Office Space

The fashion term “business casual” is taking on a whole new meaning these days, due – in part – to the number of people who are working from home. While business attire of a bathrobe and bunny slippers may be the common joke regarding people who work at home, the truth is not that far off.

The home office surroundings, however, are anything but tattered. People are investing heavily in the design of their home offices, enveloping them-selves in an atmosphere that promotes productivity and serenity.

As with kitchen and bath design, understanding the customer is the first step to successful home office design.

“I have found that home offices can be much more personal and custom than kitchens and baths,” stresses Melissa Wilson, CBD, kitchen and bath sales/designer, Insignia Kitchen and Bath Design Group, Ltd., in Barrington, IL. “It is very important to interview your client as to how they work and also how they would like to work at home.”

Nick Geragi, general manager for kitchens, Klaff’s, in South Norwalk, CT, notes that what customers are asking for is as varied as his customers. He has, however, discovered an underlying theme.

“When people are doing their home office, they like to feel like they’re in an office environment – even though they might just be in another room in their pajamas. Somehow it lessens the guilt if they feel it’s a little bit more formal. So, the room needs to have that formality but still be part of the home.”

But, since clients are likely working out of this space a few days a week, it has to do more than look nice. It has to function beautifully, too.

The Classic Library
“We’re doing a lot of library-style home offices,” states Geragi. “While this doesn’t mean they have to be big, they do have to have some of those amenities – large bookcases, cherry paneling, cherry countertops.”

Dave Heigl, CKD, v.p. for CabinetWerks Design Studio, in Milwaukee, WI, concurs that the majority of customers want a classic look. “They want nice woods – cherry, mahogany, walnut,” he adds. “We often panel the walls, whether it’s to wainscot height or all the way up to the ceiling. And, we’re seeing so much going on with the panels themselves. They’re almost upholstered. We did one that was ostrich skin, and another that was similar to a grass cloth. Leather is also a popular choice for the center of the panels.”

For the overall design, most customers prefer a furniture look, according to Bill Shafer, designer for Distinctive Kitchen & Bath Design, Inc., in Escondido, CA. He uses mouldings in almost all of his designs to help achieve this look.

In fact, mouldings are a mainstay for any designer creating a home office, because they help achieve the built-in, library look people are seeking. They are also another way kitchen and bath designers can add to their bottom lines.

“I’ve done some really beautiful layering of mouldings, where you’re using three- and four-piece crown mouldings that really give that built-in look,” comments Diane Godfrey, CKD, designer, Tidal Kitchen & Bath Design Center, in Annapolis, MD. While it’s not something we need to do, a lot of people are willing to pay for it to give that beautiful look."

Many designers bring the cabinets and bookcases all the way to the ceiling for that built-in look.

“One of the nicest projects I did featured bookcases in 10-foot ceilings,” adds Godfrey.

And, for Heigl, those 10-plus-foot ceilings require an added bonus. “A lot of times I’ll design the room with a library ladder that swings back and forth,” he remarks.

Godfrey stresses that detail isn’t just up high, however. “I also make the bases look like furniture, as well,” she states. “In a home office, you don’t need the toe kick when you’re working, so I’ll make that look like a piece of furniture in different ways – by adding mouldings at the bases, or by incorporating little feet.” She notes that cabinets can also be ordered with different valences at the bottom, which gives the pieces a furniture look.

Hiding It Away
As with kitchen design, home office design customers often choose to hide the “appliances,” such as computers, printers, fax machines and scanners. This helps achieve the library look many seek, and gives a more streamlined, organized appearance in general.

“The best way to hide the machinery is to put it into a cabinet,” notes Godfrey. Utility cabinets, which can be found in just about all lines of cabinets today, provide adjustable shelves to accommodate different pieces.

In fact, as cabinet companies continue to recognize the growing importance of the home office, they are creating office and file storage that looks like cabinets. There are cabinets available for legal- and letter-sized files, as well as matching taller pieces in a variety of woods and door styles.

