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November 06, 1994|Barbara Thornburg

You can pet the dog, hug your kid, listen to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony as loud as you want. Because you're in charge, master of the universe, the boss. Sound like a dream? To more than 43 million Americans working at home in 1994, it's the new reality. And roughly 66 million people--or nearly half of the adult work force--are expected to be doing the same, either full or part time, by the end of the century.

A byproduct of the recession and corporate downsizing, the rise of the home office has also been fueled by technological innovation: Portable computers, fax machines, cellular phones and answering devices substitute for staff. "The technology allows individuals to be as productive from home as they are in their office," says Santa Monica radio personality Sarah Edwards, who co-authored the prescient "Working from Home" with her husband, Paul, nine years ago. "Today you can have a Fortune 500-equivalent office in your closet." Design-wise, the home office offers endless possibilities, from elaborate to makeshift, from Old World to contemporary. Some people make it the focal point of the house, while others transform laundry rooms and garages into work space. Still others, short on square footage, carve out hybrid rooms that can serve more than one function. But whatever it looks like, the home office is rapidly redefining the workplace, allowing more and more Californians to do business surrounded by high-tech equipment and their favorite things.


Perhaps the biggest advantage of having a home office is the freedom it affords. Says Brentwood real estate agent Deborah Bremner, mother of two, with a third child due next month: "You can do all the work you normally do at the office at home, still be a family person and have a life." Bremner and her husband, James, also a real estate agent, set up their office in a central location, the spot they had originally planned as the dining room, in fact. They sit at a spacious "buddy desk," created by Los Angeles furniture designer Nick Berman with a teal-leather and sandblasted-glass top. A wall cabinet holds a shared desktop computer monitor (although she prefers using her laptop), TV, stereo and CD/ROM player. Each side of the desk has space for files and separate keyboards. "You might think it would be distracting, but at the Jon Douglas Co. in Brentwood, we work in a bullpen of 40 people. This is much quieter," Deborah says. And at night, the Bremners' 11-year-old, Ben, can do his homework at the round end of the desk, and the family dog, Piri, can curl up nearby. As James puts it: "Most people's lives revolve around the kitchen; in our home, all the activity is in the office."


Los Angeles furniture and interior designer Nick Berman closed his Santa Monica office last year to work out of his Inglewood factory and his Bel-Air house. "I never liked the impersonal space of a corporate office. Being at home is more comfortable," he says. And besides, the move enables clients to see his furniture in an actual home setting. Berman's new work space, fashioned out of a wet bar in a downstairs family room, provides peace and privacy, away from the rest of the house, as well as a spectacular view of the Pacific. The original space had been much smaller, but he extended the back bar five feet into the basement area under the house and raised the bar floor 12 inches to take advantage of the view. While the counter remains 42 inches high so that he and clients can look at fabric samples there, behind it are two 29-inch-high built-in desk and drawing areas. To store plans, catalogs and swatches, aniline-dyed shelves were added to a blank wall and a maple cabinet was stationed next to the fireplace. The best thing about working at home for Berman: "The freedom. If you're in a creative phase of a job, it allows you to go there anytime--whenever inspiration calls."


"In a house with four children, one dog, a staff of four and my mother, I sometimes need to escape," says Rebecka Belldegrun, president of Intertech Corp., an investmentcompany specializing in residential and commercial real estate and hotels. Belldegrun travels on business nearly half the year and balances busy social and home schedules with her husband, so she considers the beige-and-black bedroom office in her Brentwood ouse an oasis of calm. Designed by Beverly Hills architect Frank Israel, it features a massive 6-by-8-foot desk of bird's-eye maple wrapped in leather. A long exterior wall of windows was built to provide tranquil views of a large eucalyptus grove. On cold days, a free-standing fireplace-entertainment center glows with flames and seems to float in the middle of the room like a giant sculpture. And when Belldegrun wants to get away from it all, including work, she says, "I disconnect the phones."


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