YOU GET A CALL AT YOUR OFFICE AT 9 a.m. The woman on the other end wants to discuss the business you called her about yesterday. You talk. She faxes you a contract. You e-mail her to confirm the details.
You’re picturing a woman like yourself: sitting in a cubicle within an office, wearing a suit, torturous high heels, and stifling pantyhose. She’s drinking bad coffee. And her makeup already looks hours-old thanks to the fluorescent lights above her desk.
Actually, she’s sitting at home, dressed in her pajamas. She’s sipping chocolate-raspberry coffee with real cream and sugar. She’s listening to James Taylor between calls. And she isn’t even wearing makeup.
Ahhhh...the home office.
In this decade of downsizing, quality time with the kids, and simplicity without sacrifice, more and more people are choosing-or are forced to choose-to cut a work space out of their home space.
For some, the home office is merely somewhere to pay the bills, e-mail friends, organize papers, and make sure the kids know at least how to play games on the computer before they start school. For others, the home office means a paycheck.
Cindy Bourne deals with all kinds. As a salesperson at the Container Store, Bourne is trained in space design. Few other rooms require as much space planning as the home office, especially if space is limited.
"The first thing we do is talk to them about their job," Bourne says. "Do they work on the computer? We talk about ideas for the desk area and storage. Then we start organizing."
The beauty of having a home office is that it’s your own. You no longer have to conform to corporate decor. That white wall with the motivational posters on it? Forget it. How about a Monet print? Hate those beige file cabinets? Try black. That tiny desk that looks like everyone else’s? Try cherry wood and antique, or maybe black and modern. Go any direction you want. If that funky purple couch with the black leather trim and yellow-and-green throw pillows will fit, go for it.
Think function first, decor second. Whether you’re doing it yourself, consulting with someone like Bourne, or hiring a professional interior designer, you first must assess your needs.
"If you need a lot of shelves, consider a freestanding shelving system that’s very, very flexible as far as changing to what your needs are," Bourne says. "Four screws and you can put up an entire wall of shelving. It can be used as a room divider with the desk built into it. We can put computer keyboard slides onto it. Whatever.
"Or maybe you need the floor space. You could use a shelving system which is hung on the wall. A single track across the top of the wall and 10 screws and we can drop any combination of solid or wire shelves."
Once you decide on the big pieces-the desk, the shelves, the filing system-it’s time to get down to the details. Make a list of everything you need, perhaps thinking back on what you used at your more conventional office space. This is where pencil cups, stacking trays, and the like come into play. Again, they can be whatever you want: wooden, steel mesh, or a retro look in all black or white.
Organization is key. Perhaps you need a portable riling system that can be shoved into the closet when company comes. Or color-coded boxes that match your color-coded computer disks and color-coded file folders. Consider your work, your space, and your personality. If you’re meticulous, only individual folders will do. If not, perhaps a large box hidden under the desk is the ticket.
The biggest mistake made in home office planning? Neglecting space requirements, according to Bourne.
"People haven’t taken the time to figure out how’ many feet of books they’ve got," she says. "A lot of time, people underestimate their needs. Or they get a bit overwhelmed if they can’t do it all at once. Get a starting point and let your office grow with your business if that’s what you need."
The cost, of course, varies, depending on what you choose to do. You can get started with less than $100 by hitting garage sales and learning to paint, or create the office of your dreams for several thousand dollars with a professional designer.
As you plan your home office, think of it as a personal as well as professional space. Only you know in what environment your best work will be done: "You have to set up your work environment so when you’re at work, you’re at work and you’re not distracted," Bourne says.
Remember, this is no cookie-cutter project. If you sell Mary Kay, you have a lot of products to store and must plan accordingly. If you’re an interior designer, you need a drawing board and space to store fabric samples. If you’re a writer, perhaps a computer and filing cabinet will suffice.
Or maybe, like Barbara Williams, you just need a place to organize your life.