Geragi notes that, in addition to file storage, his firm does a lot of dividers for pencil drawers and other items. “People want to be organized,” he stresses.

Shafer says that his firm incorporates a lot of after-market accessories in the cabinets that it installs. “After-market items are retrofitted to cabinets, providing great flexibility,” he reports. “I haven’t found one I can’t do, whether I’m working with an Egyptian obelisk or granny’s pie cupboard.”

These are add-on features that drive up profitability, as these pieces are not available in the open marketplace. “You can’t pick these up in a home center,” Shafer stresses. “They’re specialty items that you can add to customize cabinets.”

The storage issue in home offices pertains to more than just equipment and files, however. Tall cabinets can hide a multitude of sins, according to some designers.

“It used to be that we designed these rooms with beautiful, open bookcases, but now we’re putting doors on those bookcases,” reports Heigl. While some of those doors may have glass or wire to provide a decorative look, most of the time the doors are solid wood so that customers can “hide the clutter. Solid doors allows a client to turn around, open a door and clean piles off of the desk in literally seconds, if necessary, such as when a client is coming,” he adds. “Just shut the door, and the room looks nice again.”

Form and Function
While storage is a major issue, optimum functionality within the space is equally important. “Clients are looking for a space that promotes productivity,” stresses Wilson.

To promote flexibility within the home office, she is incorporating items such as flip-up desk extensions and two-level desktops that pull out in a closet situation.

Geragi notes that he is installing a lot of U-shaped desks, which work well within a home office space, “particularly if you’re converting a bedroom. Just like a U-shaped or G-shaped kitchen space, the desk wraps around so if you’re sitting in an office style chair with wheels, you can pivot to different areas, so everything is within reach.”

Heigl notes that adding a credenza behind the desk is helpful in most home office designs. “People often keep a computer or laptop on the credenza so that the desk surface remains uncluttered,” he explains. Therefore, designing knee space so the user can turn and work at the credenza is key.

The computer keyboard is another fixture that requires thought before placement, and often requires additional accessories to make it ergonomically acceptable, according to most designers. For some, the standard pull-out drawer will work, but for others – especially older consumers – more creative solutions need to be applied.

“I like to do specialty places for keyboards, not just the old drawer that you pull out because the ergonomics of that are really hard to work with,” comments Shafer. “You have to be careful and almost measure your client to know where the keyboard needs to go.

Shafer is also fond of incorporating the computer monitor below a glass countertop, so that it’s no longer sitting on the counter. He also designs special areas for the other machines used in the home office so that they’re more usable.

“It’s not unlike what’s going on with kitchen and bath design,” he explains. “Sure, it started out with a work triangle, but it’s not that anymore. You need to develop work centers.”

“I can’t stress how important it is to get a well-designed chair that can be adjusted to one’s individual physical characteristics,” urges Cheryl Hamilton-Gray, CKD, principal, Hamilton-Gray Design, in Encinitas, CA. “Heights of keyboards and viewing monitors can be easily adjusted, but the user’s position is critical to maintain comfort and posture.”

Designers are also challenged when creating a home office space for multiple users. “The room may be used by the wife during the day and the husband at night,” states Geragi. And, because these rooms tend to be smaller spaces, “it’s a challenge to make the counter the right height for the right user.”

In fact, Godfrey recently designed her own home office for two users, a growing request from customers. “I had to have an area where both my husband and I could work, and I was able to integrate an area with that,” she comments.

Light It Up
Also critical to the design of the home office, and its ensuing functionality, is lighting. “A lot of people don’t think about the lighting, but with our eyes, it’s really important,” stresses Godfrey.

First, she stresses, designers need to make sure there is enough of it. “You need to mix your lighting – natural lighting during the day, and then high hats, task lighting and undercabinet lighting if you’re working underneath cabinets,” she offers.

