Home Touch: Home offices that really work

Mary G. Pepitone
Universal Uclick

A home office really works when it's designed to be both productive and pleasing. With more workers telecommuting in this digital age, home offices are workspaces that can also incorporate elements from a house's overall design, says Erin Hardy, California Closets' National Manager of Design, based in Boston.

"There is an art to working and living under the same roof," she says. "The key is to create a space that literally works for you."

This versatile space works for the whole family, with designated stations for both adult and children's "homework." Customized cubbies overhead provide places to store individual items, with drawers that work for a home office, as seen in a classic white finish.

In fact, more than 26 million employed persons do some work at home as part of their primary job, according to the 2018 United States Department of Labor's American Time Use Survey. Today's home offices are not only functional, they can also be fashionable, ranging from contemporary clean-lined furniture to an organized workspace in a multiuse room.

Having an in-home office cuts one's commute and affords persons the flexibility to work early or late on a project by simply walking down a hallway. But Hardy says striking a work-life balance is imperative when a home office is accessible all hours of the day.

"Every home office is highly personal, based on the layout of your living space, and how one likes to work," she says. "It's important to customize it into a space you love, but one you can also leave."

Get down to business

When selecting the space for your home office, it's important to try to keep its location separate from highly personal areas that have nothing to do with work, such as the bedroom.

"Most people find their home office is a room in their house in which they can close the door to free themselves from distractions and be able to get down to work," Hardy says. "What the room looks like depends on the space available and your personal style."

Hardy says for most people wanting a more traditional office experience at home, California Closets transforms and customizes an unused bedroom or space dedicated in a house to a library. "But, more often, a person's home office is a multifunctional space, which can also serve as a guest bedroom or a family's technology room with a printer," she says. "Because laptops don't need to be tethered to a wall and files are shared digitally, there's less need for cabinetry to accommodate papers and large computers."

This executive setup in a natural finish mixes both business and pleasure. Closed storage and file drawers organize and keep work out of sight, with cubbies that have accent lights, which showcase plants and personal effects to enliven the space.

Manufacturers add technology-driven functionality to home office furniture that can accommodate built-in power strips with charger cable hookups for computers and digital devices, electrical outlets and a Wi-Fi booster. These features are often hidden inside a cabinet to keep cords and cables organized, so the workspace remains uncluttered.

California Closets can customize a small office space starting around $1,200, Hardy says. "You want the space to be visually clean so you can jump right into work," she says. "No one wants to climb under the desk to deal with a tangled mess of cords. That's a productivity killer."

Work in progress

The centerpiece of any home office is its work surface or desk. The style of your home office furniture should take a cue from other furnishings found in the home. Manufacturers such as California Closets offer work surfaces that are modular, with the capability to add drawers, bookshelves and cubbies as needed.

This casual home office is a smart and stylish setup that can be used for work and limited play. This well-lit office with a two-person workstation features whitewashed countertops and gray gradients of cabinetry for storage.

While many manufacturers offer furniture options that reflect a modern minimalistic movement, Hardy says a table can also serve as a workspace. Investing in a sit-to-stand height-adjustable desk means that selecting a comfortable, functional chair is a decision best made when sitting down in the home office. Whether one chooses to sit in a traditional ergonomic chair or balance on a large exercise ball behind their home office desk, make sure the chair works in the space, with plenty of clearance on all sides.

A bright spot

Making light work by creating a multilayered lighting plan is something best done before constructing a home office. To illuminate the work you do in a home office, consider using a combination of light sources:

General: This type of lighting addresses overall illumination, with the goal to enhance natural and overhead light fixtures so people feel comfortable and look good in the space -- especially when it comes to teleconference calls.

Task: Lamps are relatively inexpensive, personalized accents that can be as stylish as they are useful when shedding light on the work surface.

Accent: Indirect LED lighting installed in display shelving can serve as a cool design feature and make it easier to retrieve documents.

A traditional modern office can serve different functions with an efficient design. Easy-to-open drawers and cabinets organize supplies, while cubbies and bookshelves provide more storage vertically in this Paxton Office system, featured in the popular "ash" color.

Enliven the space

What one hangs on home office walls can be highly personal -- such as awards and degrees -- but items or artwork shouldn't distract from the business at hand. For the ultimate enlivened accessory, decorate a space with live plants, such as an orchid, low-maintenance succulents or cut flowers.

If your home office is a multipurpose room -- such as a family technology center or guest bedroom -- organize the space with less personal items that refer to your work. A bedroom/home office can feature a fold-down bed, which is hinged at one end to store vertically against the wall inside framed cabinetry. Multiple workstations in a single room can be a place for the family to do their "homework" together.

Works like a charm

Hardy says the goal of a home office is to help people lead a more integrated life between personal responsibilities and work. "It's important to customize your home office into a space you love," she says. "A home office doesn't need to be fancy; it can be simple and functional, while still getting the job done."