From the January 1998 issue of Startups

When it comes to designing your home office, consulting an interior designer can help pave the way to a productive, aesthetically pleasing work environment. Today, many such professionals are well-versed in feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of placement dating back more than 4,000 years. Practitioners believe a room's arrangement will directly affect your life and business--either positively or negatively.

"The house or building is a metaphor of the self," says James Allyn Moser, a Feng Shui practitioner and owner of the Feng Shui Warehouse in San Diego. "The building will mirror the individual." Feng shui not only works to achieve an overall balance of energy in the environment, but staunch supporters also believe it will bring wealth to your business.

Though Moser recommends consulting an expert, there are steps the feng shui-inspired can take on their own. The most important element of any office, contends Moser, is your desk's position. "You need to be able to see the door and see what's coming at you," he explains. It's also preferable to have your back to the wall and keep your desk out of the door's pathway. "That's like sitting in the middle of the road," says Moser.

The addition of accessories, such as wind chimes, art or a small, trickling fountain, can evoke positive feelings and soothe an otherwise stressful atmosphere. A strategically placed mirror can help enlarge your work space and bring different views into your office. "More people today have home businesses," says Moser. "People have more control over their environment, compared to the old way where we had to go to work and were stuck with what we got."

Have It Your Way

You've spent months envisioning your new home office. You close your eyes and there it is, crystal clear. If only you could see an accurate, tangible representation ahead of time, before putting it all together.

Now you can, with the help of Visual Home, a new Internet-enhanced interior design product from Books That Work, a software development and publishing company in Palo Alto, California. With Visual Home, priced at $39.95, you can design, remodel and redecorate rooms in your home. Just download pictures of thousands of real manufacturers' furnishings and appliances from the Visual Home Web site http://www.btw.com, and place them accordingly. Before long, you'll have created a setup that works for you. And to keep you on budget while redecorating, the program includes a shopping list that automatically tracks how much virtual money you've spent.

Minimum system requirements include a 486 PC, Windows 95, 8MB RAM, 3MB available hard-drive space and a CD-ROM drive.

Out Of Order

Let's face it: Clutter is more than a small hindrance for most home offices. According to the National Association of Professional Organizers in Austin, Texas, paperwork is a small business's biggest burden--and 80 percent of all documents filed are never referenced again. It gets worse: The Wall Street Journal recently reported that U.S. executives lose an average of six weeks per year searching for misplaced information.

"If you're not organized, you waste valuable time, which is equivalent to valuable money," says Donna McMillan, owner of McMillan & Co. Professional Organizing in Los Angeles. Since the company was founded in 1984, McMillan has seen her share of disorderly work stations and offices. But most notably, she has helped countless businesses clear out the clutter and, in the end, increase productivity.

So how do you know if it's time for a major overhaul? Your first warning sign, says McMillan, is when you find yourself murmuring "Where is my (fill in the blank)?" A good standard to live by, says McMillan, is if you can't find something in 30 seconds, it's in the wrong place. Once you decide you're ready to tackle the job, the following suggestions will help you get started:

*Sort your paperwork. Purchase and assemble several cardboard file boxes. Once you pick a category for each box, sort the entire office. Every shred of paper gets filed in its proper box, from paid bills and magazines to newspaper articles and tax returns. Also toss out all that junk mail you've accumulated.

*Organize the information. Go through each box and further organize the documents.

*Arrange your space. Now you're ready to tackle your work station. How many filing cabinets do you need? What should be boxed and stored in the attic? Where should office supplies go? Keep the items you need every day within reach, and put everything else away.

*Set up an organization system. McMillan suggests file folders for information accessed infrequently and three-ring binders with dividers, placed on a nearby bookshelf, for documents referenced more often.

*Develop new habits. Always put things back in their place, and reorganize before leaving the office each night. Says McMillan, "Accept this as a new habit, and grow with it."

Bonus Room

It's a problem familiar to homebased business owners--no space for an office. For those who see the kitchen table as the only viable solution, consider the Home Office Alcove from Brady Rooms Inc. in Worcester, Massachusetts. This fully assembled home office addition attaches to almost any home and is functional within hours.

This turnkey product minimizes the hassles of typical remodeling jobs. The 7-by-12-foot Alcove comes fully furnished in cherry or oak with a spacious work surface, sliding ergonomic keyboard tray, adjustable shelving and filing cabinets. Pre-wired for electricity, multiple phone lines and computer networking, the Alcove also includes track lighting and a wall of insulated windows. You can also order an optional air conditioning unit.

The Home Office Alcove fits beneath most roof overhangs; you can either attach it where there's a door or knock down an existing wall. The alcove is available in select states east of the Mississippi; costs start at $10,000.

Just Like New

Although furniture can be pricey, there comes a time when all homebased entrepreneurs have to purchase a desk, filing cabinet or other office item. But who ever said you have to buy something new?

For those on a tight budget, consider buying used furniture. Often, the pieces are in excellent condition, and despite limited selections, you can usually find something to match your décor. "The biggest benefit is the price," says Joel Miller of Bingham Farms, Michigan-based WorkPlace Integrators, an office furniture dealer that added reconditioned furniture to its line five years ago. "[Customers] can get like-new products at a significant cost savings." That savings can slash as much as 70 percent off the original price.

WorkPlace Integrators' reconditioned pieces can be traced back to customers who updated tired offices with new workstations. WorkPlace Integrators buys and revamps the used pieces--hardware is replaced, finishes are touched up and chips in the wood are filled in. Some metallic filing cabinets can even be colorized in a shade selected by the customer.

To find a store in your area that sells reconditioned furniture, consult your local Yellow Pages.

Contact Sources

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3M Office Ergonomics, (612) 733-9711, tjalbin1@mmm.com

Brady Rooms Inc., 97 Webster St., Worcester, MA 01603, (800) 88-BRADY

Feng Shui Warehouse, P.O. Box 6689, San Diego, CA 92166, (800) 399-1599

McMillan & Co. Professional Organizing, (310) 391-7392, http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/organized

National Association of Professional Organizers, (512) 206-0151

WorkPlace Integrators, (810) 430-2345, fax: (810) 430-2346