In the furniture section of Office Depot in Studio City, interior designer Lauren Rottet identifies the most common misstep in setting up a work space at home: "Because it's quick and easy, there's always the temptation to buy a whole room ensemble -- matching desk, chair, cabinet and hutch -- but they really dominate a room, and chances are you don't need all four pieces."
She moves on, gravitating to the simplest desk -- nearly black with unfussy hardware. "Wood veneers and laminates look cheap," she says. "The darker the piece, the more it tends to disappear."
And in the lighting aisle? "Most people probably have a lamp at home that would serve their purposes," she says, passing on the options here. "Or they could find a cool one at a vintage furniture store."
Rottet knows her way around an office. As founder of the firm Rottet Studio, she has designed sleek executive suites for Disney, General Electric, Bank of China and the Rand Corp. think tank. With more people working from home either by choice or by circumstance, the Home section asked the designer to share her expertise while shopping for budget-conscious office equipment in the San Fernando Valley. Her first bit of advice: Make the work space feel like home.
"There's no reason to turn part of your house into a corporate cubicle," she says. "It should have your own personal style."
In the parking lot of Advanced Liquidators in North Hollywood, a firm that sells discounted new and used office furniture, Rottet spots a green metal chair with a yellow vinyl seat and back.
"I love this 1940s color combination," she says. "It looks like the color of your grandmother's Dodge." She is more cautious about pieces that might require reupholstery: "It's always more expensive than you think. It might even cost more than the chair."
Inside the showroom, Rottet notices a new blue Humanscale Freedom chair with a tag noting it was seen on "24." In the current economy, inventory is plentiful, Advanced Liquidators co-owner Mark Goldman says, and the Freedom chair is marked down. The manufacturer's website lists prices that start at $1,305 and rise depending on fabric and features, but the tag here says $995. Goldman's brother, Eric, also co-owner of the store, offers to knock down the price to $895.
New furniture includes copies of classic designs by Charles and Ray Eames as well as surprisingly good-looking and versatile contemporary pieces. A $279 three-piece frosted glass desk with a rounded center section and a floating monitor shelf catches Rottet's eye.
"It's a little Jetsons," she says, "but it's a very good little setup."
Rottet also admires narrow-depth metal writing tables with shallow drawers. At $189 each, she suggests, "you could put two of them back to back to make a partners desk or a conference table."
The designer also finds inspiration in the used-furniture area of the 25-year-old business. Wooden desks that look more worn could be refreshed with a splash of paint and new vinyl tops, "like the ones architects use on drafting tables."
Rottet comes across a pair of two-drawer, brushed metal file cabinets, $79 each, and instantly re-imagines them as pedestals for a desk.
"They have the natural patina that you work forever to get with metal," she says. "I would separate them 3 to 4 feet and get a long piece of glass at least a quarter-inch thick, or to be fancy, go to a marble supplier and get a leftover slab to make a desktop."
On her way out, she finds two easy alternatives -- refurbished midcentury metal pieces that are often referred to as "tanker desks." The Steelcase piece has been powder-coated in fire engine red and costs $695; the other, a pale green Office Master with an extra-long work surface, is $895. Both are hundreds of dollars cheaper than similar pieces in local stores.
"If I lived here," says Rottet, who has an L.A. office but is based in Houston, "I'd buy these and take them home right now."
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How to get started
Five suggestions from office designer Lauren Rottet:
1. Save space. Install wall shelves if you don't already have them. If you need more storage, look for cabinets with sliding panels instead of doors that open out and gobble up square footage. For tidy workers, Rottet advocates a slim-profile writing table or vanity. "If you use an armchair," she says, "measure it to make sure it can be tucked underneath the desk instead of sticking out."
2. Use the closet. Printers, fax machines and computer accessories can go behind closed doors.
3. Hide visual clutter. Old-fashioned secretary's desks were built with modesty panels, front aprons that blocked the view of ladies' legs. In a home office, the same panel can hide wires and your junky trash.
4. Decorate. Standing file cabinets don't have to be eyesores. "Think of them as pedestals for a piece of sculpture," says Rottet, who advises against lining them up side-by-side. "For a fun look, you can get vintage ones in a mix of colors and place them in different parts of the room."
5. Mix, don't match. An office should be like any other room in your house. "If you want your work space to reflect your personality," she says, "don't buy everything in one place, and don't be afraid to collect and to mix instead of match."
-- David A. Keeps