Specialty lighting, which features lighting with a magnifying glass integrated into the light, is a great asset to a home office, she adds. “It’s great to have, because people need to see things that are written in small writing. I find I use it on a regular basis.”

Table lamps are easy to incorporate if there is a sitting area with a couch and tables, notes Wilson.

Floor lamps are also a welcome addition to the home office, according to Godfrey, not only because there may not be space for table lamps, “but floor lamps are also excellent at giving light. Plus, it adds to the aesthetics of the room.”

Life’s Little Extras
When it comes to the added amenities that are requested for the home office, plasma televisions and flat LCD screens top every designers’ list.

“The invention of the plasma and LCD screen has made our lives a heck of a lot easier, because before that everyone wanted to build in these big-tube televisions that just didn’t work as well,” states Heigl.

“Today’s flat screens can be wired as a television, but can also function as a computer monitor. “We’ve even had traders and stockbrokers who are hooked into their corporate office so that they can monitor stocks,” comments Heigl.

“It’s one of those items that we can hang on a wall and put a frame around so that it looks like a piece of art,” offers Heigl.

Many customers are using flip-down television screens, according to Wilson, while Geragi notes the growing use of pop-up mechanisms for televisions. “You can put them in a cabinet, put a countertop on them, press a button and they lift up out of the cabinet,” he comments.

Another popular request, when space permits, is a sitting area within the home office – whether formal or informal.

“Oftentimes, we’ll create a niche for a loveseat or other comfortable furniture,” remarks Heigl, “because it’s nice to be able to get up from your desk, walk over, sit down and put your feet up and read a report.”

A sitting area is also very desirable when clients come to visit. Fireplaces often accompany the sitting area, adding to the overall luxury den/library atmosphere of the space.

For those home offices that are more elaborate in scope, kitchen amenities such as sinks, refrigerators, microwave ovens and coffee makers are part of the landscape.

“People are asking for mini kitchens, especially if it’s a multi-level house,” stresses Shafer.

“Home offices aren’t just cabinet installations anymore,” notes Wilson. “You need plumbers, electricians, custom cabinet companies and partners in the appliance industry.”

“It’s like the kitchen kind of blew up, and it landed everywhere in the house,” adds Geragi. “There’s a little of this everywhere.”

While undercounter refrigerators and coffeemakers may make it easier to entertain guests, some customers and designers are taking things a step further.

“We’ve done libraries where there’s an armoire type of piece that’s integral to the rest of the room, but then you open the doors and it’s a functioning wet bar,” remarks Heigl. “The days of having just an ice bucket and having to run to get ice are over. You don’t need to do that anymore because you can build in all of these appliances and make it look great.”

Personal Spaces
“The whole idea of the home office is making people understand that they have this private space that’s all their own,” explains Geragi.

The key to additional profitability is recognizing that needs are end-user specific. Get to know the special needs of clients, and designers will find a major avenue to increased profitability.

“I was involved in a home office project for a man who wanted a large salt water fish tank included in the design,” offers Wilson. “He found it very relaxing, and it helped him focus.”

Wilson also did a home office for a woman who was converting a bedroom in the back of her house.

“We installed glass French doors to the beautiful garden outside,” she reports. “A sitting area with table and chairs was placed outside, and she worked out there when the weather permitted.”

“We’ve also put safes in walls and hidden them behind panels,” adds Geragi.

With the paperless aspects of some home offices, there is now additional room to display family portraits and collectibles on open shelves to give the space individuality.

Building in display areas for hobby collections or artwork is also a good choice for designers creating a home office, according to Wilson.

For animal lovers, Hamilton-Gray has incorporated a space for the family pet “so they can share a comfy spot with the owners while they work.”

The wish list for clients goes on and on, but the basics remain unchanged. “The profitability of the home office is no different than a kitchen,” stresses Geragi. “It’s being perceived as having the ability to pull it all together, finding out what’s important to the customer and meshing their needs with the architecture of the house and its interior.” KBDN