Designing A Home Office That Works

Home offices come in all shapes and sizes--some home-grown, others professionally planned.

Carlsbad interior designers Rick Anderson and Patricia Secord have designed home offices in space ranging from a 36-inch wide length of a family room wall to a suite-size room with a bath.

Their designs are keyed to comfort, accessibility and tranquility--what they call "the CAT principle."

High on the comfort list is the chair. It is an important, sometimes underestimated, component of the home office.

"The size and proportion of each person is different, so you must sit in a variety of chairs before you choose yours," Secord says.

"People must pay more attention to seating," says David Kruse of Contract Interiors, an office furnishings showroom at the San Diego Design Center in Sorrento Mesa.

"Just because it's a home office does not mean it should be a budget chair. Chairs we sell to offices start around $400. Businesses invest in (their employees). You should invest in yourself, too."

Manufacturers of office furnishings are bringing out furniture lines more suitable for homes, and leasing companies are beginning to seek small home-business clients as well as the big office contract.

But, at an average cost of $2,500 to $4,500 for a study-sized modular grouping of furniture, and twice that price for a solid wood traditional suite, casual customers may be tempted to shop at budget retail outlets.

But, designers and office planners say, there is a trade-off in that approach.

"It's really cheaper to do it better," Anderson says, "because the furniture will last. And, you save money by hiring a designer because the furniture and fixtures will all fit into your home better. Don't spend part of your budget making errors and then having your designer come in and fix it."

Like the business office, the home office makes a statement about the individual and how serious the person is about work--a statement conveyed to the client or customer who comes to the home office.

"If you have clients coming to your office, you need a professional presentation," Kruse says. "I've gone into some home offices where the owner has apologized for the office."

But suppose you are the only employee, and your customers will never see your yard-sale furniture?

Your state of mind may be the deciding factor.

"The discipline of working at home can be a problem. You need to psych yourself up for that," says Anderson. That is easier when your office looks and feels like a place of business.

The visual aesthetic, the lighting, the freedom from distraction and the insulation of sound and environment are also important characteristics of an office in your home.

If your office will double as a guest room, an increasingly popular option, your choices become even more critical.

Donna Taylor, a designer with the Austin Hansen Group, has designed home offices in wardrobe closet spaces, in bedroom alcoves, even in a laundry room. "We put the laundry equipment on a back patio porch and converted that 6x10-foot space to an office with white Formica and lots of storage," she says. "You don't need a large room if you plan it correctly."

Organization is important to any business place, and it takes on added impact when you work at home.

"You need to organize it all so that it stays organized," Anderson says. His technique is to plan a place for each office item--from reference books and materials to computers and fax machines.

"If you have a special place for each item, you know what goes in that place. If it's empty, you know what is missing. You know where every piece belongs. You don't have to search for anything, and you don't make piles and stacks of things." He borrowed his philosophy, he says, from garages he has seen where every tool has its own outlined place at the workbench.

Secord and Anderson converted a sitting room at the end of a long bedroom into a home office for a teacher who uses it for lesson planning on her computer and grading papers at the desk. "She wanted a very feminine look, and we accomplished that with light wood and plantation shutters," Anderson says.

Secord suggests a ceiling track that bears a folding partition to create an office space in a multipurpose room. "When you use the office, the partition is open. When you want to conceal the office, you close it and turn your office chair out instead of in," she says.

Murphy beds and day beds allow overnight visitors to share your business space. File and storage units that close up to conceal printers and papers make the transformation quick and easy.

But there are some extras that you might want to include that are not as accepted in the traditional office.

"I always add a TV to the home office," Taylor says. "And most of my clients are also asking for stereos in there, too."

With an environment like that, you may never take a day off.

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