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Fall Design Issue

High Resolution

Welcome to the next generation of the home office, where all the technological bells and whistles, a computer (or two or three), an answering machine and a fax machine are de rigueur. But so are a high-speed networking system, scanner, printer and copier. Throw in task lighting, a surround-sound system and ergonomic tables and chairs, and the conventional workplace has nothing on today's fully wired home office. Step inside the personal spaces of five Southern Californians who've taken the home office to a higher level.

September 29, 2002|Barbara Thornburg

BUNKER IN THE HILL

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Architect Brian Murphy describes the Thousand Oaks home office he designed for a lawyer as ''a 10-inch-thick concrete shoebox buried into the hillside.'' But the ''shoebox'' is anything but ordinary. The 42-by-15-foot bunker-style structure sits across a small pond inhabited by bass, crayfish, frogs and turtles from a striking split-level modern home designed by Frank Gehry in the late 1980s.

The house, on a picturesque 2 1/2-acre property with deer and rabbits, is an ideal living environment for the owner. But it wasn't where he wanted to work. ''I needed more room and a separate working environment,'' he says. ''It's not pleasant to live and work in the same space.'' Murphy nestled the newer structure, which houses two offices separated by a bathroom and a storage closet, into the hillside surrounded by a grove of 100-year-old oaks. Light enters the building through a chambered skylight that runs the length of the building and through an additional skylight in the bathroom. Three large picture windows frame views of the waterfall and pond that arise from a tributary of a creek that traverses the property. At each end of the building industrial steel sash windows open onto small balconies that the owner says are ''ideal for reading briefs and taking conference calls.''

Inside, the design is crisp and spartan: concrete walls, a Douglas fir floor, bare windows. An airy desk floats in the center of the room. Computer and desk lamp cords disappear through one of the desk's legs into conduits in the floor. On a nearby wall, translucent velum paper sconces that Murphy tacked up with push pins cast a soft light over a bank of white metal files holding legal documents. Floor lamps, which the architect fashioned from electrical conduits, diamond plate and skateboard wheels, and a white Corian conference table on lockable casters are easily movable. Outside, Murphy replaced an existing wood bridge with a 30-foot-long galvanized-steel span suspended above the waterfall, which ebbs and flows with the seasons.

The office commute over the water and through the woods takes 40 seconds. That is, unless the homeowner stops to inspect the black heron's nest in the oak by the pond or look around for the resident bobcat. ''My work is often stressful,'' he says. ''It's wonderful to be in such a serene environment. Plus, it's convenient to go home and have a sandwich whenever I want.''

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SOUND STUDIO

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Tom Schnabel's home office on the second floor of his Moroccan-inspired Venice home was cramping his style. ''I got tired of hearing my phone ring all the time. My girlfriend did too,'' says Schnabel, the producer and host of KCRW's Cafe LA. ''I needed some separation from work. Besides I had seven boxes of CDs filling my guest bedroom. I needed a place to put them.'' When an adjacent lot became available, Schnabel bought it and called in Santa Monica architectural designer Robert Ramirez to conceive a separate sound studio/home office next to the house.

The result is a 20-foot-square structure with an overhang roof. The facade features fixed crossbeams above the five-foot-window bays and French doors that open onto a pool and tropical garden. A massive corner tower of eight-inch concrete block surrounds the new sound room, where Schnabel tapes programs. ''I'm on the flight path of Santa Monica Airport,'' he says. 'When they fly those old WWII planes it gets really noisy around here.'' Now, with the insulated-glass doors and sealed threshold, he doesn't hear anything but his ginger cat, Mr. T, purring.

Radiant-heated concrete floors provide a warm resting place for Mr. T, who ''loves lying on them when it gets cold.'' A large custom desk and Eames chair and ottoman sit in the light-filled room outside the modest 4 1/2-by-7 1/2 -foot sound studio. Behind the desk, a wall-to-wall credenza and two wall-hung bookcases hold the producer's music books and oversized box sets. On each side wall, eight-foot-high storage bays contain 3,000 of Schnabel's 15,000-plus CD collection; Schnabel is relieved ''they' re finally all out of the boxes.''

Schnabel, who is also program director of world music for the Hollywood Bowl, says it took a bit of adjustment to work alone at home. ''I felt like I was in solitary confinement for a while. And being raised with a severe case of Protestant work ethic, it felt weird not to be in a car going to an office every morning.'' Now he wouldn't have it any other way. The former L.A. County lifeguard, who still swims 50 laps a day, admits he likes ''coming to work in bathing suit, T-shirt and a pair of flip-flops.'' The view doesn't hurt either. ''Right now the yellow cassia tree and red canna blossoms are floating in the pool. I feel like I'm in a resort in Bali.''

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ECO-FRIENDLY

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