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Fall Design Issue | Cover Story

Rise of the home office

A decade after Americans first began working from home in significant numbers, the home office has come into its own. As David Lansing reports below, it has become a dedicated space as carefully laid out and decorated as any other part of the house. In the pages that follow, we'll visit the home offices of Southern Californians who have tailored the environment to their individual lifestyles. Also, we'll look at the latest trends in corporate offices and trace the history of the workplace's reigning chair, the Aeron.

September 29, 2002|David Lansing | David Lansing last wrote for the magazine about pastry chefs.

Some find it hard to believe, but the den and home office are siblings from the same family. It's just that one is a bit of a slacker and the other a definite Type-A. Think about it. The den is where mom hid dad's walnut-veneer bar, shoving it next to that hideous big screen TV, the one with the picture that looked like it was being transmitted through the murky bottom of a fish tank, that he got just before the kickoff of Super Bowl XX in 1986. In fact, the den and TV go together like football and beer commercials. Where would one be without the other? At first we expected the brainiac PC to share accommodations with the slack-witted boob-tube, but it didn't take Dr. Laura to tell us that the relationship wasn't going to work. It soon became obvious that once everyone became more interested in anonymously chatting with strangers who didn't know what we really looked like instead of watching reruns of "Happy Days," the computer was destined to trump the TV as the new king of the household.

And the king needed his own space. We converted bedrooms, dedicated basements, carved out kitchen nooks, floated airy lofts and rehabbed shaggy dens so that he--and we--might be more comfortable. It's not that we've abandoned the TV. It's just that we've decided he can go anywhere--hidden in an antique armoire, paraded as flat-screen art, unceremoniously dumped in the bedroom--while we've gussied up his old digs, the slightly threadbare den, and turned it into the sleek techno-haven--the home office--for our new favorite, the computer and all his techie brethren.

"Everybody has to have a home office these days," says Santa Monica architect Brian Murphy. A home office, acknowledges Murphy, is almost as important to his clients as luxury bathrooms and a tricked-out kitchen. "We just did a 3,000-foot addition on the back of a house in Santa Monica that included a dark room and a place to wash the dogs. But the upper level was devoted to two studio offices. His and hers. With gorgeous views of the Pacific." The home office, for a lot of people, has become as important as the master bedroom.

Consider this: trend guru Faith Popcorn, who has blithely predicted that by 2005 over 20 million people will be working at home--double the current figure--has her own line of home office furniture for women. The line may be saddled with an unfortunate moniker--Hooker Furniture--but no one really doubts Popcorn's assumptions that home offices, filled with stylish, comfy furniture, are now a standard feature in most new home construction. "The growth in home offices has been phenomenal," says Kim D. Shaver, director of marketing communications for Virginia-based Hooker, a leading manufacturer of upscale home office furniture. Shaver says the Virginia-based company saw a 40 to 50% growth rate in annual sales during the '90s, increasing from about $10 million 10 years ago to over $60 million last year.

What's driving the boom in home offices, experts say, is technology, in particular, the computer which, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, is currently in 56% of U.S. households. If you've got the type of a job that can be accomplished using a computer connected to the internet (and, according to research cited by Shaver, of the 22 million people who claim to be self-employed, about 8 million rely primarily on the internet for their business), why bother to go into a regular office? Paul and Sarah Edwards, who have touted the joys of self-employment in 14 books including "Working From Home," moved, on a whim, from Santa Monica to a remote hamlet in the Los Padres National Forest in 1999. "We had never heard of Pine Mountain Club but we spent a Fourth of July weekend there with friends, loved it, and two days later, we were looking for houses," says Paul in a phone conversation from his home office which, he says, has views of mountains and lakes. "If you can earn your living working at home in a place you want to live, why wouldn't you?"

Wendy Marlett, senior vice-president of marketing for KB Homes, one of the largest housing developers in Southern California, says a recent poll by the company showed that more than 60% of home buyers surveyed thought having a home office was either "essential or very important" in their decision-making process. The Meyers Group, a real estate information company in Irvine, believes that more and more homeowners will convert a room in the house to a home office. "I'd be surprised if at least half the homes don't already have a space set aside as some sort of a home office already, and our research shows that trend only getting bigger," says Tim Sullivan, in charge of real estate information for the firm.

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