Home Office: Top Features
Published: February 05, 2010 By: Pat Curry
Every home office needs the basics of a desk and chair, but here are the top features you can add for maximum comfort and functionality.
Your home office should include a desktop surface big enough for your computer, printer, and telephone, and still provide enough space for you to work
While every business — and every business owner — has a unique set of needs, all home offices share a few basic requirements. Some, like adequate lighting and comfortable seating, are obvious. Others, such as visual cues that separate work space from family space, are more subtle.
Remodeling Magazine’s cost vs power puts the average cost of converting a 12-by-12-foot room into a home office at about $28,000, which includes custom cabinetry, 20 linear feet of desktop, a wiring upgrade, and new wall and floor coverings. Whether you go whole-hog or pick and choose, here are the top features to incorporate for maximum comfort and functionality.
A proper work surface
Whether it’s a desk, a drawing table, or a countertop, you need a surface on which to work, plus a place to set up a computer, printer, and phone. Tampa, Fla.-based interior designer Jamie Goldberg tells her clients to allow at least 42 inches of space, and as much as 60 inches if you can spare it, for a work surface.
A comfortable chair
If you’ll be sitting for much of the day, it’s worth spending the money on an ergonomic chair that will support your back and adjust to proper keyboard height. Prices vary depending on style, but you’ll find plenty of good choices in the $200 to $400 range. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends a chair with padded armrests to support your forearms and a base with five wheels for stability.
Storage doesn’t need to be fancy, but it does need to be tailored to your stuff, whether it’s files, reference books, or fabric samples. Page Rien, designer for HGTV’s “Hidden Potential,” likes to adapt existing closets, both for the affordability (no building required) and the fact that you can hide your supplies behind closed doors. “We install new shelving with baskets you can pull out,” she says. “That’s a great way to see vast amount of your stuff at once.”
The most personalized solution, of course, is built-in cabinetry, but that’s also the most expensive. Lisa Kanarek, home-office expert and founder of WorkingNaked.net, recommends commercial shelving, such as Elfa’s Home Office system ($300 and up, depending on components), which can be configured in just about any arrangement and has options for add-ons, like slide-out bins and rolling file carts.
Ideally, an office should have three kinds of light: natural daylight, ambient lighting, and task lighting. For general illumination, architect Sarah Susanka, author of “Not So Big. Remodeling,” likes up-lighting that bounces illumination off the ceiling. “It works great if you have a light-colored ceiling,” she says. “You end up with enough light for any general function.”
For specific tasks, such as reading or drafting, you still need dedicated task lighting that shines directly on the work. Energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs are a good choice for task lamps, because they stay cool, last longer, and come in a variety of light “colors.” A 25-watt CFL provides the same amount of brightness as a 100-watt incandescent and costs about 75% less to operate, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
When choosing flooring, your first consideration should be its effect on sound quality. “Any kind of hard surface will echo without sound absorption,” says Chad Schloerke, director of operations for Floor Coverings International, in Smyrna, Ga. “If you’re on a speaker phone or a headset with a good microphone, you’ll hear your voice reverberate in the room.”
Because carpet absorbs sound, it’s the leading choice for home offices. It’s also one of the most affordable, at about $15-$25 per yard for midgrade carpet, installed. Cork is a higher-end option (about $8 per square foot for 12-by-12 tiles) that’s great for controlling sound; plus, cork floors are resilient underfoot and environmentally friendly. If your heart is set on hardwood, add an area rug to absorb noise.
Many older homes aren’t wired for today’s technology. They may not have sufficient power for always-on electronics, and they frequently lack grounded outlets for safety. An electrician can do a wiring inspection ($200-$300) and upgrade outlets or circuits as necessary.
You’ll also need a high-speed Internet connection. For some people, nothing short of whole-house structured wiring will do the trick. These heavy-duty data cables will give you the fastest possible speed and the most security, but at the greatest cost—about $2 per square foot of living space, according to Chicago installer Absolut Sight & Sound. Less expensive options are a DSL or cable modem, which can be handled with a call to your phone or cable company.
Controlling sound is a necessity, whether you need quiet to work or because noise from your office could disturb other family members. Start with a solid-core door to block sound transmission; upholstered furniture, curtains, and area rugs also help. For more protection, you can install sound-proofing mats or panels on the walls and ceiling (about $50 for a 24-by-24-inch acoustic panel). Upgraded insulation and air sealing also can work wonders for shutting out noise.
Good air flow
Good air quality and temperature control are a must for comfort. A space with existing HVAC ductwork is ideal. If that’s not an option, standing fans or a room air conditioner may do the trick. If the office is in a basement, where the air can get stale or musty, consider an air purifier or a dehumidifier.
An entry point
Some experts insist that a home office needs a door; others aren’t convinced that it’s a necessity. But Sarah Susanka, who works from home in what was once a spare bedroom, says it’s important to at least give yourself “psychological cues” that tell you that you’re at work.
It could be as simple as painting the room a different color from the surrounding areas, changing the trim around the entry, or putting up a folding screen between your workspace and the rest of the living room. Without those visual points of distinction, she says, “it’s difficult to separate out the home life from the work life.”