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March 16, 2004 > The Basics of Home Office Design

The Basics of Home Office Design

by Diane LaMountaine

Setting up a home office isn't just a matter of placing equipment on a desk or table and plugging in! I know ... I've done this a few times and found myself tripping over wires, uncomfortable with equipment placement and creating mounds of "stuff." I had no place to file or store, and worked in an environment that I wanted to run away from rather than one that was comfortable and productive. I am assuming you are lucky enough to have either an entire room to dedicate to a home office or space in a family room or bedroom that is large enough to house your home office equipment, desk, files and supplies.

Where do we begin? Infrastructure comes first!
Step one. Assess your home office power needs. Add up the wattage of your office equipment (and related office design features such as lighting). You may be able to cut down on your power needs by "combining" some of your office equipment. For example, instead of having a separate printer, fax, copier and scanner, you can have one multifunction machine that performs all of these functions. So, before you make your final decision on the office location, plug in all of your equipment and try to use it. If you experience any electrical danger signs, such as breakers popping or lights dimming, have an electrician check your circuitry and see if simple rewiring is possible.
Protect your office equipment, such as computers, from power surges and/or electrical outages. Invest in as many UPSs (Uninterrupted Power Supplies) as necessary to prevent loss of data or expensive damage to your equipment.
My clients find these suggestions save them lots of grief in the long run as some homes; especially older houses need an electrical update. This pre-planning is essential if you intend to install new built-in's, a computer hutch or purchase new office components.
Step two: Lighting.
Chances are that the existing lighting in the proposed location of your home office is inadequate for work space needs. You need to incorporate strong overhead lighting in your home office design - and in many cases that means purchasing and installing additional light fixtures. Various types of track lighting are easy to find and relatively easy to install, either for overhead lighting or below shelves, to increase illumination closer to your work space.
When choosing the lighting for your home office, assess your needs by sitting in your proposed work space and determining how much illumination you need to work efficiently and where the light should be placed. An office with inadequate lighting is not only useless but can lead to all kinds of health problems (i.e. headaches, neck and shoulder pain).
Step three: Ventilation.
Yes, that's right, ventilation. Many people overlook the importance of this in office design, but you and your office equipment both need it! First, the more office equipment you have operating, the more heat will be generated - and excessive heat can damage office equipment such as PCs.
Secondly, if your home office space isn't adequately ventilated, working there can be extremely uncomfortable for you. This is a particularly common problem when people choose small spaces for their home offices. The room becomes a "hot box" and almost impossible to work in.
Consider the ventilation aspect of your office design carefully when you're choosing the spot for your home office. Is the room or space large enough for you and your equipment to work in comfortably? Consider cooling options such as purchasing a small air-conditioning unit or fans of an adequate size to cool the room.

Now that we've covered the basic infrastructure of home office design, we can give some thought to the utility and safety aspects of the work space.

Place your office furniture and equipment for maximum use of space and ease of use.
Whatever you use frequently should be close at hand and easy to access. If it's not used frequently, move it. For instance, if your work involves using the phone a lot, your phone should be in a position where you don't have to get up or reach awkwardly to use it. If your work involves handling and filing a lot of paper, your filing cabinet needs to be close enough that you can get to it with a few steps - or even better, have filing drawers within your desk or built-in that are close at hand.
Review your placement after several days to be sure you have everything in the best position.

Organize the cords and wires.
Plan your office design to put as many of your electrical cords, telephone wire or cables out of sight as possible. If you have long lengths of cable running from room to room (or down a hallway), consider drilling holes and lifting baseboards as necessary to get them out of sight. If you can't drill holes or move baseboards, make sure you tape or staple them down. Some custom cabinets or desk units have moveable backing so that wires and cords can be completely hidden.
You may want to consider going wireless - another way of tackling the cords and wires problem. Many computer peripherals, such as printers and copiers, now have wireless capabilities.

Finishing touches.
Treat yourself to a great new desk chair and take time to add some personal touches. If you can, change the wall color to one that is pleasing to you. Add a comfortable chair to sit in and a small table or magazine rack if you have the space. Hang a favorite painting or print nearby and place a few artistically framed photos of friends and family on the desk or shelf.
Personalizing your office makes it a more appealing space. Remember however, one of my favorite rules, "less is more" ... too much stuff or clutter will take away from your beautifully designed and organized new home office space.

Diane La Mountaine is a resident of Union City where she serves on several city commissions and teaches a "How to Paint a Mural" class. She helps clients with design challenges from minor revisions to complete home "makeovers." Her work was recently featured in California Home and Design Magazine. Diane says, "I see my surroundings as a canvas ~ each wall, room, even a view from a window can be developed into art and design." La Mountaine Designs: 510-477-9459.

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