Found-Space Home Offices

You don't need to have a dedicated home office. Nearly any space can be adapted with a little ingenuity.


Planning a home office means finding a place to set up shop, a task that may require less space than you think. Before you start, ponder these possibilities.

Upwards of 50 million Americans currently work at least part time from their homes, and millions more have created stations for paying bills, keeping track of finances and investments, pursuing hobbies, and e-mailing family and friends. And offices aren't always for adults; kids use them too.

These days, the central figure in most home offices is the personal computer. Even though computers have gotten smaller and smaller, they still require space. In most cases you don't have to dedicate a whole room, but can just carve out a corner or design an office that also serves other purposes. Take a look at what these eight families have done.

In the pantry

Enlarge Image Tired of working in a remote upstairs bedroom, Sue Buchheit relocated her office to space near the kitchen.

Early in the process of finding a site for your home office, ask yourself a couple of questions: Do you need a place where you can confer with clients? Are privacy and solitude musts for your line of work? For interior designer Sue Buchheit, the answers were "no" and "no." Sue doesn't need conference space because she presents her ideas at her clients' homes and businesses, and she likes to stay in close touch with the hub of her household.

Enlarge Image A printer, fax, and copier unit hides out in under-counter cabinets to the right of the computer station. Cabinets in the background accommodate a commodious pantry.

For Sue, a butler's pantry off the kitchen turned out to be the ideal spot for an office. Here she has room for bookshelves, file cabinets, a computer, and fax machine -- all within easy arm's reach of the rolling chair and earshot of the kitchen.

Master Bedroom Balcony

Enlarge Image Because Tom's office is open to living spaces, customized storage was used to hide computer equipment and files. A window seat makes visitors comfortable.

A good home office encourages creativity, aids productivity, and helps you get the most out of your day. It should also be a place you enjoy coming to and (almost) regret leaving.

Software executive Tom Lennon kept that in mind when he "found" office space in the new home he and wife Trish planned. His study occupies a space off the master bedroom balcony that overlooks their main-level living room and also commands views of their wooded Seattle-area site.

Enlarge Image Stepped shelving and cabinets form a partial barrier between the office and the home's stairway. A counter to their left provides more shelves and spread-out space for work in progress.

Tom's study features a built-in desk and window seat, ample file cabinets, and custom shelving, plus a pair of pocket doors opens the office to the adjacent master suite. A vaulted ceiling keeps the space from feeling claustrophobic.

Though it is a refuge that's away from the hubbub of family activities, the office isn't so far that pets and the family's two young boys can't drop by to see what Dad is doing.

Master Suite

Enlarge Image Though it has a parlorlike atmosphere, Sam's office means business. It's fully equipped with a computer, fax machine, printer, and copier.

Sometimes the answer to providing space for a work center is to add more space. That's what Mae and Sam Peck did with their one-story Seattle bungalow. Their second-level addition includes a new master suite and a comfortable home office for Sam's aviation marketing business.

Enlarge Image Built-in bookcases flank the fireplace. The woodwork on the mantel, windows, and door casings duplicates the downstairs trim.

With a direct-vent gas fireplace and upholstered lounge chairs, the office doubles as a sitting room. A deck off the sitting area affords Sam views of the Cascade mountains and passing planes.

Adding a second story isn't a project to be taken lightly. But if, like Mae and Sam, you're happy with your home and need room for an at-home business, up may be the best way to go. One key to planning a successful home office addition is keeping an eye on the possibility that you may sell your house one day. Accommodate office needs now, but design in enough flexibility so the room can be converted to less specialized purposes later.

Master-Bedroom Alcove

Enlarge Image Do you do your best thinking lying down? You can in this office, where semisheer roman shades filter sunlight along a window-lined banquette; at night, electronically controlled blackout shades offer privacy, and track lighting takes over.

Located in an alcove just off the master suite, the workspace shown also serves as a family gathering spot and home library. Along one side, window walls wrap around a long banquette that invites the owners and their two daughters to kick off their shoes, stretch out, and savor a good book or catch a quick nap.

Enlarge Image Faced with a flat roof that has no ceiling suspended beneath it, the architect chose to attach track lighting directly to the roof decking.

Although designed as a household-management office, this work/sitting space could serve a home-based business that focuses more on creative thinking than on paperwork. This office serves another purpose: It's a classroom where the owners homeschool their youngsters.

Enlarge Image The custom-designed desk closes up at the end of the day to leave no reminder that this is a hardworking work center.

