Easy Commutes

A Look Inside Three Seattle Home Offices

How these housebound-for-now Seattleites made working from home actually work.

By Karin Vandraiss July 13, 2020

Bedroom HQ

Kellie Phelan | Founder, The Works

Kellie Phelan spent the last two years creating a space centered around community gathering through hands-on classes. When Washington’s stay-home order began, the Works—part craft studio, part test kitchen, part garden shop in the Central District—sat largely empty as Phelan’s team deftly turned to digital courses on growing victory gardens and the art of denim mending, DIY class kits, and online retail. This left Phelan in the strange position of running a community-centric space mostly out of her bedroom in the Seaview neighborhood of West Seattle.

Sound Off: A noise machine can drown out loud kids or dueling conference calls. 

A noise machine works overtime to muffle giggles and chatter and the occasional meltdown from her twin toddlers, Ace and Pepper, downstairs. The bedroom office is the only kid-free room in their Northwest Modern home, where Phelan’s husband Matt also works remotely, a live-in “bro pair” tracks the toddlers, and the family’s golden retriever lies underfoot. “I stock up on enough snacks, water, and coffee to hold me over and lock myself in until lunch,” she says.

While the room is a catch-all for items put out of reach of tiny hands (a towering fiddle leaf fern and Edison lamp are unintentional office accoutrement), she does keep the desk, formerly dedicated to folding laundry, free of stuff. “This is where I put my head down and focus,” says Phelan. “The clear surface allows me to think and breathe.”

As workspaces go, the room does have some charm. Gracious windows offer plenty of light and a view of the water, if you stand on your tip toes. Phelan often logs back on after putting the twins to bed, switching from the ergonomic exercise ball to an easy chair as the light fades. When she closes her laptop for the night she slips it into her backpack underneath the desk, out of sight and (almost) out of mind.

Tips from Kellie Phelan

1. Plant Magic: Local shops like Glasswing Greenhouse and Fleurt can deliver a houseplant right to your door.

2. Take Five: Making the bed and clearing clutter helps with focus when work and sleep space converge. 

Lights, Camera, Guest Room

Travis Mayfield | Anchor, Q13

Every morning at 2am, Travis Mayfield, an anchor and host of Q13 News This Morning, quietly makes his way to the basement. With the help of the station’s chief photographer, a spare bedroom doubles as a homecasting studio, complete with stage lights, a set piece with the station logo, and a mattress propped against the wall to help with soundproofing.

“I was surprised we could even do it,” says Mayfield. “We spent a Sunday figuring out how it would work, and I was live the next morning.”

Mayfield and his husband Curtis decided to finish the basement of their 1924 Montlake Craftsman in 2018, when their son Greyson was still an infant. The project realized the couple’s long-standing desire for a more functional basement. Eight months later the foundation sat at street level, and the new “basement” housed a mudroom, bedroom, bathroom, laundry room, TV-playroom, and modest wine cellar.

“It’s nothing glamorous, but the commute is great,” says Mayfield. “And I can run down the hall and change over the laundry during a commercial break.” (At 7:05, Curtis often slides a fresh cup of coffee and breakfast just out of the frame.) A window that lets in some natural light feels like a godsend, and the warm yellow walls, selected with help from his six-year-old daughter Ellie, have grown on him. The kids’ artwork hangs on the wall, strategically placed to always be in sight.

While the past months have upended his life, Mayfield never loses the perspective forged when Ellie’s twin brother, Tommy, died in 2016. “Our life burned down when our son died, but we rebuilt,” says Mayfield. “You have to put one foot in front of the other, and learn to live in a new way.”

At 10:02am, Mayfield turns off the lights, pushes the door to the basement closed, and heads upstairs to his family. 

Tips from Travis Mayfield

1. In the Details: Personal items can lend a sense of permanence to a temporary space.   

2. Don’t Break the Bank: A lightweight folding desk is the real MVP of this makeshift office.



Homeward Bound

Nate Brown | Master’s candidate, University of Washington, Veteran

After more than a decade of service, Nate Brown left the army in 2018 and moved with his wife, Charlotte, from Olympia to Morgan Junction. He had enrolled at UW to pursue a teaching career, and Charlotte planned to give corporate law a try. They downsized from a house with a two-car garage to a condo about a third of the size, and dedicated a nine-by-nine–foot second “bedroom” as a home office and storage (okay, dumping ground) for their extensive outdoor gear.

A camping trip minus some left-behind tent poles prompted a months-long Kondo session to banish chaotic, overflowing plastic bins and instill a sense of order, which Brown particularly appreciated once he started using the room primarily as an office. “My lifestyle had been so transient, and I constantly had to reevaluate my possessions,” says Brown, but he’d since given into his inner gear nut. 

After he combed through their five camp stoves, a bevy of Nalgene bottles, and 12 assorted day and hiking packs, a system ultimately evolved. He organized by activity rather than individual item, with designated boxes filled with specific gear for hiking, skiing, camping, mountaineering, etc. An alpine adventure photographer on the side, he also needed room to store camera equipment.

Neatness is part of the aesthetic. “I enjoy organizing, it’s the army in me,” says Brown. “But the goal is convenience and efficiency to streamline packing and unpacking.” A similar level of efficiency informs his workspace. He recently added a shelf box for drawer space, realizing he had a dedicated place for his carabiners, but not for his textbooks.

Efficiency, Cubed: Skubb boxes from Ikea keep smaller items organized and neatly packed in a dresser.

At one point Brown flipped the room entirely, both to give the desk area more breathing room and because he was going a little stir crazy being stuck indoors. But rather than dwell on waylaid excursions, he focuses on getting slowly back outside on the weekends and planning future trips. And using the extra time at home to thoroughly clean his gear, of course.

Tips from Nate Brown

1. Visibility, Versatility: Wire rack shelving offers endless possibilities for hanging gear (a peg board is zip tied to the rack itself so it can move with the unit).

2. Out with the Old Ask yourself: Do I need multiple of this item? Have I used the item in over a year? Does that jacket still fit? Does that boot have a hole in it?

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