Think Like an Architect: Oliver Freundlich’s Six Tips for an Orderly and Inspiring Work Space

Brass pen pot from Present & Correct, London.

What’s your secret formula for creating order? Over the course of producing our book, Remodelista: The Organized Home—the companion volume to this site—we turned to a range of experts for insider strategies. A kindergarten teacher told us how he gets his students to tidy up after themselves—and how you can apply this approach in your own entryway. A hotelier walked us around the bathrooms in his establishment pointing out where to deploy hooks and how to keep the blow dryer out of site. And a ship designer explained tricks for small space living at sea and on land.

Today, we’re continuing the series by presenting architect Oliver Freundlich’s advice on how to keep your work space orderly and inspiring. If Freundlich’s name sounds familiar that’s because we’re a longstanding fan of his work: we featured his kitchen design for actress Julianne Moore, his sister-in-law, in our first book and have explored many of his projects (find links below). He runs his own busy downtown NYC architecture firm, Oliver Freundlich Design, works from an L-shaped desk, and applies principles learned from his days at the Yale School of Architecture to keeping things organized.

Home office: Under-the-stair desk in a Cobble Hill duplex designed by architect Oliver-Freundlich.
Above: For a young couple in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, Freundlich designed an under-the-stair home office with generous drawers and cabinets. Go to The Ultimate Starter Apartment to see more. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista.

1. Keep a clear desktop.

Limiting your immediate work space to the job at hand enables you to stay focused and on task, says Freundlich, who is always juggling several projects at once. After trying out a range of desks, he found that an L-shape is ideal for him, because it provides a work area, plus “a place for the piles to go.” He keeps an upright file holder on the right side of the L for “receipts, live and active projects, things I go to daily.” Other places for the piles? Read on. (And for digital streamlining advice, read 10 Ways to Declutter Your Tech Experience.)

Workstead Partner's Desk in Gallatin, New York
Above: In their Gallatin, NY, house, architects Robert Highsmith and Stefanie Brechbuehler of Workstead created this partners’ desk from parts purchased from Lowe’s.
Workstead Partner's Desk Detail in Gallatin New York
Above: Highsmith built the desk himself over the course of a Sunday afternoon: see Steal This Look: The DIY Partners’ Desk by Workstead.

2. Add a parking place for your phone, keys, and other essentials.

On the back right corner of his desk—off to the side but within easy reach—Freundlich keeps a polished stone sample that he uses as a tray: “When I get to my desk, I take off my watch and my keys and phone out of my pocket and lay them out on this ‘tray’. This is a ritual that signals for me the start of work, and my things are always in the same location, so I know where they are.”

Desk Tidy from Kreis Design.
Above: A Large Desk Tidy of white birch plywood is £25 ($33.76) from Kreis Design; other sizes and shapes also available.

3. Designate at least one drawer for desk supplies.

Freundlich says he tried the streamlined approach and found he missed having a place to keep desk supplies. He now has a single drawer, and says that a small freestanding set of drawers, such as a Bisley Cabinet from the Container Store, also works well. “To keep a clear desktop, you need a place for the paper clips and other small items to go.”

Detail, Studiomoe one-drawer Oslo desk made of American ash.
Above: A detail of the Oslo desk in American ash desk by StudioMoe of Portland, Oregon. The design is made to order and can be customized on request.
Vintage desk tray from Present and Correct in London.
Above: To establish order—and prevent tangles—in an open desk drawer, insert dividers. A good option: The Vintage Desk Tray, £16.50 ($22.23), from Present & Correct in London. Round Lidded Glass Dishes,  £6 ($8.08) such as the one on the bottom right, are also useful—and similar designs are available Stateside from Muji and Schoolhouse Electric.

4. Create an old-style pin board for inspiration.

“In the age of Pinterest, it’s still nice to have something tactile pinned to the wall,” says Freundlich. He uses a painted Homasote board in front of his desk, covers it with images, and then “tears it down and starts again.” His firm’s associate interior architect, Emily Lindberg, also curates a changing gallery of desktop images to amuse and inspire the staff.

pin board in a home office update
Above: A standing pin board in the home office of Remodelista contributor Dalilah Arja.

5. Go with unified storage for a clutter-free look.

“Archiving  is a part of life in a busy office,” says Freundlich. ” A periodic reorganization allows you to start afresh and reclaim space.” For records and other paperwork worth holding onto, Freundlich uses archival cardboard Flat Storage Boxes from Light Impressions (and affixes each with a black-and-white Label Maker label). Whatever you select, he recommends using it in multiples: “Uniformity lends an immediate sense of order—it’s far more forgiving than a range of shapes and colors, and it’s aesthetically appealing.”

Tip for parents of prolific young artists: Freundlich uses the app Artkive to keep organized digital records of his daughter’s work. “That was one of the biggest challenges in our house; now we take snapshots.”

Larissa Johnston Architects Birch Plywood Desk On Landing, Rory Gardiner Photo
Above: Repeat cardboard binders—Muji’s Recycled Paper Two-Hole File; $9—line the shelves in a birch plywood work space designed by Larissa Johnston Architects; see the whole project in A London Townhouse Designed to Catch the Light. Photograph by Rory Gardiner.
Shelves in SCDO Partners Charleston Office
Above: Charleston, South Carolina creative company SDCO Partners use Ikea Kuggis bins, $6.99, and Tjena magazine files, $4.99 for two, in their work space. The desks are Ikea’s Alex Desk design.
Explore the rest of the setup in Exotica at Work: 13 Ideas to Steal from an Office Set in a Historic House.

6. Splurge on state-of-the-art shelves.

Like all architects—at least the ones we know—Freundlich is a huge fan of Vitsoe’s modular shelving system designed in 1960 by Dieter Rams. “They’re so handsomely designed, they can exist anywhere; they’re made to move with you and to last a lifetime.” At home, instead of a desk, Freundlich has a Vitsoe shelf that incorporates a flat file; he keeps his work-related things in it and uses his dining table as a desk.

Vitsoe 606 Universal Shelving System
Above: The Vitsoe 606 Universal Shelving System. Read about the design and its applications in The “World’s Greenest and Most Economical” Shelving System, a post by our in-house architect and Vitsoe enthusiast, Christine.
Find more of Freundlich’s work and wisdom here:

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