Selecting the right bulletin board for home or office

I recently admitted that I need a bulletin board in my home office. They really are supremely handy. Bulletin boards can serve several purposes (often more than one at a time) and come in a variety of materials and sizes.

The problem was that a quick online search resulted in several options that were, honestly, pretty ugly. Plain cork board and thin, one-inch plywood borders reminded me of the sad, half-abandoned classroom bulletin boards of my youth. I just didn’t want that hanging in my office, where I’d see it every day.

But before we get to the design options, the first step is to identify what role a new bulletin board will play.


I knew I couldn’t make a successful purchase until I clearly defined what I role I expected my board to play. I came up with several options:

  1. Decorative. My daughter has a small bulletin board in her bedroom, which she uses to display photos, mementos, and other paper-based keepsakes. It’s all fun and no business. Some “files” partially cover others and the contents don’t change very often. Occasionally something is added, but rarely anything is taken away.
  2. Reference. Unlike a decorative board, reference boards are more orderly and purposefully organized. The idea is to store oft-referenced material right out in the open for easy use.
  3. Communication hub. For many of us, I’d bet the family refrigerator fills this role. As I’ve said before, this is a tempting but ultimately ineffective practice. Still, I see the appeal of a public communication hub. When I was a college student, it was a common practice to put a dry erase board on the door to one’s dorm room (note: this was long before texting and smartphones existed). Today, it’s a great idea for busy families.
  4. Short-term memory. I maintain a form of this with 3″ x 5″ index cards. There’s always a stack on my desk and I’m always grabbing them throughout the day to jot down something I need to remember but can’t attend to when it arrives. Again, I see the appeal of a larger version of this hanging on a wall, especially when processing all of that incoming “stuff” at the end of the day.
  5. Combination. Of course, it’s quite possible for a bulletin board to meet any combination of the above listed needs. A communication hub with pictures from that summer at the lake? Sure. A reference board with a corner dedicated to quickie tasks? Absolutely.

Knowing your needs can help you choose the type of board to buy, as some materials are better suited to one function over another.

Types based on purpose

  1. Decorative. In this case, boards with felt straps are a great choice. The straps keep you from having to poke pin holes in treasured mementos. Find one that looks great, as looks are a big part of the experience here.
  2. Reference. Unlike a decorative bulletin board, this one has strictly utilitarian needs. Find something that will stand up to wear-and-tear as you’ll be moving things around a lot. It needn’t be ugly, of course, but aesthetics ins’t your primary concern.
  3. Communication hub. For this bulletin board to work, it’s got to be easy to use. Having a bulletin board with a dry erase board is a great option, as is a DIY chalkboard paint option. You might also want to consider a magnetic and push pin board, so kids can quickly attach notes from school to it, for example.
  4. Short-term memory. Dry erase or chalkboard paint combined with a heavy-duty push pin board is again the way to go here. This is for temporary storage of information that is captured quickly, and then purged when no longer necessary.

And, of course, there are boards that combine all four. Find the one that best suits your plans and go for it. As for me, I want something that will give me an overview of what needs to be done for the week: articles due, school stuff for the kids, un-missable calendar events. A magnetic board will work, but I’m going with something that can accept push pins. My current plan is to buy large sections of cork board and cover it with old, decorative burlap sacks we have with vintage farming graphics. I’ll wrap the result in a nice, painted frame. That way I won’t feel badly about putting pins into it and it won’t look terrible on the wall.

21 Comments for “Selecting the right bulletin board for home or office”

  1. posted by Melanie on

    Wow, tons of typos in this article. That is unusual for this site. Is the proofreader on vacation?

    Bulletin boards always look like clutter to me. I’ve never met the person (myself included) who can keep one organized and free of out-dated items.

    Actually for your purposes it sound like you need a good calendar/task application since you are looking for an overview of what needs to be done for the week. I think a bulletin board would be clumsy for this purpose since you would continually have to move things around to keep the most urgent needs on the top.

    Or you could create a virtual bulletin board by creating a dedicated folder on your computer or mobile device. Instead of hanging the documents on your bulletin board, scan them and save to this folder. This way the information if portable and does not add to the visual clutter of your office.

  2. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Melanie — Ouch. I’ll be sure to tell my daughter to hurry up and sleep through the night so I can get adequate sleep for my brain to work up to your standards. As I’ve explained on the site, I’ve had fewer than four hours sleep a night for more than seven weeks now. I’m not even trusting myself to drive more than a few blocks because my concentration levels are so low. And, if my daughter’s sleep habits are anything like my son’s, it will be another five months of exhaustion before I can get real sleep. Just a warning.

