Serious Home Work

Setting up a home office for function and pleasure

By Shani Gilchrist

Robert Clark

Some people dream of rolling out of bed in the morning, donning a bathrobe over rumpled pajamas and shuffling with their coffee into the next room to start a relaxed day of work. While working from home may not always be as idyllic as that, the reality is that an increasing number of people are carrying out their workdays without leaving the house. According to the Telework Research Network, more than three million people nation-wide worked in telecommuting jobs in 2011. That number, in addition to the many people who are self-employed and working as consultants or freelancers, shows that the home office has become an essential part of American culture.

For those needing a comfortable, pleasant space to work, the idea of setting up a home office doesn’t have to be daunting. “First you have to assess the needs and function of the individual office,” says interior designer Joslyn Otis of POSH Interiors. “From there the sky is the limit as far as creating a unique and energizing environment based on your personal style.”

Three of the most important factors to consider when setting up a home office are organization, inspiration and productivity. Keeping these in mind will lead to a space that will make a home-based worker’s 10-foot commute one that’s enjoyable.

Furniture should be chosen alongside the technological and supply needs of the office. When looking at furnishings for this space, the home office worker should think about what exactly he or she will be doing there. When is it necessary to sit up and be alert? Where will papers and files be stored?

When Jenny Maxwell first moved into her 1920s bungalow in Old Shandon, she chose a room at the front of the house for a secondary office space. When the former television producer decided to leave her position a year later to work as a full-time freelance writer, director and public speaking consultant, she realized that the round table she had placed in the center of the room would no longer work. This was when she realized that she needed to decide where aesthetics and function were most important. “I had to have a place to put stuff,” she says. “I didn’t want people to walk in the door and see a junky home office, so I try to keep most of the ‘junk’ tucked out of sight.”

Jenny utilizes a closet to store cables, wires and other things that come along with working in the digital age. It took more experimentation to figure out what to do with her files. “I tried all of the traditional office things. I had metal filing cabinets and didn’t like that. Then I found a hanging file that seemed less like office furniture. There’s been such a move in office furniture to make things look more ‘home-y’.”

In choosing furniture, Jenny also needed to have a place for other tasks. One of the distinctive things about her home office is the fireplace, so Jenny positioned her furniture so that she could enjoy the hearth. She goes through books and papers each day from a favorite loveseat that she placed in the room for that reason. “It’s really nice to be able to get up from my desk and get really comfortable there and read. It makes it less like a chore, so I really like to do that.”

Helen Johnson runs HLJ Creative, a website development and graphic design firm, out of her home in Columbia and is fortunate to have built her home around her needs and those of Duncan, her husband, who works in a room above their garage. Helen’s office is the size of a large walk-in closet and has a built in desk with large file drawers on either side. “The beauty of my business is that I don’t have much of a paper trail,” she says. I can fit all of my papers in those two drawers and during the day I have two stacks on my desk … one for ‘gotta do it now’ and one to do later. At the end of the day I put what’s left of the stacks in the drawers — one for work and one for the business of the house.”

While color heavily impacts mood, many people forget about the importance of color choices in a work setting. “When it comes to painting the walls, I always advise people to stay away from reds in their home office settings,” says Tiaa Rutherford of Tiaa Rutherford Interiors, who runs her design business from her home. “Reds can become too busy too fast and evoke an energy level that is too high or frantic.” Tiaa will often suggest light blues for her clients. “Lighter shades attract light, and a light blue looks like the sky outside. People are energized by being outside, so we bring that effect to the room.”

“For my own workspace, which, because I’m always experimenting, really encompasses my whole home, I use different shades of gray for the color’s versatility and neutrality,” she says. Gray will absorb light instead of throwing it back out into the room with an unexpected extra cast to it and will help other art and objects stand out more. “Neutral” doesn’t necessarily mean creams and beiges. It can be a color that casts other colors and attributes into the spotlight, which is where the use of accent colors is helpful.

Accents of bright, bold colors energize and inspire, according to Joslyn. They can be used on a single accent wall, in fabrics or in various decorative objects placed around the room. “In all aspects of design, you need to be comfortable and aware of your own taste,” Joslyn advises. “Use a color palette and style that you love, rather than the latest trend.” When setting the mood with décor, using an accent color that takes a person to a happy place, as Joslyn puts it, will make the room a much more inviting place to spend working hours.

She explains, “Enjoying your surroundings is a key component to the success of any area where you spend time. It’s like the atmosphere of a great restaurant. Sometimes, what actually draws us in is the atmosphere, not necessarily the food. For example, if there are two restaurants, both with amazing food, but one has a better ambiance … where would you want to be? It is a huge component to being productive as well. When you enjoy your surroundings you are going to want to be there.”

A home office can show off more of a working professional’s personality than a typical cubicle or office space. Jenny was used to having promotional materials piled to the ceiling when she worked at WIS-TV in Columbia. Now she feels free to cover her walls with the collected things that inspire her. One of her favorite pieces is a portrait of Rachel Maxwell Moore, her great aunt, who was instrumental in starting the North Carolina Museum of Art and was involved in historic political causes.

The distractions that occur while working at home are different than in a traditional office environment. Friends call on the telephone, children catch colds and stay home, and a pantry full of your favorite foods is just steps away. What’s the best way to stay on track during working hours? For Helen and Duncan, a partner with Johnson & Lesley Construction, the key is being able to close the door. Helen’s office has a door that can be closed to noise within the house. Duncan gets to have the best of both worlds with his home set up. “My whole reason for having my office separate from the house is so I can lock the door,” he says.

When deciding on a room for a home office, consider what aspects of the household are most likely to distract from professional tasks. When building their home, the Johnsons originally dedicated a front room for Helen’s office. While she plans to move into that room in the future as her business grows, she explains that right now it presents too many diversions. “It’s a large, pretty room that is more of a part of the rest of the house,” she says. “I worry that the conversation would turn too easily to the other things going on in my home.”

But home-based professionals shouldn’t get overzealous about locking out the world. When arranging her home office, Jenny’s desk originally faced the fireplace. After a while, she turned the desk toward the window to see the street outside. “When you work at home you’re by yourself a lot and it can be wonderful, but it can also be isolating,” she explains. When working from home there is no water cooler at which to meet co-workers, so engagement with others requires some thought. “Even though I’m not running out there and speaking, it feels like I’m more connected to the world when I see people I know going about their day at the same time.”

As the world becomes increasingly digital and it becomes easier for professionals to take care of business without leaving the house, the needs for a home office are demanding more and more attention. If close attention is paid to décor and organizational requirements, a space can be created that inspires productivity while acting as a workspace that a homeowner will be excited to get to each morning.

Working from home?
Consider the amount of foot traffic this will add to your home, says Jack Godbold of Keenan Suggs. And don’t forget to:
• Contact your homeowner’s insurance agent to let them know you are working from home.
• Consider a commercial policy if there are any gaps in your homeowner’s policy.

«  back to issue