On the office side of the room, maple shelving and a drop-front desk keep everything organized and within easy reach. The shelving, filled with books and memorabilia, resembles stacks of cubes, in keeping with the home's California contemporary styling. Interior designer Brindan Byrne incorporated a desk that offers minimal workspace -- just enough room for a laptop computer and a few other items -- but includes drawers and cubbies where bills can be stashed.

Redesigned Spare Bedroom

Enlarge Image Cubbies above the desk organize baskets for paperwork, mementos, and even a compact stereo system. For safety, the catwalk is covered with nonslip Berber carpeting.

When empty nesters Ina and Irwin Rubenstein moved into their San Diego condominium, the dated spaces needed some modernizing. Fortunately, they could turn to their daughter, architect Ione Stiegler, for a remodeling plan.

Enlarge Image Adjustable melamine-covered shelves have a 1-inch lip made of rock-hard maple. When the occasional earthquake rattles San Diego, the books stay put instead of "walking" off the shelves.

Because Irwin, a retired plant biology professor, currently has a consulting practice, he wanted an efficient, yet pleasing, home office that included shelving for hundreds of volumes of books and reference materials. Stiegler created the work center by reconfiguring a former secondary bedroom. She took advantage of the room's 13-foot ceiling height by designing a dramatic library wall that's nearly two stories high. A rolling ladder provides access to a catwalk that puts upper shelves and cabinets within easy reach.

Simple Spare Bedroom

Enlarge Image The desk includes two drawers and plenty of knee space. Cabinets and open shelving occupy the rest of what used to be a standard, 2-foot-deep bedroom closet.

"Spare" bedrooms make natural sites for home offices. Trouble is, secondary bedrooms are usually so small that after you've set up a work center in one, there's not much room for anything else. To stretch a 10-x-11-foot bedroom, interior designer Ann Patterson opened up its closet, adding 2 feet to the room's length.

Enlarge Image A lateral file drawer puts paperwork a swivel of the chair away. Drawers above the file hold video tapes.

Into the former closet went cabinetry, an L-shaped desk, and a video center. At the other end of the room, a three-piece sectional sofa, ottoman, and easy chair let the office do double duty as a cozy den. And rearranging the sofa lets the space serve a third purpose: sleeping quarters for overnight guests.

Loft Space

Enlarge Image The custom-made desk mixes black laminate with bird's-eye maple. "I love to be here," Helmi says. "It's away, but I still know what's going on. I'm not stuck off in a dark corner by myself."

When Helmi and Ron Banta built their new home in Indianapolis, they incorporated a compact, but well-engineered, work station for Helmi in otherwise unusable loft space overlooking the family room. Here she can work and still stay on top of activity downstairs.

Enlarge Image From files to fax machine, everything Helmi needs to translate English product guides into Spanish is at her fingertips.

Helmi is a translator who transcribes support materials for products headed to Mexico. She also takes care of household business here and shares daily e-mail with her family in Panama.

"It's convenient," Helmi says. "I can answer the phone, type, and print without moving. I'm more comfortable here than I would be if I had more room, and I feel connected to activities in the house."

Second-Story Retreat

Enlarge Image A pair of love seats and a glass coffee table provide a cheery spot for casual conferences and after-hours reading. Floor-to- ceiling alcoves fitted with glass shelves hold collectibles, books, and trophies.

Bob Fersch builds custom homes, including his own, which serves as headquarters for his construction company. Bob's office, located on the second floor, boasts a barrel-vault ceiling and an arched window wall that frame breathtaking views of a lake.

Despite these features, Bob admits, "The place was a mess, which didn't make a good impression on clients." Because he wanted a more attractive area in which to work and to confer with clients, he called in Bob Mead, an Indianapolis interior designer and space planner. Mead tidied it all up with built-ins that include a big laminate-top conference table where Bob and his business clients can sit comfortably, while spreading out architectural drawings and material samples.

Enlarge Image The computer station situates the keyboard on a pull-out drawer.

The table flows into a horseshoe-shaped desk/computer station that organizes files, blueprints, and product specifications, keeping them neatly out of sight but within immediate reach when they're needed.

Enlarge Image Above the computer station cubbies hold rolled-up blueprints.

"Now I don't have papers spread out everywhere," says Bob, "and as a result I'm a lot more productive. In my business you have to be productive."

Enlarge Image Flat files hold more blueprints, one project per drawer. This unit replaces a hanging system that added to the clutter in the old office.

He enjoys getting up at 5 a.m. and going to work by simply climbing a stairway to the second floor retreat. And the pleasant hours up here don't always stop when the whistle blows in the evening. Often Bob sinks into one of the love seats and reads or watches boat traffic on the lake. "Aesthetically, this is a bright and cheery place to work, whether I'm by myself or going over projects with my clients."

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