating a shelfie [an artfully styled shelf that you’ll want to show off on Instagram] can also be a fun way to make the room appeal to young and old alike.”

Make it inspiring

Adding your own touch is very important, emphasises Hawkes. "Artwork is a great way to personalise a space and for kids' or teen rooms a peg board above the desk that they can populate with their own things – think earphones, photos, notes, etc – adds plenty of personal touches."

Every space should tell your story, adds Dekkers. “So adding treasures from your travels, a piece of furniture that you inherited or a vintage find will give a space soul.”

Go shopping

Not sure which shops in the UAE to hit first? "Ikea, Jysk and West Elm are probably the best one-stop shops for creating a study area at home," Hawkes says. "However, for artwork and accessories that will really give the space its personality, it's worth looking around a bit further."

Dekkers says she likes to shop the globe by heading online. "Smallable and Studio Mini Shop are my regular haunts," she says. "And look out for small business creatives. It might take a bit more time, but it is really worth it when you have created something unique that reflects your style."


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