Item #1: Memory with Extra Storage—a package of collegiate-ruled theme paper.
Item #2: Printer—a pencil.
Item #3: Printer Toner—a hand-held pencil sharpener.
Item #4: Spell Check—an eraser.
Item #5: E-mail with Attachment Capabil-ities—a business size envelope.
Item #6: Quicken—a sheet of ledger paper.
I put them all to use. Well, all but the ledger paper. And luckily, we still have the use of our computers.
And so now, here we are. We have entered the future and can begin to look around to see what it holds. Not too many surprises yet, which is comforting, and so far no Y2K computer fallout. It looks as if those of us who rely on computers can breathe a sigh of relief.
Computers have become such an integral part of our lives that we shudder to consider going back to the hand-process way of doing things. We can assuredly look forward to the increase in the variety and quantity of computer applications and the ways they will make life smoother, more convenient, less hassled and paper-free. The widespread use of computers has influenced certain trends that are becoming stronger and are playing greater roles in the home furnishings market.
Among the many trends that have been developing or are fully emerging, none is more clear than the trend toward home offices. In fact, in this age of e-mail and conference calls, many former commuters now are trekking only from kitchen to study in the morning, and are living a life of far less rigidity.
With the sheer numbers of two-income households, it seems not only one office, but two, is inevitable. In new home construction, space for a home office is often planned into the blueprint and designed to be the perfect space. However, in the majority of the homes we help to furnish, the home office is a retrofit. This means we must be flexible and creative in helping the clients to make a home office space that meets their needs and is comfortable, workable and efficient.
THE OFFICE IS WHERE YOU FIND IT
The first consideration in planning new or retrofitted home office spaces is to look at the placement options available and what possibilities exist. Many new homes and upscale home floor plans feature an office with doorways opening directly to the home's main entrance hall, ideal for those who must see clients for their work. It also is a convenient location for doing work during all hours of the day and night.
The down side, however, is that this placement requires that the office remain tidy and appealing, which is not possible for all types of office work. Where office work must be spread out, an office location out of the direct line of vision from the rest of the house helps eliminate the pressure or frustration of maintaining perfect neatness.
A spare bedroom is often a good solution because the space can be shut off from the rest of the home. A closed door is a great boon to a home office work station. It allows the user to work in privacy, and gives a sense of separation. When the client is not at work, a closed door helps him or her forget work during those private hours of the day. In this day and age, that is becoming a must for mental survival. No one can work all the time or feel they should be at work all the time and still stay sane or pleasant.
A spare bedroom is good, too, because it will typically hold the work station, a seating area and even supply storage in the typical clothes closet. For home office workers who need to spread out the work and leave it out, the closed door is especially important in order to avoid that messy line of vision and, perhaps even more important, to keep other family members from disturbing or messing with the project at hand.
Well-planned home offices in spare bedrooms still can double as guestrooms. Single beds can act as seating places with enough pillows across the back, making the transition from office to sleep space more gracious. The disadvantage of the home office in a spare bedroom is that it usually is located in the bedroom wing of the home, which is not a very professional location if clients or business associates come to call.
The home office can occupy a loft, a basement or attic space. These options have the advantage of being substantially out of the way, but also can bring on undesirable feelings of loneliness, isolation and even depression if there is no window for natural daylight, view and fresh air. If the office is not in a pleasant or desirable place there is less desire to go there to work, which decreases productivity.
The office also can be placed in the corner of a master bedroom, living room, dining room, or great room/kitchen. In each of these instances, there needs to be consideration for the way the office will interrupt the lifestyle and potentially impose a messy or unorganized appearance on the home. If there is interruption, noise or activity that disrupts the worker, it too can decrease work effectiveness.
OFFICE FURNITURE FLEXIBILITY
Many offices are parts of other rooms and function as home offices only part time. One great solution is office furniture that has the look of an armoire or wardrobe, where doors can be neatly closed when the office is not in use. The trend toward pieces that are fully functional office units that look decidedly residential is also well established and well accepted.
These types of furnishings now are available in an array of styles and in handsome, homey finishes. With attractive all-purpose exteriors and commodious storage capacities, the computer armoire offers drop-down keyboard trays, power cord cutouts, outlets with surge protection, disc racks and interior lighting. Bill Utley, of Virginia-based Hooker Furniture Co., says of the one-piece computer wardrobe, "They are popular because they are tremendously functional, encompassing all your home office needs in one unit, yet they still fit in a corner of a room—and look terrific. You can put this in a bedroom or the corner of a dining room, and it won't look out of place, you just close up the doors at the end of the day."
THE LOOK THEY WANT
Here's more good news for the future: The trends show that home offices don't have to look office-like. Home offices should be comfortable and aesthetically pleasing for the occupant, and this means there are no rules as to what style a home office should be.
The client/customer should feel unrestricted in the choice of wall coverings, window treatments and furnishing styles, and certainly the styles can closely follow the styles of the home. That's a big reason for working from home in the first place—to work where the interior style is emotionally supportive and personally appealing. Creating good feelings while solving office solutions is a new-found freedom of the new millennium. A few rules of common sense are all we need to consider. They involve light, sound and action.
• Light. Among the guidelines, remember that lighting is of crucial importance in a home office. Light should not come from behind the head, but be balanced and soft, never harsh or glaring. Where windows are near the work station, be certain that light-diffusing as well as privacy options exist. Often there is a real need for natural light, but the glare must be screened out for optimal work conditions.
Where many people work in their home offices at odd hours, meaning when it's dark, providing products that assure 100 percent privacy is mandatory. A window covering also should provide shade to the work station when the intensity or brightness of natural sunshine is undesirable. Heat build-up, which accompanies too much direct sunlight, is hard on the computer hardware. Any items that are battery operated should be kept out of direct sunshine as the heat and light considerably shorten battery life.
• Sound. Sound is a very personal preference element of interior design. The home office should be located where peace and quiet is possible during the working hours. But sound also means considering good acoustics for listening to favorite music, whether it's a CD inserted into the computer or music broadcast from other sources. Select sound-refracting surfaces—a balance of hard and soft materials rather than too much of either—to enhance the pleasant qualities of the preferred sounds.
• Action. Finally, query the customer as to what colors, patterns and organization would help them work most effectively. Calming colors and soft, ethereal patterns may be appropriate for one client, where the next may want vivid colors and jazzy patterns.
One undisputed trend of the future is that we all want to be in control of our time. If we can make the best, most efficient use of the time we allot for performing home office tasks, then we are freed to use the rest of our time at our discretion. This is the most compelling reason for a home office—to work where we want, when we want and in an environment that is truly personal.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.