The number of workers telecommuting or working for their own home-based businesses has risen by over one million people in the last 10 years, according to figures released earlier this year by the U.S. Census Bureau. Whether this is the result of corporate cost-cutting measures, or because the unemployed are finding that they must “create” their own jobs by starting businesses, the home office is becoming an increasingly important space within the home.
“I’ve explained to many of my kitchen and bath clients that a home office is now as important to the home as a kitchen or bath,” says Debbie Evans, CMKBD, RID, of Squamish, BC-based Whistler Interior Design, Ltd. “Many people are working from home nowadays, and working on a table in the basement just doesn’t cut it anymore. It should be as properly designed and organized as any other area of the house. If it is cluttered, uninviting and disorganized, then the user will not be able to work efficiently.” She reports that home offices represent a fairly standard portion of her projects now.
Perhaps this is because a kitchen and bath designer is singularly equipped to deal with the space planning and organizational requirements of a home office.
Courtney Burnett, CKD, Allied ASID, CAPS, of Dave Fox Remodeling in Columbus, OH, advises designers thinking of branching out into home office design: “Think of designing an office the same way you would design a kitchen. An office needs cabinets, storage and organizational units, countertops, good lighting, flooring, etc. These are all of the same elements needed in rooms you are already familiar with, so you can work with all of the suppliers you’re already using.”
Interestingly, the top requests by clients in the market for a new or revamped home office seem to echo the needs of most kitchen and bath clients. They want clear countertop spaces, organizational tools and a design that will accommodate their technological needs, according to designers queried by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
Whatever the primary use of the office space, flexibility is key. One constant, says Evans, is the need to streamline activities within the office, the way a designer would do within a kitchen.
“The most important thing for a home office is storage and efficiency. The client needs to have an office with storage that works so he or she can easily access files, miscellaneous office supplies, equipment, etc. The office should be free of clutter, as well,” she says.
Burnett believes that this is complicated by the dual nature of most home offices.
“For most, the home office is divided into two different categories – personal and work. More often than not, both of these offices must reside in the same space, so it is important to have physical separation between the two to keep organized.”
She says this can be achieved by creating different zones within the workspace, similar to the way a kitchen designer would think of zoning a kitchen. “In a kitchen you may have baking, maybe a specific area for receiving and paying bills with mail organization, filing options, a posted calendar or more.
“Of course, a charging area is a must,” Burnett continues. “Most households have multiple cell phones, iPods, etc. I’ve always liked using a plug mold strip that can come in custom lengths with as many outlets as necessary for all of these chargeable items.”
Diane Plesset, CMKBD, NCIDQ, CAPS, principal of D.P. Design & Associates of Oregon City, OR says that taking an inventory of everything that will need a home in the new space is a good place to begin. This holds true whether you’re designing a full office or a menu-message center in a kitchen.
“You’ll need convenient locations for all kinds of equipment – from computers, printers, scanners, keyboards and monitors that will need most of the space and that need to be planned in such a manner that they can be accessed without being in the way – down to the smaller, everyday necessities like printer paper, ink supplies, note pads, file storage and wire control,” she says.
Wires are a huge factor in the design of office cabinetry and other storage solutions, notes Jerry Weed of Chevy Chase, MD-based Kitchen and Bath Studios. “One solution is to take 24"-deep cabinetry and extend the sides back to make them 27". With the full-overlay front cabinets, that is almost 28". That’s a nicer top to work on, and it has the added benefit of creating a void behind the cabinet to hide the various wires from computers, routers, etc.,” Weed notes.
This also saves the client some money, he continues, because to order a 27" cabinet instead of a 24" could carry as much as a 30% upcharge. “To extend the cabinet back instead costs around $50,” he remarks.
Evans suggests that creating efficiency means making convenience a priority. “I like to include printers and computer equipment on shelves that roll out so that you can service and access the equipment with ease. There is nothing worse than crawling under your desk and having to access the back of your CPU to connect something. If you have it on roll-out shelves, you can easily slide it out and access the back of the equipment,” she says.
Organizing on a Roll
Drawers and roll-outs present an opportunity to add value, as well.
“Cabinet drawers can increase the price of a job compared with a base cabinet with a door and drawer combination, but drawers are more efficient and offer much better use for the client. You can then fit in files, drawer organizers, etc.,” Evans continues.
Just as with a kitchen, every office will be different depending on the needs of the individuals using it.
“If the area is used by more than one person, it’s very important to have adjustable-height keyboard/mouse and monitor. Even if people are the same height when standing, they are different heights when sitting, and they use the equipment differently,” says Plesset.
“The best home offices are customized to suit the specific needs of that individual,” says John Petrie, CMKBD, principal of Mother Hubbard’s Cabinetry in Mechanicsburg, PA. Petrie cites an extreme example of how a home office can suit the needs of the individual from his firm’s own experience: “We have designed lighted viewing boxes for a radiologist so she could read x-rays at home. Today, most radiographs are digital and that gave us another opportunity for customization.” All it required was a little research.
In order to make this a profitable niche for a kitchen and bath design firm, it is first important that clients are aware this service is available to them.
“Because we’re kitchen and bath designers, our clients often think that these are the only rooms we work in,” says Burnett. “I would suggest getting started by letting people know that this is another service you can provide. On your Web site, include ‘home offices’ in the list of types of projects you handle, even if you have only one picture to put in the gallery.”
There are times when designers are approached to put a workstation in the kitchen. This presents another opportunity to upsell a home office while adding function to the kitchen, says Weed.
“The typical homeowners want so much stuff in their kitchen, so if we can get rid of that five-foot desk we would use in a work station, so much the better. There are so many other, better ways I can use that space,” he remarks.
Weed continues: “Take the workspace out of the kitchen – you’ll be able to put in more storage cabinets, which are more expensive than desk cabinets, and then get them into a home office. Now you’ve increased your profit. And they are probably going to be happier in the long run, because there’s so much activity in the kitchen, there’s so much going on that it isn’t a practical place to work.”
Plesset suggests: “Offer organizing as a value-added service. Become a distributor for organizing products and cabinetry that can be used to create offices. Become a referral source for individuals who offer support services like computer networking, Web site design, social media consulting and SEO consulting – anything a start-up small business might need.” In other words: Go beyond specifying and become the source, wherever possible.