Black and White Minimalist Workspace by Graham in the US

Graham’s Black and White Minimalist Workspace in Minnesota, US

“My primary design goal was to create an office space that is simultaneously modern, minimalist and comfortable”

Trish Ramos
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Name: Graham Neff

Location: Minnesota, United States

Occupation: Director of Supply Chain Projects

Room size: 31 m² (~334 ft²)

Cost of the setup: ~$2,8K (excludes PC tower, includes PC peripherals)

Hello! Tell us a bit about yourself

I was born in Portland, Oregon. I have lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota for the last ten years.

I consider both cities “home” and appreciate them for different reasons. Oregon is one of the most beautiful places in the country. It’s a great place to live for anyone who loves nature.

When I relocated from Oregon to Minneapolis for work, I knew I would miss the forests and mountains that I grew up with.

However, Minneapolis has its own engaging qualities that make it a nice place to live in.

Friendly residents, lots of economic opportunities, a well-run state government, and a strong sense of community are just a few of them.

To live in Minnesota, you must be able to acclimate to the tough winter months; it’s the one drawback that all residents can agree on. But the positives of living here more than outweigh the long winter.

Black and white desk setup by Graham in the US
Although Graham works in the IT space, he hardly has social media outside of some family messaging and news aggregation

My wife and I got married about a year and a half ago during COVID lockdowns, so we got engaged and married the same day over a Zoom call with our families.

My brother officiated the wedding, which is something he does as a side gig for close friends and family.

I have a house in the metro area with my lovely wife and two dogs — Napoleon (French bulldog) and Hideo (Shiba Inu).

My wife and I love taking our dogs to the park, travelling (more so before COVID), and spending time on house projects.

One of our major house projects was remodelling our basement to turn it into what is now my home office.

Both my wife and I work in project management. My wife is engaged with the health care sector, while I work in the supply chain for a US retailer.

My team is responsible for system implementation projects for my company’s supply chain — things like Warehouse Management systems and introducing new technology into distribution centres.

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It’s been an insane couple of years in the supply chain industry, but I enjoy the craziness a little bit and have been fortunate to work with a lot of great people over this time.

If I were to describe myself in a few words, they would probably be pragmatic, collaborative, and loyal.

I try to be realistic in my worldview and use logic to navigate through problems.

I tend to look for the silver lining when things get tough and would rather laugh at failures than get angry over them.

I don’t have any regrets about my life. The decisions you make along the way are what shape you and failures sometimes are more valuable than success (as long as you learn from them).

Treating others with respect and fairness is important to me. I am loyal to those closest to me and hold myself accountable for keeping their trust.

Take us through your setup

Item Model
Monitor Dell S3220DGF 32″, Acer KA272 27″
Monitor mount Uplift Adjustable Monitor Mounts
Monitor light bar Philips Hue Play x2
Speakers Creative Pebble v2
Keyboard Razer BlackWidow v3 w/phantom keycaps
Mouse Razer Viper
Chair Steelcase Series 1 with headrest
Desk shelf Uplift Standing Desk V2
Laptop stand HumanCentric Vertical Laptop Stand
Web camera Razer Kiyo 1080p
Desk mat Uplift Desk Mat
Mouse mat Razer Sphex v3

The catalyst for my workspace overhaul was the COVID pandemic.

A few years ago, I travelled to job sites about 60 to 70% of my work weeks. Once the travel lockdowns hit, I went from heavy travel to mostly 100% work from home.

We had just bought a house, and our basement was the best natural spot for my office, but the space needed a lot of work.

That started my four-month journey to revamp our basement and put together a proper office space.

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We had contractors come in to remove a closet and create a larger main room in the basement, which gave me a lot of room to design the space I wanted.

My wife (a former interior designer) recommended we go with a more modern design for the basement, mixing in a few contemporary farmhouse touches (e.g. the barn door) using a white and black colour scheme.

I was hesitant to have so much white at first, but I trusted her instinct, and it won me over pretty quickly.

It makes the room feel much more spacious even at night, and the black accents pop. After seeing the room take shape, I decided to continue that black and white theme for the office area.

Monochrome workspace featuring the African antelope antlers
Graham’s father passed down the antelope horns to him. They were in rough shape and had a stained wood base that didn’t blend with the environment. “These horns were something I wanted to use as a centrepiece. I re-sanded the base and applied a fresh coat of paint to give it a modern look that feels like it belongs there,” says Graham

My primary design goal was to create an office space that is simultaneously modern, minimalist and comfortable.

Finding the right balance of these design concepts wasn’t easy, as they sometimes conflict with each other.

Going too modern can have a cold and sterile feel while leaning into a design around comfort can lose its aesthetic charm.

I also wanted the desk area to blend into the room as much as possible, so it felt less like an office and more like a cohesive living space.

I ended up finding a good balance using a few different methods and items.

I integrated plants throughout the area to give it some warmth and used leaf overhang to blur the lines between my office and the rest of the room. It helped soften the desk’s perimeter and make the space more inviting.

I sought out black and white accessory designs for decorations that fit a modern minimalist aesthetic.

I had some personal pictures from a Japan trip printed in black-and-white and framed to match the colour scheme.

Black and white desk setup by Graham in the US
Graham spent a lot of time getting the proper lighting in the basement and office area. He used accent LED lighting across the entire room that he can coordinate through an app. “It gives it a much more inviting, low-key look that was missing if I relied just on the ceiling recessed lights,” he says

I bought a standing desk from Uplift that worked well with the theme. The desk itself has a charcoal finish with white metal trim on the legs and accents.

