Two Home Offices
A basement and a garage spare find new lives as custom work spaces that can host clients.
One joy of working from home is that you can tailor your office to suit your needs and tastes. If home is where your business is, ponder the planning points made by these two workspaces.
Landscape designer Michael Ritter needed a place to confer with clients and display his handiwork, so he added onto his once-gloomy walkout basement. Now he has a solarium that drinks in natural light and offers views of a quiet acre he likens to "a rain forest." He can even open the windows and enjoy the sound of water trickling into a lily pond near the solarium. If you plan to host client meetings in your home office, design a direct entrance so visitors won't have to traipse through the rest of the house.
"This office is just like working in a garden -- minus the mosquitoes," says Mike Ritter. Clients enjoy a profusion of blooms on a summer day or views of snow softening the pines in winter. A brick walkway winds from the street through a garden gate to the solarium and business entry. Mike's computer corner melds cyberspace with green space.
An interior designer like Sharon Woudstra has lots of "stuff." She needs space to store fabric swatch books, carpet samples, and hundreds of brochures and booklets that keep her current on all the latest design trends. To organize it all -- and make room for a drawing board and desk -- she designed a wall of easy-access storage in her above-the-garage studio. There are open shelves so samples are easy to reach, cabinets to hold lesser-used items, and even space for file storage so it's easy to keep an eye on client invoices and records.
Sharon Woudstra's drawing board can be raised so two or three clients can easily gather around to discuss drawings -- but more often she confers elsewhere. Her storage wall includes carefully planned wall cabinets, open shelving, and filing cabinets. Shadow-box shelving provides pigeonholes for work in progress.
If you have decided to forgo long commutes and tiny cubicles, use these guidelines to make the most of the potential home office space in your house -- whether it's an extra bedroom, an area in the basement, or just a corner of the den. And don't forget to check with your town's planning and zoning officials to ensure that your plans meet with their approval.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Think about what kind of business you have, and plan your office accordingly, advises Marcello Luzi, an interior designer in Philadelphia. If clients will be visiting, putting your office on the main floor will make meetings more convenient. Figure out how much room you're going to need. You could need an entire room, or you might be able to make do with annexing a section of the kitchen or den.
If you're starting from scratch, check the electrical wiring in your house. Upgrading it can improve the performance of your computer equipment. Steve Hayes, co-founder of Falmouth, Maine-based Custom Electronics, Inc., a custom design and installation firm for corporate and residential electronics systems, recommends 20-amp dedicated circuits for the computer, fax machine, and laser printer. This will help prevent power surges when one appliance is devouring electricity. Also, call the phone company. The necessities of today's business world require at least three phone lines -- one each for the telephone, fax, and modem. (Though new DSL modems may be able to share the phone line with a residential phone.)
Once the wiring is taken care of, plan the furniture layout. Draw a sketch using rough measurements of the space. Place all the necessities -- filing cabinets, printer stand, telephone, lamps -- within easy reach of your main work area. When shopping for furniture, one piece of advice prevails: Go for comfort. Never underestimate the appeal and importance of a comfy chair. Buy the right desk. One with a 30-inch-deep surface should be big enough for most people, but if you work with a lot of paper, 36 inches is even better. Floor coverings, too, should be functional as well as attractive. Thin, looped carpets such as berber win points for sound absorption, while maple wood flooring makes it easy to wipe up spills.