Williams didn’t have much space with which to work. Although her Highland Park home is large, there wasn’t that perfect space. Since the office was only for personal use, she didn’t want to sacrifice an entire bedroom. And a desk in the corner of a room wasn’t enough.
When interior designer Cheryl A. Van Duyne, ASID, went to Williams’ house to see what kind of space she had to spare, she happened upon a closet.
"I’ve never done an office in such a small space," Van Duyne says of the 8-by-1l-foot area. "I took that small space and tried to make it look as light and airy and bright as I could."
The closet-off a spare bedroom-was being used as an exercise room. Williams, who tends to be claustrophobic, was leery of working in a remodeled closet.
"We took all the closet stuff out and designed cabinetry-a desk area and storage space," Van Duyne says. "We added a lot of lighting and put mirrors on one wall so she wouldn’t feel so closed in. Then we put in all the electrical outlets for her computer and fax machine."
A white L-shaped desk was built into the wall, and white cabinets were added above the desk. To save space, the fax machine pulls out from underneath the counter. The cabinets feature moveable shelves for even more storage space. The office holds a computer and a printer. There’s even a paper shredder underneath the desk.
To give the room as much light as possible. Van Duyne installed fluorescent lighting underneath the cabinets to shine down on the desk and canned lights in the ceiling to illuminate the entire area. Music is piped in through speakers on the wall.
Williams and her husband travel often. She uses the office to organize their travel plans, their investments, and real estate holdings. She regularly faxes and e-mails the caretaker of their Paris apartment: she used the office to help plan her son’s wedding.
"I probably go in that office every day to do something," she says.
It’s exactly what she wanted. That’s the trick of designing a home office-creating what the client wants out of what they’ve already got, says Van Duyne.
"I always ask people, ’Exactly what do you want this space to do and what storage do you need?’ And that’s what I design the space around," she says. "Barbara wanted lots of storage space. Thai, of course, was a challenge. My goal was to help get her life together, to get her more organized so that she could find her papers."
Van Duyne’s home office is completely different. For one thing, it’s a reflection of her own livelihood.
Van Duyne, an interior designer for 18 years, used to work in a retail store. When she realized most of her income was coming from design work and not retail sales, she moved her office into a commercial building.
"Most of the time, I was working outside the office," she says. "So when my lease was up, I thought about this space."
The space was an attic, which Van Duyne thought she might someday use as a family room. The high cathedral ceilings and the 6-foot circular window give the 500 space added dimension.
So, five years ago. Van Duyne remodeled her attic. She now has her own studio.
"I like to draw at night and in the morning in my pajamas," she says. "As far as the space goes, I do have clients who come in. I’ve found people generally don’t care where you work."
Van Duyne likes her home office for many reasons: She saves time. She walks up two flights of stairs instead of driving to an office building in Dallas traffic. She also feels safer. Often, she would leave that office building at 2 a.m. and enter a dark parking garage. Now, she walks down her own hallway.
Best of all, she now pockets the money that used to go toward rent.
"There really aren’t too many drawbacks," she says. "I think we’re going to see more people working in homes. They do it for time savings, for money savings, for many reasons. It’s wonderful."
Before you add a home office ask yourself:
Will customers or clients be coming to your office? If so, make it easily accessible, with a separate entrance if necessary.
How much filing space do you need? Is most of your material on (he computer? Or do you have lots of paper files and need a place to put them?
What kind of work surface do you need? Is your work such that you can fill out a few forms on a TV tray or do you sprawl out on the floor?
Do you have children? If so, you might consider how to keep important office materials out of reach.
How much space do your needs require-a comer in your master bedroom for a place to pay the bills or the entire attic or garage for a full-fledged business?
Does the space have adequate lighting?
Do you need a separate telephone and/or fax line just for your work? Or can you share the same line as your home phone?
Consider your office equipment- computer, printer, fax machine, copy machine-and where they will go. Do you need extra electrical outlets?
How will your office needs change next year? In two years? Is the space conducive to expansion?