I put in some asymmetrical black shelving to tie the desk and wall together and make the area blend into the rest of the room.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with black electronics when putting an office together, so I tried to break up the flow with white accessories where I could.

The office chair, mini-speakers, mouse, backlights, coasters, and keyboard caps were selected because they were available in white and gave the workspace a nice contrast to the darker colours.

Modern and minimal desk setup by Graham in the US
“While our basement doesn’t get as much natural light as I’d prefer (we have one egress window on the far wall), the abundance of white helps compensate”

I tend to be definitive when doing a project, so the goal was to get all our upgrades complete this year.

I’ve mostly accomplished that goal, with the only remaining update being a hidden bookshelf I will be installing in the far corner of the room.

Overall, I couldn’t be happier with how the setup turned out.

It was a team effort with my wife to transform the room, and we have said we want the rest of the house to evoke this design.

What’s your favourite item on your desk?

My favourite items in my home office are the pictures I took when I was in Japan.

One is of Edo Castle in Kyoto and another is from one of the market districts in Tokyo.

I had some black and white prints framed early last year, and those pictures actually gave me the idea to use a monochrome theme for my office area.

Frames black and white prints from Japan
Graham says he will always remember that trip fondly. “I felt I returned home with a different perspective on myself and others”

Japan is an amazing country with a rich history and a quirky cultural tapestry.

I took my Japan trip during a pivotal point in my life and it turned out to be a very introspective, soul-searching journey.

What apps or tools do you use to get things done?

I am the type of person that needs to write things down to remember them, so using tools to help me manage my life is a necessity.

I am an avid user of OneNote and Evernote in particular, both for work and personal use.

For my job, I heavily use MS Project and Workfront, a web-based project management application.

I also enjoy 3D modelling and programming as one of my hobbies.

I’m a regular user of SketchUp, Blender, and Unreal Engine. I’m a hobbyist and mostly use them for small, personal projects.

Those programs are also the reason I went with a comically-large 64 GB of RAM in my home computer.

I went a little overboard but I never have to worry about memory limitations!

What books, blogs or podcasts recently caught your attention?

I listen to podcasts religiously, particularly those that are technology, news, or gaming-related.

Some of my favourites are The Vergecast, Tech Pod, Freakonomics Radio, Giant Bombcast, Reply All, and Nextlander. I will listen to background music throughout the day as I find dead silence somewhat distracting.

Podcasts/newscasts are my white noise, and I’m more productive with something playing in the background (as long as I’m not in meetings).

I read news, technology, and business articles often; some of my favourite publications are The Atlantic, The Verge, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Digital Foundry.

I haven’t read as many books as I’d like to lately, but I’m currently reading Thinking Better by Marcus du Sautoy, a book about real-world mathematical shortcuts that my wife got me for Christmas.

Any tips for other makers who want to improve their workspaces?

It’s worth investing time in your lighting!

Lighting is often overlooked but is one of the most important aspects of any home setup.

LED bulbs that provide at least soft warm colour (if not full colour) make your office space much more inviting and pleasant. Especially if you spend a lot of time at your desk.

Harsh, bright lighting gives me headaches and getting proper lighting that I could configure for colour and brightness was a game-changer.

Modern and minimal desk setup by Graham in the US
An uncluttered office area will make you feel more productive and improve your mood

I initially bought Phillips Hue colour lights for my office area to test them out; I ended up liking them so much I outfitted our entire house with them.

When you are making upgrades to your home office, spend time up-front cleaning it out as much as possible.

You will have maximum motivation to clear up clutter if you do it at the same time you are making other changes.

I’d also recommend including cable management as part of the cleanup.

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A couple of hours spent hiding that mess of cords will give you a clean, appealing desk space that you will enjoy being at.

What does your typical day look like?

I spend quite a bit of time in my office.

My typical workday involves about six to twelve meetings with heavy video conferencing.

I wake up around 5:30 to 6 am to feed our dogs, then work within the next two hours.

My company is based on the West Coast, so I tend to work a little later in the day due to the time zone difference. My bedtime can vary wildly depending on how tired I am and what day of the week it is.

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I try to get to bed by 10 pm or 11 pm on the weekdays, but on the weekends, I’m typically up pretty late on my computer or watching something on TV.

One of the best advantages to my new office is that it is on a completely separate floor from our normal living space.

It gives me a sense of “being in the office” because I have full separation from the rest of the house.

This especially helps with the number of video calls I have; my wife largely works from home too so we don’t have to talk over each other when we’re both in meetings.

When we’re in the house and done with work, my wife and I have our stable of streaming shows we normally watch (a mix of everything from The Expanse to the Righteous Gemstones).

I also like playing games on the PC, and we recently started playing more board games.

I found out from the pandemic that I’m more of an introvert than I realised, so I’ve somewhat enjoyed the extra time at home.

Your tips for working from home?

I’m always searching to find my own balance in the work from home world, so I’m not sure how much advice I can give to others.

I’ve learned a few things in my experience that have been helpful. Taking small breaks throughout the day is very helpful for me to break up the monotony and keep myself energised.

In the summer, we’ll take our dogs on walks during lunchtime to get some air and sun.

Lastly, having a work area that you can delineate from your normal living space has been a big help to separate my work life and my personal life.

That being said, I can often struggle with the blurred lines of work and home these days so I’m always looking for tips from others.

We’re a reader-supported publication. This article might contain affiliate links. It means we may receive a commission if you click a link and buy a product that our maker has recommended. The interview was done independently.

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