    Honestly, though, I looked back over the article and only saw two things that were in any way extremely confusing. I’ve fixed them. In the future, if you want to complain about basic typos, please just send me an email through our comments page and I’ll take care of it. I’m totally aware that I’m making more mistakes than normal right now and don’t mind a quick head’s up. But, like most humans, I respond much better to criticism when it is private.

  3. posted by CanadianKate on

    I’m the kind of person that needs all those scraps of papers all around me. Out of sight is truly out of mind for me and when I put things away in ‘organized’ to-do folders, they often get left until too late.

    So the wall in front of my desk is a mess of important factoids, reminders, a calendar and some inspirational notes. Plus a bulletin board of quotes I’ve had for the past 19 years (I still read and love them.) Since my desk is in the kitchen, this makes the room look messy (but guests love reading my bulletin board.)

    Not sure what the solution is for me. I’ve been mulling that over since the post a couple weeks ago about not letting notes spill over the edge of a bulletin board.

    No matter what kind of board I have, it will be a mess in a short period of time. Having things on my computer doesn’t help me either – I have a full tickler system I put in place that I haven’t looked at for months.

    As I’ve said before, I’m downsizing, so soon my desk is being moved from the kitchen and we are hoping I’ll learn to work at the roll top desk in the living room. The advantage there is that shutting the top will hide all my visual clues, so it might work best for me.

  4. posted by Trisha on

    I have used these at both home and work. Very attractive, and the fabric is rough enough that pin holes can’t be seen. The company has several other options that night work as well.

    My sympathies on the non-sleeping child. I’ve been there and wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

  5. posted by Pat Reble on

    I’ve just been through this exercise myself. I chose a neatly framed combination board from a local office supply store. The top half is cork – great for the decorative function (kids’ artwork, postcards etc). The bottom half is a magnetic whiteboard – within easy reach of my desk, it can be used to write on or stick things to with pretty magnets. I also bought attractive tacks with decorative heads and used them to attach coloured bulldog clips to the cork board for things I don’t want holes in (like photos). It ticks all the boxes for me!
    Good luck with the non sleeping child – it’s a recipe for temporary insanity.

  6. posted by Melanie on

    I wasn’t complaining. I was complimenting the usual professionalism and polish of this blog and wondering how this sloppy one got through the cracks.

  7. posted by G. on

    @Erin – I hope your daughter starts sleeping all night soon. I remember the first time DS did, it was wonderful!

    @Melanie – !?!? Whenever I read comments that start off with critism like that, it tends to set me, and probably lots of other people, to not wanting to really give the rest of the comments serious consideration.

    It amazes me how often apps and other virtual solutions are given, while trashing old-school methods. Many people do not have smart phones, or constant internet access. I know people who have no internet at all. Yes, bulletin boards may become cluttered, but they don’t cost money every month to keep access to them either.

  8. posted by CanadianKate on

    G. I agree that low-cost, low-tech solutions are often the best. Of course, having access to those notes while away from home is also important.

    I have a smart-phone but no data plan so if I’m not connected to wifi, I still have no access to all my files.

    For those like me, if access to the bulletin board is important, take a photo of it with your phone (or camera) before heading out the door. I do that with my grocery list that resides on the fridge. Quite often it is only a couple of items long, so not worth tearing off the whole sheet of paper, but at the same time, if I’m near a shop, I’d like to pick up the items on it (I live in the country so like to batch errands.)

  9. posted by Anna on

    @Melanie: I earn my living by making repairs to other people’s grammar, punctuation, spelling, and syntax. When I visit my favorite sites, which are all run by intelligent people who may commit a typo from time to time, or even (the horror!) a dangler, it’s a pleasure to be off duty and simply enjoy the content. I recommend this approach to all members of the grammar police, whether paid or unpaid.

  10. posted by WilliamB on

    @CanadianKate – are you sure the appearance is a problem? I mean, if it’s not a problem for you (or possibly the people you live with), then it’s not a problem.

    I have a combo bulletin board/dry erase board in my kitchen. It’s a really useful place to put papers I want to be able to get quickly (flight itineraries), or papers I need to see to remember (store credit), and such. The dry erase part is a jotting-down board: cell phone number of visiting guests, notes from a phone conversation, etc.

    I find it easy to think to erase out-of-date info; going through the paper is less frequent. Nonetheless, it’s an excellent solution for me, who is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind type.

