Controlling a home office can be overwhelming.
In just a matter of days, papers lose their fasteners, uncapped pens are thrown carelessly in a drawer and miniature paper towers made up of old car repair receipts and factory appliance warranties overtake the desk completely, turning what should be an inspirational working area into a jungle that takes hours to sort through.
Three local designers offer suggestions on how to create the perfect home office – one that isn’t a breeding ground for clutter, but a productive environment set up in either an alcove of a room or a separate living space altogether.
Plan out the Space
Deciding on space allocations is the first step in configuring a home office.
“The most important thing is to figure out how much room you need for your home office,” Algonquin designer Randi Goodman says.
Goodman launched her business, Interior Inspiration, in 2000, and she recommends her clients take a fresh step when she is called over to redesign their home offices.
“People tend to be locked into using rooms as they are called [for] on the floor plan,” she says.
Instead, she suggests throwing the blueprints aside and beginning anew.
“I imagine a lot of parents want to keep an eye on their kids on the computer, so they’ll carve out a room out of the kitchen,” she says. “There’s no law anywhere that says you must use the living room as a living room.”
After selecting the space, the next step is to furnish it, which can oftentimes become a time-consuming task. Figuring out what works best for each client’s personality is the key.
“If a client wants the office to feel peaceful and relaxing, items should be brought in – area rugs, wall art, etc. — that generates that feeling, which will then help determine what color to paint the walls,” Goodman says.
She also is diligent about labeling everything from magazine holders to cabinet drawers.
“I’m a visual person,” she says.
Veteran designer Maureen Gries has been in the business for 29 years, and when it comes to home office design, she has a checklist she asks her clients to think about.
“To set up your home office, decide exactly what functions you will be doing at your work station, how much equipment you will need, how much space that equipment will take up, if you need storage — or if it will store on your computer or occasional backup — and if you will need to see clients or vendors,” she says.
Gries doesn’t like to impose on her client’s taste. Instead, she acts as a director of the project by assisting her clients with finding particular furniture items and preventing them from making common mistakes.
“If you want a wall of workspace but don’t want the permanence of a built-in, office supply stores have all kinds of free-standing desk and file pieces,” she says.
“It looks finished, but can be taken apart easily, and yet work and personal belongings co-exist and the space doesn’t look too business-like.”
Be sure to plan ahead, Gries advises, suggesting to stock up with more storage containers and shelving than expected so that a shortage down the road doesn’t leave the room looking mismatched with containers that are no longer available.
“Don’t buy home office furniture until you know where it will be used, or it may not fit,” she says. “If you plan ahead, you’ll enjoy your new work environment for years to come.”
As for organization, Gries believes in keeping everything personal separate from work items. She recommends color-coding personal storage and work storage if it’s in the same room so that nothing gets accidentally thrown into the wrong container, making it a headache to look for later.
Plan Around the Desk
Residential designer Dennis Frankowski has worked on many home offices within the suburbs but, despite having two offices designated for himself and his wife in his home, he believes the demand for a separate workspace has decreased dramatically.
“It’s all about moving,” Frankowski says. “There used to be PCs in the home, and now people have total mobile devices like iPads and laptops.”
As the owner of DF Designs, which opened in 1991 and has offices in Crystal Lake, Barrington, Cary, Des Plaines and Lake Geneva, Frankowski has designed elaborate working spaces with fireplaces to modest rooms with just a desk.
“The mobility of the laptop and tablet has made it flexible to work in any room in the house,” Frankowski says.
While the idea of a home office might be disappearing, the designer does run across the occasional office renovation project these days.
“There are still those people out there, but everything is being downsized,” he says.
Frankowski offers a word of advice for anyone looking to remodel a home office.
“It’s all about the focal point of the executive desk,” he says. “When you walk into a room, the desk should greet you immediately.”