Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 

The home office has held a somewhat changeable status throughout our long history of architecture and interior design. In popular culture, the study has often represented a location of drama — a space in which a certain Victorian detective plays his violin and unravels a mystery, or a secret passageway is revealed behind a hidden doorway in the bookcase. As time has progressed and home computers have become a standard feature in our lives, we shirk the drama for a place of productivity — a place to pay our bills or undertake freelance work.

We can trace the study’s history back to the Renaissance period, during which the room was called a “cabinet” or “studiolo”, and was considered a retreat for wealthy denizens of Italy, a private space that housed works of art and books. This usage overlaps somewhat with the Late-Medieval tendency for English and French manor houses to include a “Solar”; usually located in the brightest area of the house, decorated with tapestries, and used primarily as a place of private peace and relaxation for the head of the household. However, for a direct correlation as the place of solitary work that it has become today, we can perhaps also look to the “scriptorium” inhabited by medieval monks as they toiled on illuminated manuscripts.  

 

From the 17th century onward, we see the emergence of the study which is more closely allied to that we’d see today, with 18th-century rooms starting to feature decor and accouterments that we’d still consider to be familiar features. But what status did the study represent in the 1700s, and did citizens of the time place as much emphasis upon the development of tools for improving productivity as we do now? What can we learn from this period’s approach to conducting business from home?

Primary Usage

In contemporary society, some form of home office is not considered an unusual sight in homes. Whether this is a dedicated room in the house, complete with cabinets and carefully alphabetized bookshelves, or simply a desk squeezed into a corner of the kitchen shared with the cat litter box, we recognize the importance of an organized space to conduct our various administrative or creative activities. But how has this current domestic use of the home office evolved from the 18th century equivalent?

 

During the 1700s, the study was primarily occupied by the head of the household. The gentleman of the house utilized the room to undertake the finer details of household and estate management. George Washington considered the study of his Mount Vernon home to be a place to undertake personal correspondence, review overseers reports, and make diary entries. Like many people since, Washington valued the study as a place of solitude, forbidding entry to his space without express permission, and even dressed there each morning. 

 

But the 18th century home office wasn’t just for those who had responsibility for large country estates. In the UK, this era hosted the rise of terraced townhouses for city dwellers or nobility, and with them came home studies that supported their lifestyles. This was often a space in which a gentleman could indulge in his personal interests, such as scientific study or the recording of knowledge gathered through the collection of artifacts.

Approach to Decor

For the most part, contemporary home office spaces reflect our current lifestyles. Unless you’re especially wealthy, your desk is likely a functional surface rather than an elaborate antique, and it’s decorated for the most part by your various marvels of the Information Age. There are those of us who put great effort into making our home offices more personal, happy spaces — with photographs of family scattered about the place, possibly interspersed by Funko Pop figures, and well-loved novels.

 

Similarly, the decor of the 18th-century study was a reflection of the attitudes and fashions of the time period. Color scheme trends for those decorating their homes leaned toward pale greys and dusty pinks, and by the middle of the Georgian period, furniture aesthetics tended toward lighter proportions and saw the rise in popularity of Chippendale cabinets. Accoutrements found in the study area were often an expression of the rise in popularity of scientific research and discovery — specimens, globes, alongside academic books on subjects such as botany and geography were mainstays of the Georgian home office.  

 

In Colonial America, those wealthy enough to be able to allocate a room as a study decorated their walls with mahogany paneling and imported wallpaper from China or France. Chests were often decorated in imitations of the Japanese lacquerware that was popular at the time, with chairs heavily influenced by the Queen Anne styles, complete with sweeping S-curves and cabriole legs. Toward the end of the century, the Davenport began to emerge as the desk of choice, made popular by its military connections and compact size. 

Time Management

The modern home office is often a space utilized in service of the rising popularity in working from home or remote freelancing. As such, there is a necessity for embracing methods that make our study spaces and work methods more finely tuned for maximum productivity. While we embrace the use of apps and the internet of things (IoT), in the 18th century the productivity tool of choice was the clock. 

 

Like the home study itself, clocks and pocket watches were available only to the significantly wealthy, with the mere possession of such items often acting as status symbols. Following the popular adoption of the pendulum for timepieces in the previous century, grandfather clocks continued to be de rigueur for many Georgians. In the early 18th Century, French clock designers led the rise in popularity of smaller, more decorative and sculptural timepieces, which could be displayed in cabinets and on mantels.

 

Meanwhile, in the U.S., New Hampshire resident Levi Huchins developed a clock that was more heavily geared toward being a functional tool for the workplace. Initially designed for his own personal use, Huchins created the first American alarm clock in 1787, which only rang at 4 AM in order to wake him up in time to start his job as a watch repairer. The device was housed in a wooden cabinet with mirrored doors and was the prototype for the alarm clock. 

 

 

Between greater access to technology and changes to our methods of employment, the home office has evolved into a space that represents a mixture of uses. While 18th-century studies were occupied primarily by wealthy, male heads of the household, our contemporary working spaces are designed, furnished, and utilized by whoever happens to need them. What joins both eras across time is our enjoyment of applying personal touches that reflect our interests, and exploring the possibilities of new trends and technologies.