Careful planning makes home office functional

A home office is reportedly the second most-used room in many homes, right after the kitchen. Unfortunately, that same office is often the most neglected room.

The home office is frequently the place where you recycle furniture from other rooms, work on school projects and pile homework and mail. For a busy household with kids, the home office may be the place where the high-speed Internet connection is located. It probably also houses the scanner, printer and fax machine, all of which come with bundles of ugly wires.

The secret is to respect the space and allow it to function just like any other legitimate office space.

“Today’s home office needs are getting much more sophisticated,” said Barry Galvin, owner of Galvins Workspace Furniture in Oakland, Calif. “There’s a new professionalism in the home office. We’re seeing a need for more storage options, more office equipment, even multiple workstations.”

One issue associated with a home office is that it may need to be used by several people. If this is your situation, take this into consideration when you’re planning your more professional space. One couple with whom I worked figured out a system for sharing their office space: He operated after hours and when he was home from his road trips, and when he was away, she used the space for her scrapbooking hobby. In their case we designed custom built-ins that perfectly suited their divergent needs as they shared one room.

For another couple, sharing an office was a new experience since he had been retired for some time and was used to working alone. A new house afforded his wife an opportunity to create an office at home, but it meant that the limited space would have to suffice for two workstations.

If you’re thinking about designing a home office, take the time to plan it as circumspectly as you would office space that you pay for by the square foot. When the rent is $1.50 or $3 per square foot, a business owner tends to plan out the space carefully even before signing a lease.

“Trying to jury-rig furniture and storage products that come from a variety of sources to fit your home office just doesn’t work,” said Diane Turnwall, vice president of business development for ORG Home Organization. “The room dimensions are different, as are the scale and often the function of the items you’re trying to fit in.”

The goal of home organization, according to Turnwall, is to make daily life more enjoyable and less stressful.

“Tackling the home office is one way to achieve that,” says Turnwall. “The home office has become ubiquitous, but the furniture and storage products that are needed haven’t kept pace with the demand.”

The room in the photo shown here offers a sleek, continuous surface and two clean workspaces. Space-efficient lateral files extend from the wall only about 18 inches to 22 inches. Serious filing space is accessible to each person, and yet each also has two box drawers for the typical utilitarian items such as staplers, pens, pencils, hole punch, rulers, paper clips and note pads. A phone can be shared, as can the printer and computer.

Another highly prized element in a well-designed home office is closed storage, offered here behind four door fronts. When supplies are concealed behind doors, the room feels much cleaner, neater and more organized.

This example is monochromatic and modern-looking, but there is also a trend toward more soft, comforting and cozy styles. Traditional wood desk companies are offering workstations that include articulating computer keyboard drawers, a storage compartment for the CPU and lateral file drawers. Workstations are available in traditional woods such as cherry, mahogany and oak.

Many manufacturers have long been making an “office armoire,” but approach these pieces cautiously. They generally consist of a rather small work area fit for home bill-paying, e-mail communication and maybe a few files, but they aren’t adequate or convenient enough for someone who actually works from home and generates a good amount of paperwork.

Just like the kitchen, a functioning home office demands the maximum amount of organization. Draw a floor plan, shop carefully for furniture and consider built-ins. The whole point of dedicating this space to an office is to make it work for you.

Christine Brun is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of “Big Ideas for Small Spaces.” Send questions and comments to her by e-mail at or to Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, CA 92112.

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