From the October 1998 issue of Startups

For homebased entrepreneurs, the executive suite can be anything from a fully equipped office to a card table in the corner of the bedroom. And with more than 18.3 million homebased business owners in the United States, home offices come in all sizes--and suit all budgets.

Flexibility is the key to every good home office. Not only is technology changing every day, but your needs will continue to evolve as your business grows. Before you stake your claim in home office territory, ask yourself these questions to help determine what you need:

  • Does the space have the electrical outlets and phone jacks you need, and are they conveniently located? If possible, have additional wiring or phone lines installed before you move in so you're prepared for future needs.
  • Where are the windows? Do you like to look out the window as you work, or do you find it distracting? Will the glare from the window make the computer screen hard to read? Configure your furniture with these things in mind.
  • Will you be seeing clients or holding meetings in your office? If so, do you need a conference area and/or extra seating?
  • Will more than one person use the office, even part time? Think about privacy and storage needs.
  • What kind of storage space will you need? In addition to paper files, computer disks and CDs, remember that you'll be storing office supplies and business records.
  • Is your office part of a room that has other functions? How much of your work will you want to hide at the end of the day?

Liz Seymour writes about design for publications including The New York Times and Southern Accents. She lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Ready To Go

Ready-to-assemble (RTA) furniture is getting better all the time. Although it's still the most affordable option in new furniture, for the most part, RTA furniture has shed its "cheap" image. Finishes are better, construction is sturdier, designs are more attractive, and function is at the forefront. To shop smart for RTA furniture, follow these guidelines:

  • Whenever possible, don't buy anything unless you can see an assembled sample in the store. Check to make sure veneers are tightly bonded and that components fit snugly together at the corners. Check moving parts such as doors and drawers to make sure they operate smoothly.
  • RTA furniture often comes as part of a modular group so you can mix and match to create your own office configuration. If you think you'll be adding on later, stay away from discontinued or special-purchase items.
  • You seldom need more than a basic screwdriver to put together a piece of RTA furniture, but that doesn't mean it's always easy. Know your capabilities before you commit to an RTA project.
  • Most RTA furniture locks together once it's assembled--you may have trouble getting it out the door after you put it together. If portability is a consideration, look for pieces designed to be taken apart.
  • It's easy to shop for RTA furniture through catalogs or on the Internet, but when you're planning your budget, don't forget to add shipping costs, which can be substantial. Also, study merchants' return and service policies before you buy.

Tools Of The Trade

If you think of your office chair as a tool and not a piece of furniture, you'll understand how important it is to get the right one. Before you buy a chair, analyze yourself and the way you work.

  • Are you substantially larger or smaller than average? Most chairs are designed for the middle 80 percent--if you're in the 10 percent at either end of the spectrum, look for a chair that's adjustable or one that's correctly proportioned for your body.
  • Do you need to move around--from filing cabinets to the copy machine, for example--while you're seated? If so, buy a chair on wheels with a swivel base.
  • Do you need to project a professional image to office visitors? If so, consider the style of your chair--especially the half that's visible above the desktop. Also, look for a chair that, even if it doesn't match perfectly, will be visually compatible with the rest of your office.

Your home office doesn't need to be grand--or even particularly tidy. But it should be inviting enough to keep you looking forward to work each day. Here are some of your options:

Saving Space

A surprising amount of functionality can be tucked into one corner of a room. A compact office armoire and a comfortable dining chair allow you to double up when space is tight without sacrificing the look of your home. Because their space is limited, however, office armoires work best for businesses that aren't primarily desk-based. If you find yourself spending long hours at a desk, purchase one that's designed for offices, and do your back a favor and trade in the dining chair for an ergonomically designed office chair.

Spend Less

1. The Monarch computer workcenter hides a full working office behind closed doors. Features include built-in lighting, a file drawer, a pull-out keyboard shelf, storage, and space for a printer and CPU. The unit is available in fruitwood (shown above), country pine, classic oak and warm oak finishes. You must assemble it yourself.

