Creating Your Dream Home Office

Email, faxes and voice mail have forever changed the office concept. Gone are the beige furnishings and the daily rush hour commute for many people who work from home. Depending on the type of business you are in, it may be possible to dodge the corporate office full time or a few days per week. Conducting business from home can save time, offer flexible hours and even tax advantages. You may be able to deduct a portion of your property tax, mortgage interest, and other utilities from your income tax. Check with your local taxation office or accountant for details on restrictions.

Before you decide to work from home you may want re-evaluate your "office". Is it simply a poorly lit table with a computer on top? If so, it may be time to get creative. You can build an addition, renovate an existing room or make upgrades to your current workspace. With any of these options, remember that an office space should be attractive, comfortable, quiet and make efficient use of space.

An addition can be as small as six feet wide-just large enough to accommodate a desk, filing cabinets and even a small meeting table. If you do not anticipate needing the office for the life of your home, consider building an addition, which can easily convert to a solarium, den or music room. Certainly the benefit of starting from scratch is designing exactly the space you want. A high ceiling, French doors leading onto a patio or built-in wall shelves are some of the attractive options.

Renovations to an existing room are typically less expensive than an addition and can be equally creative. If you need both an office and an occasional guestroom, why not simply hide the bed until it's needed? A Murphy bed can fold up against a wall and be concealed behind panelling, which matches the room, or a large decorative screen. The reliable standby sofa bed is another option if you have the space. Choose a quality sofa bed, which can furnish a seating area for clients.

A great new design tool is the interactive CD, which allows you to create and view your ideas before you start building that addition, applying wallpaper or installing shelves. Many offer realistic two-dimensional layout and three-dimensional walking tours. You can purchase these CDs at most computer stores and from the Internet. (A good selection is available at www.hyperlink.com including Bob Vila's Home Design program.)

So whether you decide to bring in builders to add a new room or you just want to rearrange your shelves, a home office is the opportunity to create your ideal work environment. If you are working with limited space and funds, remember that a little ingenuity can go a long way. You might discover new uses for items you already have, or invest in furniture that has dual purposes or can be expanded to provide more workspace.

Consider these design tips:

  • Use a low-pile carpet that allows chairs and carts to roll easily.
  • Get colourful. Many office furniture manufacturers will allow you to use your own fabric (such as a floral print to match your living room couch) at no extra charge.
  • Use an old chest to hold hanging files.
  • Modify an antique liquor or tea trolley to hold your computer equipment.
  • An office door with glass panels will help open up a small space, increase brightness and even help you keep an eye on the kids.
  • Refinish an old armoire to match your office furniture and use it as a stylish filing cabinet.
  • Incorporate pullout designs to provide extra space. There are great new options available from keyboard trays to tables and desks.
  • Plenty of natural light will reduce eyestrain, however, ensure that the computer and windows are positioned to avoid glare on the screen.
  • Add a desk lamp lit with a blue "grow bulb" from a garden or hardware store to provide a full spectrum of light.
  • Velcro fasteners on the underside of a desk are cheap, effective means of concealing computer and telephone wires.
  • If you are buying new equipment consider a space-saving multifunction peripheral (MFP) which combines the features of a printer, copier, fax machine and even a scanner.
  • Position your monitor to be arm's length from your body with the top few lines of text at eye level.
  • Your chair should be low enough that your feet rest on the floor or on a footrest.
  • All frequently used equipment should be placed in front of you to avoid twisting.

Once you have that dream home office your spouse may still say you spend too much time at work but at least the commute will be short!