STYLE Savvy: What Makes a Space a Haven?

"STYLE Savvy: What makes a space a haven?" by Lisa Hess (

Image credit: (2016), CC0/PD

I’ve been listening to — and greatly enjoying — Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, read by the authorOne day last week, as I was driving home from work, I was listening to the part of the book where she talks about her husband working on the second draft of his first book:

“He worked late at night in a small room we’d converted to a study at the rear of our apartment — a crowded, book-strewn bunker I referred to lovingly as ‘the hole.'”


She went on to say that she’s come to the conclusion that he needs that sort of space — “a closed-off little warren where he can read and write undisturbed….Time spent there seems to fuel him….any quiet corner or alcove will do….There, he can flip between the six or seven books he’s reading simultaneously….”

Okay, wait a minute. This man, the former President of the United States, has an office that looks like mine? He intentionally creates that type of a work space wherever he goesAnd reads multiple books at the same time?

I felt oddly validated, despite the fact that Michelle Obama insists on a door on each of these spaces so she doesn’t have to look at the room that lies beyond the door.

Maybe it’s a style thing.

Though I would like my own I need to see it/drop and rundriven space to be a little less cluttered, I was positively gleeful to discover that a highly intelligent, Ivy-educated, accomplished former President is not only perfectly happy in a space that is, by Type A organizer standards, disorganized — closed-door worthy, even! — but seeks to create that sort of haven, even when on vacation.

When it comes to organization, I’m not seeking to emulate President Obama any more than I’m seeking to emulate my Type A friends who swear by binders and file cabinets. I’m just pointing to anecdotal evidence that it’s possible to look disorganized by Type A standards and still accomplish a lot. 

Even better, perhaps we accomplish a lot because of the spaces we create, not in spite of them. I’ve heard, “I don’t know how you can work in here” more than once. The truth is, some days, I don’t either. But whenever I re-envision or re-design my workspace, personal items and visual inspiration are a part of the package. Sterile office spaces may look lovely, but they’re just not my thing.

We shouldn’t have to rationalize our styles — we should revel in them. As unique individuals, we should set the standards for our spaces based on what makes us comfortable, what what inspires us, and what, to use former First Lady Michelle Obama’s word, “fuels” us.

Even if sometimes we have to close the door.

As an I need to see it person, I know that no matter how many times I clear off my desk, it will never be completely empty. Too much stuff interferes with my concentration, but too little stuff results in a desk devoid of personality and that just doesn’t fuel me.

This afternoon, I hope to assess my desk (funny how these posts inspire) and to give serious consideration to every item on it. Some things are here out of habit. Others are here for a purpose and still others add a playfulness to the space that, as a creative person, I find essential.

What does your haven look like? Is it an endless stretch of clear space, a home for neatly stacked piles or a mishmash of I need to see it task reminders? What interferes and what inspires?

Whatever your haven is, make it intentionally yours.

Your space, your styles, your rules.

Copyright 2019 Lisa Hess


About Author

Lisa Lawmaster Hess has contributed articles to local, national and online publications, and blogs at The Porch Swing Chronicles, The Susquehanna Writers and here at She is the author of two non-fiction books (Acting Assertively and Diverse Divorce) and two novels, Casting the First Stone and Chasing a Second Chance. A retired elementary school counselor, Lisa is a lecturer in psychology at York College and enjoys singing with the contemporary choir at her church.

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