Home Work: Design for Desktops

Andrea Codrington

If you’re like many New Yorkers this winter, early 2009 may find you suddenly “self-employed”—whether by choice, chance or change of pace. Rather than crawl the walls with each glum economic forecast, why not make the most of the moment and transform a corner of your apartment into your own workspace wonderland? Banish the home-office humdrums with an artful selection of useful (and unusual) objects—including vintage Victoriana, mid-century modern and contemporary classic. All you have to do is provide the basics, like a desk and a chair, and the following sundry stores will do the rest. Whether it’s taxidermic toads, travel typewriters or teensy-weensy tools you’re looking for, you’ll be saying “cubicle schmubicle” in a New York minute.

A & G Merch
Right around the corner from the Bedford Avenue stop on the L train, A & G Merch is in the thick of what could be called Williamsburg’s Corridor of Cool—that multi-block conglomeration of stores, restaurants and bars that attract the City’s new and nubile like moths to a flame. Accordingly, the goods in this loftlike store are largely youthful. Case in point: a pleasingly playful wooden tape dispenser and stapler ($29 each) and a Cue Ball Retro Click flip calendar ($12), which admittedly depends on you being responsible enough to change the date. On a slightly more modern note, facilitate the flow of information in and out of your office with USB Hub Man ($39), an anthropomorphic answer to your tech needs; each of the little guy’s limbs features a port for your various devices.

The Demolition Depot
Founded 36 years ago by sculptor-turned-entrepreneur Evan Blum, this 50,000-square-foot Harlem warehouse is where New York’s coolest architectural artifacts go to die—or, more specifically, be born again in the hands of the City’s best decorators. In addition to propping many of the TV shows and films that shoot in New York, The Demolition Depot is a must for anyone interested in equipping their home office with vintage verve. Stock here changes constantly, so you’ll want to visit frequently. Although a marble fireplace from the former Plaza Hotel might be out of your price range, a wooden card catalogue from the Museum of the City of New York ($250 per section) may be just the thing to organize your thoughts. Severance-spending opportunities abound; a tiny tiger oak desk and matching chair, circa 1900 ($950), guarantees antique ambience, while an examining room sign ($30) and old-school mail slot ($143.75) ensure that you’ve got all necessary professional props.

Although the ever-changing window displays in this stylish Carroll Gardens mainstay provide passersby with largely domestic scenarios, the boutique also offers objets for work life that will leave you home-office proud. Commemorate the political struggles you left behind with black resin bookends depicting two men pushing against each other ($36), and store your office supplies in a wall-mountable white or red First Aid Box ($20). Trade in your Starbucks sippy cup for a bold floral Hanna Mug ($20)—you’ll want to buy a spare to double as a pencil-and-pen holder. Hasker’s elegant wooden Spindle Box ($24) swings out to provide three velvet-lined drawers just waiting to organize your receipts for tax time.

Kill Devil Hill
One block from the East River in this largely residential Greenpoint neighborhood is a jewel of a vintage store dedicated to “selling goods from the industrial revolution to the industrial decline.” Give your Mac a much-needed break and switch to a sleek and silvery ’60s Remington Travel-Riter typewriter ($30); perch it on a repaired light oak table with an ornate base ($200) and get going on the great American novel. Nestle your notes in a leather-and-lacquer box ($55) or a long, rough-hewn wooden drawer ($40) for a more provincial pose. And if writer’s block sets in? Fiddle with your follicles using Kill Devil Hill’s homemade mustache wax ($5 to $10) or look at life through rose-colored glasses—literally. The store has a fresh supply of never-used World War II–vintage disposable goggles ($40) created so you can watch explosive blasts from afar.

It used to be that fans of this no-nonsense Japanese chain had to go to London or Paris for a fix of its hiply unbranded products. Fortunately, Manhattan is now home to five Muji outposts—the most recent in Chelsea. Head for the back of the store, where Muji mounts an army of organizational possibilities with row upon row of uniform polypropylene file boxes ($5.50), drawers ($12.75) and binders ($5.75). If plastic’s not your thing, bypass these for a hard paper pulp drawer box ($25.25) or standing file box ($17.50). Fill up your five-piece paper notebooks ($2.50) with marks made from 60 color pencils ($27.95) or a build-it-yourself pen (price varies depending on the components). Finally, count up all your savings using a bold-faced 12-digit calculator in silver ($26.50).

Obscura Antiques & Oddities
Thanks to this legendary East Village cabinet of curiosities, equipping your 1870s-style home office has never been easier. Although you may be disappointed to discover that the antique dentist chair in the corner is not for sale, take heart: there are plenty of pickings to ponder. Who needs the mail room when you have your own vintage wooden letter holder ($250)? Shed light on the work at hand with an antique desk lamp ($65 to $200) and prevent precious papers from catching air currents with a hefty taxidermic bullfrog from South America ($25 to $30). (Additional office hires can include an antique stuffed weasel for $150.) And if working at home ends up driving you crazy, no worries: Obscura rents out its antique straitjacket for just $100 a week.

Located in a gentrified section of Astoria that’s a stone’s throw from the legendary Kaufman Astoria Studios, this boutique sells both new designs and handpicked vintage items with a definite emphasis on color. Revisit your homeroom days with a vintage pull-down world map ($295), or set up a super-sophisticated computer station on a 1970s-era glass-and-chrome bar cart ($150). Write notes to yourself on a peel-off Rococo chalkboard ($38) that you can stick anywhere on your wall. And if you have any residual ill will toward your former boss, imagine that’s his fuzzy skull you’re using as a piggy bank ($36).

Tiny Living
Although New Yorkers are generally expert at making the most of minimal spaces, this sliver of an East Village store provides even more inspiration. A solid wood Flip Table Set ($319) can be adjusted three space-saving ways and comes with four folding chairs that can turn your corner space into a corner office. Equip yourself with a Tiny Office Kit ($9.95), which includes diminutively darling scissors, a stapler, a highlighter, a tape dispenser and sticky notes. Fit your Lilliputian library on the wall with a black or white cube ($13.95) or a canvas pocket ($22.95) in red or cream. Finally, don’t forget to hide your paper trail with the store’s Tiny Shredder ($7.95), hand-cranked and just big enough to rip up incriminating receipts.

Tools for Living
The super-graphic paper clips emblazoned on the inside wall of this SoHo specialty store—an offshoot of Design Within Reach—give some indication of the artfully designed office accessories that lie within. Trade in your Swingline standards for a Stainless Desk Set (including a $60 stapler, $28 notepaper holder, $60 tape dispenser and $32 tape measure) and mark time the modernist way with Massimo Vignelli’s legendary Perpetual Wall Calendar ($85). The smartly orange Rhodia Essential Box ($20) provides pads and pencils for casual mark-making, while the Japanese company Craft Design Technology offers a Disposable Plastic Fountain Pen ($10) with black or red ink for more formal phrasings. If you’re still worried about putting yourself on the map, there is always Richard Neutra’s famous aluminum House Numbers ($48 each)—just the thing for when you’re ready to hang out your own shingle.