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HOME OFFICE : Forget the Nook Look: Space Must Work From Word Go


Originally, most home offices were converted bedrooms, and adaptation was the key to success. Now home offices are being designed from scratch--as part of the original construction--challenging homeowners to analyze exactly how they will live and work under the same roof and testing the ability of designers to transform that analysis into a practical reality.

"We are seeing more requests for home offices all the time," said Mary Swift, an interior designer in Laguna Hills. "Virtually every client that calls me wants some kind of adaptation for a personal computer or a (workstation) tie-in to a mainframe computer. We're having to adapt to computers all the time--work surfaces have to be deeper than normal, working heights have to be adjusted, and cabling has to be accommodated."

From her 10 years of experience, Swift has found that the home office must be designed around an individual's personal working style: whether the person is right- or left-handed, tall or short, slender or stout, what kind of tools they want to work with, and what special features they want. One client, for example, was asthmatic and wanted an air cleaner built in. "Generally speaking, people have thought through what they want, but they often don't know what other possibilities there are," Swift said.

For a client in San Juan Capistrano, Swift created a home office that is really the homeowner's base of operation. She placed the office near the home's front entrance so business visitors would not have to pass through the house to get to the office. "It's very definitely his office," Swift said. "Because the client is tall, everything in the office is oversize, including the desk and custom furniture, and the nine-foot ceiling.

Functionally, the home office (with an adjoining bath as a hedge against converting it to a bedroom should the home be resold) is centered on a media center contained in a custom cabinet. The cabinet houses a fax machine, computer, scanner and printer, and provides file drawers on each side of the computers.

Bi-fold doors allow the office equipment to be closed off from the rest of the room.


A different approach to hiding home office equipment was taken by a homeowner in San Clemente, Swift said.

That person built a massive shelf area that has affectionately become known as "The Bunker," to contain much of the office's paraphernalia and a Gen. George S. Patton memorabilia collection. The office has only two walls, is open to the rest of the house and shares the ocean view with the family room on the level above. With the bunker against the lower back wall of the home office, it is invisible from the family room above.

To further hide office equipment, much of it was installed in an appliance garage normally used to close off small kitchen appliances. The office space uses three knee-hole desks to create separate workstations according to the type of work being performed.

"My wife and I started this house about three years ago," the homeowner said, "and one of the first specifications was for an office area."


Tustin interior designer John Garcia recently designed and built a 2,000-square-foot addition to his home that includes 500 square feet of office space.

The home office was built as a second office--to reduce commuting by giving himself a place to work before and after seeing clients at the beginning and end of the day, and to see clients who could not conveniently commute to his commercial office. Garcia, 32, acted as his own architect and builder on the project.

"In my line of business," he said, "people want to see where and how I live, and this home office accommodates that."

In addition to his home office, the Garcia residence also houses wife LeAnn's home-based child-care business.

In choosing the location for his home office, Garcia put it where he would be accessible to his family and equipped it with glass doors so he could watch his two children and be seen by them.

"If you're going to be working in your home office full time, though," he said, "you might want to consider a more remote location" away from the children. Garcia's home office is L-shaped, and he placed his drawing table in the alcove formed by the L so it would be out of sight.

"I do a lot of drawing, and my table is always messy," he said.

Planning a home office is different, Garcia said, from planning a kitchen or bathroom, because the fixtures and functions of those two rooms dictate much of what can be done.

"I think the juxtaposition of three elements make up the criteria for home office design. They are storage requirements, like filing; workstation requirements, like desks and credenzas; and equipment location and layout," he said.

Other considerations that Garcia took into account in his own design included the canyon view around his house and the availability of natural light to aid him in working with colors in his design tasks.

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