  11. posted by Cheryl on

    Though my ultimate preference is for the clean, self-healing “fabric” solutions I’ve seen in major graphic design and advertising spaces, they are (sadly) out of the reach of my pocketbook. But I also love the “urban” look of a polished steel plate adorned with fun/ky magnets. There are multiple vendors on Etsy who offer them customized for your space, with mounting holes pre-drilled, or even covered in various fabric choices, if you prefer that look.

  12. posted by Cheryl on

    And at work, I’m all about the notecards (3×5 or smaller)…which I can easily prioritize and re-prioritize on my Levenger bleachers. []

  13. posted by Jeanne Thelwell on

    @Trisha – pretty, but min $42/22″x22″ seems very pricey.

  14. posted by Alice F. on

    @Trisha: Wow, those are beautiful boards! Yes, a little pricey, but if I am going to have a big square of something hung on my wall, I want it to look nice, and I am not very crafty and would probably not do well making my own. Thanks for sharing.

  15. posted by Emily on

    I certainly feel your pain, Erin – my daughter never slept. She turns 30 on Friday and still never sleeps. 😀
    Great post – you’ve given me an idea for hubby’s office with your cork tiles and burlap! We could really use a corkboard in there, and that’s even with the Mac’s sticky notes and Evernote. Sometimes it just HAS to be on paper.

  16. posted by STL Mom on

    I have a magnetic board in the hall next to my kitchen which serves as a communication board, and a huge corkboard in my mudroom for kids’ artwork. I want to put an even bigger board in my basement to display photos and artwork, and also to absorb noise since we replaced the carpet with a hard floor. Once I paint the walls I plan to follow these instructions:

  17. posted by [email protected] on

    Oh, yeah! I love having a bulletin board in my home office. Mine is the plain jane brown corkboard with a brown frame. It holds a combination of fun and business. I like to put things up there I know I’m going to need access to soon and things that don’t really have a good place but I know I’m going to need them. It’s really just a hodge podge but it works great.

    Maybe it’s time to dress it up a little, though. I actually hadn’t thought to do that.

  18. posted by JC on

    I’m still working on a system for home. I use “Keep” on my phone for shopping lists and to do’s that I will need throughout the day. You can make lists, notes, photos and delete, color-code, and rearrange them at will.

    That notecard bleacher is intriguing. I can think of many uses for it. I might be able to make a rustic knockoff- I don’t think something that polished would look off in my home.

    At work, the bossman likes a very clean and tidy look (read: only the file you’re currently working on is on the desk). I use the sticky note feature on the computer for short case notes, reminders for the Bossman, and a priorities list. Bossman changes the casework priority list frequently, sometimes several times a day. I have the date and time at the top of the priority list and make adjustments as needed. When he changes things I can clarify if that’s really what he wants. I also have a defense if he asks why something is not complete, he changed the priorities!

  19. posted by CanadianKate on

    Cheryl: that is the perfect solution to my conundrum! I probably won’t buy one but it has me searching for an alternate that may work as well.

    Have never imagines something like a bleacher, so didn’t have the basis to imagine a solution for myself. Now I have that. Thanks!

  20. posted by ChrisD on

    I have a great noticeboard with a really fancy frame, the sort you’d expect in an art gallery, with a hessian middle for pinning things (and not expensive at all). I have filled up the space so the exact look of the middle doesn’t matter. It is a souvenir board for everything fun I’ve done this year, with a few ideas to do next pinned in one corner. At the end of the year I will pul it all down and start again (haven’t decided what to with the old stuff, photo it? put it in an album? a box? the bin?).
    Regarding non-sleepy children I was quite stuck with the book, French children don’t throw food (by a US mother of three raising her kids in France with a British Dad), apparently all (most) French (or at least Parisien) babies sleep through the night at 3 months. And apparently in the world of sleep science, they have pretty much figured things out. But does this knowledge filter through to the actual people trying to get babies to sleep? or the books about getting babies to sleep? It seems not. Apparently the answer is ‘le pause’: observe your child for a few minutes before picking them up. In that way they will learn to get from one sleep cycle to the next by themselves without needing help, but in case something is really wrong, then you are right at hand.
    I”m really struck by the amount of stuff ‘we’ know, as in the science is clear, but which is not known by most people. Smoking was definitively proven to cause cancer in ’53 but even in the 90s some members of the general public still thought there were some scientific questions on the matter…

  21. posted by education supplies on

    Pretty! This has been a really wonderful post.
    Thanks for providing this info.

Comments are closed.