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Tips for designing a functional home office

Millions of Americans, or about 5 percent of the current workforce, now call home their workplace, according to the U.S. Census. With the uptick in those working from home, the need for a dedicated home office space has increased. Now, some families are carving them into nooks, others are transforming bedrooms and some are converting that one-time guest casita into an office.

Tony Grant, principal at Las Vegas-based interior design firm Grant Design Group, says he is seeing more and more requests for home office design help today. While not every one of his clients works from home, many of them still want a space to “get away and sit down and think, and do work while at home, even though that’s not their primary location for work.”

Here’s a look at some of today’s home office design trends, along with some considerations to keep in mind when creating a home office to suit your needs.

Starting with the desk

With the increased emphasis on ergonomics in desk and chair design for the past decade, height-adjustable desks are now one of the biggest home office furniture requests that Cathy Daniell, a buyer for Walker Furniture, sees. Homeowners prefer desks with power lift features, she adds.

Corner desks are a thing of the past, Daniell noted, and if homeowners don’t want an adjustable desk, they tend to want one that’s fashionable and flexible. So, she also fields requests for longer desks that can double as decor pieces with a stool or seats under them.

“The whole idea of a desk is that it’s not just a desk. Even bookcases are open and decorative, and it’s more of an accessory piece,” she said. Bookcases with metal finishes, in particular, are also popular office accent pieces, she added.

How the desk is situated in the space is also important, said interior designer Carolyn DiCarlo.

“You want to make sure that you have access to everything within reach, so you don’t want the circulation part of your desk area bigger than about 4 feet by 4 feet,” she said. “You also want to orient your desk so that you see people entering and leaving the room; it’s an old feng shui trick that has a calming effect.”

“Most clients want everything within a short distance,” Grant said, “drawers, lateral files, pullout trays, whatever it might be, the shape’s not as important as function. … We want to do as little as possible in terms of confining the person.”

DiCarlo also recommends positioning the desk near a window so the user can glance away into a space with natural light in order to relieve eye strain.

“If you can be looking out at nature, even if it’s a planter box outside your window, the more calming it will be. Nature is the ultimate antidote for balancing, and good old sunshine is an essential part of nature’s healing effects,” she said.

For larger rooms, DiCarlo suggests making a smaller desk area and a separate “musing” area with a sofa or reading chair in it to unwind between tasks. Grant likes to incorporate a chaise lounge into some offices for clients who like to take midday power naps.

Grant also emphasizes the importance of a good chair, especially for those who work from home and spend a lot of hours in the office space. His top recommendation is the Herman Miller Aeron office chair. You’ll likely spend between $400 and $500, but he argues that it’s money well-spent.

“It’s the most successful ergonomically designed chair available,” he added.


For Grant, staying on top of technology in office space design is important. His customers demand tablets, desktops, digital television programs and cellphone apps all be integrated and seamlessly used through different monitors and televisions. Charging ports, video conferencing capabilities and the ability to hop from one device to another are also common requests.

“It’s a subject we have to keep studying and know a lot about,” he said.

With more technology, wire and cable management also becomes a design concern. Sometimes, cavities need to be created within furniture and desks to make the technology ecosystem work without leaving eyesore cord bundles at people’s feet or along walls.

With sleeker, more modern designs using glass, steel, plastics and carbon fiber, Grant’s team is forced to be more creative with finding places to run cables than when he worked with bulkier, traditional or Mediterranean-style home office furnishings.

Grant also finds lighting in office spaces to be very important. He tries to incorporate as much natural light in his designs as possible, and he always encourages clients to have lighting from more than one source — lamps, can lights, natural light — to reduce computer glare and eye fatigue.

Color considerations

DiCarlo says color can be an important factor in making a home office space comfortable and productive.

She gives some of her views on how certain colors can influence an office space. Red, she said, “stimulates, rouses circulation, helps anemia and sadness,” but too much can be overstimulating. Green “acts as a sedative to the nervous system and is helpful for sleeplessness and exhaustion,” she adds, and blue is “useful for calming emotional stress,” though if too strong it can cause tiredness. Yellow, on the other hand, stimulates and is a good color for mental work, she added.

DiCarlo says people often think blue is a good color for office walls only to realize the way the color looks on a sample is very different. Then, the blue shade can suddenly seem overwhelming on an entire wall or room.

“Think tint, not color” when it comes to choosing a color for your space. “The subtlety of the color will have a more profound effect on your mood,” she said.

She also cautions against accent walls in home offices, as the space may be too small. The accent could potentially distract or not have the intended effect that it would on, say, a long wall in a larger room.

Finding the right color for the office requires being in tune with the emotional space you’d like to enjoy in your office, DiCarlo explained. Most people want to feel less anxious or tired and calmer.

“Use these emotional cues to find the appropriate color balance,” she said.

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