Inviting your business into your home is one thing. But inviting your business clients into your home? That's something else altogether.
"It's an intensely personal choice whether to open your home to the stresses of business life," says Claire Tamburro, a designer in Arlington, Va., who has a background in residential home offices. "There are design challenges, issues with friends and neighbors. It can be done, but it is a big step."
Are you comfortable letting those who pay you see where--and how--you live? Do you need a physical barrier between your professional and personal lives? An accountant who specializes in single-person operations might be perfectly comfortable sitting down with clients at her dining room table. A therapist might want to maintain a professional distance that precludes clients from feeling as if they're friends being invited inside.
There are very few rights and wrongs here, but there is one hard rule: No children within earshot or eyeshot when clients are around. The sounds of a sibling throwdown or a too-loud cartoon kills the professional atmosphere, as does pushing away family clutter to make room for a client.
If you don't have a dedicated home office space, without question the children must vacate the premises before clients arrive. If you do have a separate office, either make sure it's far from the family living spaces or add soundproofing to drown out noises of domesticity.
Here's what our panel suggests about bringing your business into your home while still maintaining some boundaries between the two:
If you don't have a dedicated office space.
The dining room may be your best bet, says Jennifer Coleman, principal at JKC Designs, a design firm in Rye, N.Y., with a practice in urban home office design. She suggests lining a wall with attractive, low lateral file drawers and topping them with a beautiful marble or stone. Don't neglect finishing touches, she says, like decorative lamps from a better design shop such as Cliff Young Ltd..
Also, there are many designers whose work can pull double duty. Check out Indiana Furniture and its line of Inspiration chairs and case goods that fit the two-for-one bill. On the high end, Halcon, which specializes in architecturally inspired office furnishings, recently unveiled Proximus, a new line that offers a legit working desk and cabinets that can pass in-home design muster.
Finally, create--and use--a prep list for transforming your space to office-ready when a client is on the way.
If you have a dedicated space.
If you've set aside a room that's all business, it's best to avoid leading clients through the messy family room to get there. If possible, set up shop in a room that has an outside entrance, even if it means surrendering the formal living room or moving the family room into the spare bedroom. If you can't do that, create a "business path" through your home to your home office.
Once you have the right space and a feel for what you are trying to convey, fill the room with furniture that means business but still works in your home. Don't be shy about economizing. Look for places like Rieke Office Interiors in the Chicago area, which carry a nice inventory of refurbished office furnishings.
Whatever your budget, choose pieces that are serious but not boring and match the style of the rest of your house. Consider using so-called contract-grade fabrics and construction that look good but stand up to business traffic and abuse.
Good options for commercial office furniture are the Jofco Merge line and Paoli Furniture's Ignite line of modular desks, which can be small and have good veneer options. Also, Herman Miller is now making chairs other than the ubiquitous Aeron; the Eames Soft Pad multipurpose chair is perfect for half-home, half-business use.
The goal is to find what fits your preferences, your industry and your sense of what will make your clients comfortable.
"You know your client," says Mark Dutka, interior architect at the San Francisco-based InHouse Design Studio. "Just present yourself in your home and put your appropriate foot forward."
Read more stories about: Furniture