Cost: approximately $500. Sauder Woodworking Co., (800) 537-8560 or http://www.sauder.com

2. This colorful side chair goes from office to home without missing a beat. Although it was designed as a dining chair, with its cushioned back and seat and the gentle pitch of the back, it works as a limited-use desk chair, too.

Cost: starts at $410, with various fabric options. Norwalk, (800) 837-9002.

3. No-frills bookcases from Hold Everything get the job done. Three- and five-shelf versions are available in birch (shown below), honey, oak, black or white melamine. Some shelves adjust to store files or tall office supplies.

Cost: three-shelf, $45; five-shelf, $75. Hold Everything (catalog only), (800) 421-2264.

4. Sleek and sculptural, the Bako Wire Basket from Umbra looks as good full as it does empty.

Cost: $25. Available in home design stores.(800) 387-5122.

Spend More

1. The C2 ("casual contemporary") office armoire has remained one of Sligh Furniture's most popular designs since its introduction eight years ago as part of a 19-piece home office collection of mix-and-match furniture. A roomy 70 inches wide, the armoire includes plenty of work space, plus task lighting, storage and even a built-in tack board. The armoire has a cherrywood veneer; the folding "pocket chair" (shown here) is sold separately.

Cost: armoire starts at $2,299; pocket chair, $300. Sligh Furniture, (800) 291-2789 or http://www.sligh.com

2. This graceful chair gets an extra dose of comfort from generous channel stitching on its seat and back. The chair is shown in leather but also comes in various fabrics.

Cost: starts at $2,280. Baker Furniture, (616) 361-7321.

3. The whimsical Moe shelf unit from Olé Ink is at home with books, knickknacks or office supplies.

Cost: $1,552. Olé Ink, (201) 440-8846.

4. The plaid oval wastebasket from Palecek is good-looking enough to leave in plain view even after working hours are over.

Cost: $65. Palecek, (800) 676-5382.

A Room Of Your Own

Even if you're fortunate enough to have your own office space, don't ignore the "home" in home office. If your office is in a converted dining room or den, it may be more visible or centrally located, but even if it isn't, you can break out of cubicle thinking and furnish your office with the comforts of home. Be sure, however, to mix in hard-working elements where they count: good task lighting, a well-designed desk chair and plenty of storage.

Spend Less

1. The assemble-it-yourself Mission Collection borrows its style from turn-of-the-century Arts and Crafts designs.

Cost: Prices range from $102 for a bookshelf to $380 for the desk. Sauder Woodworking Co., (800) 537-8560, http://www.sauder.com

2. The midback manager's chair from Global Industries features an adjustable back for lumbar support.

Cost: $149. Available only through Staples, (800) 333-3330.

3. The fully adjustable Writer's Lamp takes a 60-watt bulb; its retro style is dressed up in brushed metal and wood.

Cost: $69. Pottery Barn, (800) 922-5507.

4. The no-nonsense wastebasket, #2956 from Rubbermaid, won't put a dent in your pocketbook.

Cost: $5.50. Rubbermaid, (800) 347-9800.

Spend More

1. Designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1908, the Meyer May desk is a modern classic. The solid cherry desk is a faithful reproduction of the original, which is in the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Cost: $3,245.Cassina, (800) 770-3568.

2. The Italian Forum Chair from Poltrona Frau is upholstered in hand-stitched leather and swivels on a cast aluminum base. The chair adjusts for height and tilt, and a special mechanism can change the shape of the back and seat to suit your body.

Cost: starts at $1,860. Poltrona Frau, (800) 858-9374.

3. This elegant wastebasket from Frontgate is made of polished plantation-grown mahogany (a plastic insert does the dirty work).

Cost: $160.Frontgate, (800) 626-6488.

4. The Flos Tango lamp has a personality all its own.

Cost: $595. Flos, (800) 939-3567.

5. The leaded glass patterns on the doors of the oak bookcase from Bexley Heath are also based on a design by Wright.

Cost: ranges from $3,575 to$3,835. Bexley Heath, (800) 954-7776.