From the June 1998 issue of Startups

Sleek lines, bold colors, ergonomic designs--today's home offices are getting quite a makeover. Gone are the days of predictable, drab work spaces. Think more along the lines of style, comfort and innovation. It's all part of a movement toward modernism, and office furniture manufacturers remain front-runners in the trend.

Consider conceptual configurations like Haworth Inc.'s Flo (storage unit shown at right). Although still just an abstract vision in the testing stages, this lavender and honey-colored workstation attempts to create an environment that enhances both intellectual and creative tasks (a discipline known as cognitive ergonomics). How is that accomplished? By providing the user with an organizational system patterned after that of the mind. For instance, the Flo sports an upright shelf along the desk's back edge designed to display all work-in-progress. And to keep all documents in check, matching storage units offer a cubbyhole-like system for paper organization.

Could this be the wave of the future? Perhaps. But until concept products from companies like Haworth hit the market, consumers ready to modernize their home office workstations need look no further than European furniture maker Vitra Inc. Vitra's Ad Hoc Office System (below), which costs about $2,270, is said to encourage change, productivity, reorganization and concentration--all the elements necessary to support tomorrow's nontraditional, ever-changing work environment. The lightweight desk is available in either right- or left-handed versions. Optional accessories (in green, orange, blue or gray) include the Storage Box, a small desktop bookshelf; and the CPU Box, which organizes your electrical cables and doubles as a desk leg.

For those seeking a simpler, more affordable option, Agio Designs Inc.'s Soho Desk (far left) may be the solution. A winner at last year's Industrial Design Excellence Awards, which recognize innovative, visually appealing products created with ecological responsibility in mind--the Soho Desk comes in various sizes, with the option of adding a raised shelf for your monitor, lamp or other office accessory. Besides ergonomic comfort, a real benefit to users is the built-in cable management system that hides cables and wires. The desktop comes in natural or black cherry; additional surfaces can be attached for a larger work space. The cost (with the shelf) starts at $509.

Room With A View

Are you Tired of working in a windowless office? Then try lighting maker Bio-Brite Inc.'s faux, electrically lighted window for a change of scenery. Simply hang it on your wall like a picture, plug it into an electrical outlet, and voilà--you'll be staring at a sunny English garden, a warm Hawaiian beach, a plush golf course or even a scenic photograph of your choice.

It may sound like a phony substitute (actually, it is), but the Window-Lite is helpful to those cooped up inside all day: In a recent Arizona State University study, participants rated artificial windows almost as desirable as the real thing in terms of long-term comfort and productivity.

To order, call (800) 621-LITE. The cost starts at $149.95.

Lighten Up

Believe it or not, your eyes burn more calories in the average day than your legs do. Not too surprising when you consider their exhaustive daily cycle: shutting down when exposed to brightness and opening up in dim conditions, over and over again, a million times each day.

"When you take your glasses off and rub your eyes, you have tired eyes," says Mark Roush of Philips Lighting Co. in Somerset, New Jersey. "That's natural. That's real. That's the musculature in your eyes burning a great deal of calories."

Although eye fatigue is not entirely preventable, the proper illumination in your home office can help you avoid at least some of the strain. According to Roush, "We need to work in a space that's uniformly bright. That will aid tremendously in comfort and the ability to focus."

He says your best bet--albeit difficult to achieve--is an all-white, evenly lighted room with no windows and with white furniture, white floors and white wallpaper, so that light reflects off all surfaces. "That's what you should always lean toward," Roush says. The more contrasting the colors (like a dark mahogany desk on white carpet), the more work your eyes must do.

With that in mind, here are some lighting recommendations, to be used alone or in combination, to help you attain visual-friendly surroundings:

  • Fluorescent lighting is always a good bright-light source, and it's available in 40 shades of white light. Make sure light comes from more than one direction; if your office dimensions are 8 feet by 10 feet, for example, you'd want four fluorescent fixtures.
  • Wall sconces direct light upward. "The ceiling then becomes a uniform plane of brightness and reflects down to the work surface," says Roush.
  • Torchier lamps evenly brighten rooms, making reading easier and more comfortable.
  • Table lamps are a mistake if they're your only source of light. "That means there's brightness in one corner and darkness in another," Roush explains.
  • Sheers over windows soften the sky's natural brightness.

Think the above suggestions don't apply to you? Think again. Says Roush, "I'm absolutely convinced that close to 95 percent of home offices have the wrong light."

Contact Sources

Agio Designs Inc., (800) 688-2446, http://www.agiodesigns.com

Bio-Brite Inc., (800) 621-LITE

Haworth Inc., (800) 344-2600, http://www.haworth-furn.com

Philips Lighting Co.,