$500 and Under: Create a compact home office
If living space is at a premium, consider converting an underused closet into a home office. If you have a 4-foot-wide closet, start by removing any built-ins and freshening up the walls with paint or wallpaper (two double rolls can cost as little as $60). Next, spray-paint two two-drawer file cabinets ($55 each at Staples) a bright color to complement the walls. Place an easy-to-clean IKEA Galant white table top ($70) over them to create your work surface and add three clean-lined Ekby Jarpen wall shelves ($25 each) above to hold books, papers, baskets, and knickknacks. Lighting is crucial in a small space, so be sure you have a bright overhead fixture as well as a task lamp; an electrician can install a double outlet for as little as $150, so you’ll have a place to plug in your computer, phone, and whatever else you might need. Finish the space by hanging pegboard or corkboard on the doors or painting them with chalkboard paint. Tuck in a small swivel chair (as little as $25 for IKEA’s Snille model) and get to work.