Smart Study Spaces for Distance Learning from Creative Parents

Sep 9, 2020 / Liset Marquez

Kim Sem Manalansan knew this summer that she needed to create study spaces for her two elementary-aged children who would be distance learning at home.

Their setup last year, which involved letting her then-third grader switch between the couch and dining table wasn’t working, especially with his sister starting kindergarten in the fall.

“I knew my kids are not going to be seeing their friends so I wanted to make it extra special for them,”; she said.

As students are going back to school, parents like Manalansan have found creative ways to convert areas in their home into stylish study spaces which can last even when in-person classes resume.

Read on to learn how these creative moms built organized and chic study spaces. Who knows, maybe it will inspire you to build one for your school-age kids!

Ikea Storage Cabinets Create Study Desk for Two

ikea storage bins double as base for stylish study space

In early August, Manalansan and her husband heard from their children’s school district that distance learning would be continuing in the fall. The notice came with advice to create a distraction-free learning space for their kids.

She knew the underutilized dining room in her Orange County home would be the ideal spot because it would allow her to keep an eye on her kids while still giving them more study space. Most of the room was empty except for a small round dining table on one side.

Manalansan had a vision for the space but it wasn’t until she bought the Ikea storage bins, which would serve as the base of her table, that she began sketching out the details.

Her tabletop is made of three-quarter inch thick medium-density fibreboards cut to her specifications: two pieces totaling about 11 feet long and 20 inches deep. While she is no stranger to woodworking she said she picked the surface because it would require less sanding.

She then ordered marble contact paper for about $20 to add some elegance to the table. She attached the table tops to the Ikea storage bins and used one L-bracket from the wall to the tabletop to secure it. In all, Manalansan spent about $35 building her faux marble table top while the bins came out to under $100.

“I love the expensive look but not the price tag,”; she said as she laughed.

closeup of faux marble tabletop with kids crayons and coloring activity on top

Manalansan said she then upcycled items around her home, such as the globe and plants to help liven up the desk decor.

She also used some extra metal mesh and scrap wood to create the dual mesh wire wall organizers. At the bottom are plastic containers, attached with zip ties that hold pencils, markers and crayons. She also added their names at the top of their wall organizers.

Even when distance learning has ended, Manalansan said she intends to keep the space for their schoolwork. At the same time, she knows it can easily be transformed into a buffet table for family gatherings.

“I knew I could make it look nice to blend in with my decor but also make something the kids could totally enjoy as well,”; she said.

Converting Hallway Storage to Distance Learning Areas

hallway converted into stylish study space

Before COVID, Caroline Johnson already had a designated area for her kids’ homework, computer, and craft time in a nook at the end of a hallway.

When distance learning began at the end of the last school year, Johnson said her two older kids — in second and fifth grade at the time — used that space. Eventually, though, to give the kids space from their dueling live classes, Johnson moved one of the desks into her daughter’s room.

“With my third child entering kindergarten, and with distance learning for all three kids in the fall, we knew we’d have to make some adjustments for the upcoming school year,”; she said.

Having gained experience from the last distance learning session, Johnson knew each needed his or her own space for the virtual classroom instruction time.

Her daughter remained in her room for this year; Her son, who just started kindergarten, has a desk in her home office for more hands-on support. The third grader occupies a new study space Johnson created in the hallway.

The hallway originally housed built-in top and bottom cabinets that were used to store blankets, linen storage and towels, shown below.

hallway builtin before study space makeover

With the depth of the cabinets, Johnson figured it would be a great space to place the desks that were originally in the nook at the end of the hallway.

Johnson said she wanted to create a space “dedicated to learning that was playful yet refined.”;

“What came to mind was the book 'Where the Wild Things Are’ – I wanted a space that was somewhat wild but peaceful,”; she said.

Using that as the theme, Johnson adopted a color scheme based on nature and gemstones hues. She also tapped into her own design preferences; drawn to a more natural, subdued color palette and a Mid-Century Modern, Bohemian motif.

But she also “wanted to do something fun, stylish and practical for kids,”; Johnson said.

two young boys at their desks which are in a hallway converted into a stylish study space

Johnson said she “didn’t want to break the bank”; with her project so she upcycled items she could find around the house including the runner, cabinet door knobs and the wall art. She also added fringed rugs under each desk.

“The most expensive thing purchased that I didn’t have was paint and paint supplies,”; she said.

Relocating the study space to the hallway actually gave Johnson and her family the space she needed to create a common reading area. But this creative mother wasn’t going to lose out on valuable storage space.

“Since I was losing linen storage space, I decided to order empty bean bags that would be in the new reading area and serve two functions: store the linens and become filling for our new seating,”; she said.

And a move worthy of extra credit points, Johnson was able to add additional storage! The seating bench pictured above was actually an upright bookshelf which she laid horizontally and filled with bins to house more books and games. She completed the look by topping it with a seating cushion she was able to grab from outside.

creative mother painting wall art in reading nook area

hallway nook converted into a reading nook

In all, it took her a weekend to complete the two spaces, including some whimsical painting.

“I wanted a pattern for the reading nook area that was fun but not too distracting so rather than a wallpaper, I painted the arrows and lines just to sprinkle in some whimsy,”; she said.

Johnson said her kids “love having their own office and organized area for school, although the reading area is more of their favorite.”;

“It’s like a mini library for them and a quiet space where they can plop themselves on the bean bags and cozy up to a book,”; she shared.

Guest Room Doubles As Study Room

guest room doubles as study space

Daniela Munoz knew her 12-year-old daughter needed her own study space, away from her rambunctious three-year-old brother.

“She needs her own private space where he can’t interrupt her classes,”; she said.

Like many other parents, she helped her daughter get by last school year using common areas, switching between the couch and kitchen island. But that was not ideal.

For this school year, with more advanced notice, Munoz converted her guest bedroom. Before she could create a study space, she moved a TV and a small dresser drawer out of the room.

“She needs an actual area to work, last year it was strictly online and she didn’t even need a space for paper homework,”; Munoz said. “Now her school requires she finish homework packets once a week.”;

For those parents contemplating a study space in their home, Munoz has a word of advice: set it up near an electrical outlet. After all, their computers will need to be on for several hours!

Munoz said she perused various furniture websites for her daughter’s desk, chair and other organizational items.

In the end, she picked out a table online she knew can be repurposed anywhere in the home once distance learning has ended. Since it wasn’t a traditional desk (which can be on back order), Munoz said she was able to get all the items shipped within five days.

She also ordered a desk calendar and a whiteboard so her daughter can write out her schedule and keep her daily assignments organized, Munoz said.

Munoz also bought her daughter a filing cabinet to keep her paperwork organized, with each drawer dedicated to a separate subject.

“You really have to look at the reviews to make sure everything is good,”; Munoz said. “I seriously did my homework and I’m happy with the end product.”;

Even more important, her daughter was all smiles when she walked into her new space on the first day of school

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