Wendy A. Jordan's
Home offices have been promoted. No longer just a good idea, they have become must-have spaces. Just about every homeowner wants a home office, whether for household management, telecommuting or a full-fledged in-home business. Most home offices are small, but all are hard-working spaces that need to be models of utility and clutter control.
Remodeling clients recognize the importance of their home office and are ready to give it the design attention it deserves. They want a customized space that fits their business needs and organizational style. But that's not all: they want the office to fit their home style as well. The most successful home offices combine efficient business operation with warm, residential finishes.
The owner of this office converted a spare bedroom on the first floor of her open-plan Sunnyvale, Calif., house into the home base for her financial planning business. "I love good design," she says, so the room "had to offer more than just function." Harrell Remodeling, a design-build firm in Mountain View, Calif., worked from preliminary sketches by Madalyn Baker, - an interior designer with the local firm Design & Interiors - to develop a space that earns a Perfect 10. Harrell's remodeling client loves the room - and so do her clients. "They always comment on the office, saying, 'This is so beautiful,'" she says. With such a smart-looking office, this business owner impresses clients the moment they set foot in the door.
Seyfert used the old closet for lateral files and a mirrored display area that reflects light and garden vistas from the windows on the opposite wall. He recessed the vertical wood divider in the shelving so that clients entering the office could see all the art objects on the display shelves.
The client was very specific in her design requirements. For example, "I needed X number of file drawers," she says, to store her accounting records. Harrell designer Ryan Seyfert delivered all the file space by using furniture-quality drawers in the desk and around the room perimeter, most of it within easy reach of the desk chair. Crafted of maple to match the floors, built-ins and cabinetry in the living room and kitchen, the cabinets also sport cherry trim that picks up on the hardwood accents in the nearby family room. The office is only about 11 feet by 13 feet, but Seyfert found room for four large lateral files in a former closet space. These drawers cover access to the house's crawl space, so Seyfert mounted one stack of drawers on rollers. Screws keep the unit aligned with its "partner" cabinet.
Another priority for the client was keeping the computer equipment out of sight. "I did not want the electronic equipment to be seen by clients," she says. Seyfert stowed the computer modem and speakers on a shallow ledge in the leg space of the desk. The keyboard tucks into a tray. A printer for large jobs sits on a pull-out shelf in a desk cabinet. Only a small printer-fax-copier and twin computer monitors - one for the accountant and the other for her clients on the other side of the desk - are on the counter. Monitor cords slip through a hole in the desktop. Outlets are inconspicuous, but everywhere: on the floor, under the desk and around the room.
"Lighting was important to me too," says the homeowner. Puck lights under wall cabinets lend a warm glow. Track lighting beams onto the workspace and natural light flows into the room through filtering shades.
The room already had a large window area, including the half-round that stretches up to the space-expanding loft ceiling. A soft peach color warms the walls of the room. Seyfert used off-white to define the ceiling - keeping it light and open. Off-white also defines the moldings and trim, lending a residential quality.
The mirrors above the drawers in the old closet space do more than enlarge the room visually. They provide full views of art objects on the shelves for a residential effect. An added bonus is that, "I can look [up] and see my garden [reflected in the mirror], though I'm not facing it," says the homeowner.
Maple facing with horizontal cherry trim turns the cabinetry into a design asset. Aligning the cabinetry with the windowsill yields graceful proportions plus pleasing "air space" overhead. One retractable door under the display niche hides storage; the other hides a television.
A wall of cabinetry features a fireplace surrounded by a lighted display niche, adjustable shelves and file cabinets. Topping the cabinet is a plant shelf, which softens the space. Under the niche are retractable doors concealing a small television. The homeowner often uses the remote-controlled fireplace to take the chill out of the air. "It's really cozy in winter," she says. "The fireplace is my favorite thing," she adds. A beautiful feature that engenders a warm, welcoming ambiance, "it takes this room to another level," she says.
Dave Fox, CR, of Dave Fox Remodeling, Columbus, Ohio, agrees that residential features are part of the new standard for offices. An office building he recently built using residential materials and finishes sold out before construction was completed. "People want more homey environments," he says. Fox's home office clients request such comforts as plasma televisions on swivel stands, media centers, surround-sound and even under-cabinet refrigerators.
Instead of institutional carpeting, Fox is installing hardwood floors accented with area rugs. Even in the Southwest, where tile and stone floors are common, wood floors are in demand for home offices, says Wayne Minde, CR, of Tri-Lite Builders in Chandler, Ariz. Minde chooses wood shades and shutters for a softening effect in home offices and likes to install French doors that open onto the living space to enhance the residential feel.
The custom-built desk stores computer equipment in cabinets and on shelves under the desktop. There's knee room for clients sitting across from the homeowner. Though the windows face the computer screen, light-filtering shades cut down on the glare.
Lighting for home offices needs to blend practicality with aesthetics. Minde specifies quartz halogen fixtures for bright, low-voltage task lighting. He installs dimmer switches so the office lighting can be adjusted for day or night use or for atmospheric effect. Minde likes accent lighting to spotlight pictures and art objects. He uses indirect lighting on plant shelves and soffits to give the room a soft glow. To bring in natural light, Chester, N. J., remodeler Bill Asdal, CGR, makes window openings above counters; in below-grade settings he uses window wells with privacy-preserving glass block glazing.
Homeowners want a full suite of office equipment, but they don't want to look at it. "Concealed storage is important," says Fox. Minde's cabinet shop builds drawers for printers, slide-out, ventilated shelves for the computer CPU and trays for keyboards. Asdal plans long counter spans - the more counter space the better - with file drawers beneath. Minde recommends reserving above-counter wall space for adjustable wood shelving.
The home office should have separate HVAC controls, especially if it's a multiperson space. One reason, of course, is that the office may need heating or air conditioning when the rest of the house doesn't. Another reason: "A few networked computers generate a lot of heat," says Asdal.
Plan the wiring with high capacity and future upgrades in mind. Minde uses Category 5 wiring to handle phone, cable and computer connections; Category 7 handles security systems too. Asdal adds conduit to make it easy to pull lines for regular updates.
And then there are wireless connections. Peter Feinmann of Feinmann Remodeling in Arlington, Mass., sees this technology blurring the line between the home office and the rest of the house. With portable computers in tow, clients may want their choice of homey workstations around the house.
Wendy A. Jordan is senior contributing editor of Professional Remodeler magazine, and the author of numerous remodeling books for contractors and homeowners.