Elbow Room

A funny thing happened to IceBreaker Enterprises during a salesperson's visit.

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A funny thing happened to IceBreaker Enterprises during a salesperson's visit.

"A salesperson came to us to pitch a package display," recalls Scott Walker, head of the Atlanta family-owned firm, which manufactures the novelty party game Walla Balla. "She came into the house and down the dark stairs to our dimly lit basement office. Throughout the entire meeting, I could tell she was uncomfortable about her surroundings, and that's when it hit me. I said to myself, `This is not a business-friendly environment.' "

Paul Limburg's revelation was not quite so dramatic. Ten years ago, he started a computer programming and mail order software sales company, Limburg Engineering Associates, from his Torrance, California, home.

"When we first moved into our house, I started out on a desk that was a door propped up on two short filing cabinets. When I went full time, I got more formal about it," says Limburg about his 10-foot-by-10-foot office, which is now home to a desk, three computers, fax and copy machines, and at least 10 printers.

The key to successfully navigating space constraint hurdles such as Walker's and Limburg's is to look at your home from a fresh perspective. You can either tackle this task yourself or hire a professional.

"An interior designer is specifically trained in interior work and space planning," explains Alexandria Lanuk, owner of ATL Interiors/Corporate Environments in Stamford, Connecticut. Examine your current space with an eye to planning for future needs, she adds. Will you be adding an employee, increasing your product line or buying more equipment?

Before you decide you need a major expansion, look at other areas of your home you could use, such as a basement, a porch or part of a living or dining room. Hidden spaces to consider include attics or hallway closets big enough to be converted, says Lanuk.

Moving outside the home wasn't an option for Limburg--he loves the flexibility of being able to take his 5-year-old son swimming every afternoon. But what were his options? Kick his 8-year-old daughter out of her bedroom? And, since the family had only recently lived through an extensive remodeling project, his wife put her foot down when he proposed knocking down a wall.

For now, Limburg's solution is to maximize space by installing shelving. "One key strategy is to go vertical," says Limburg. That includes using the space above and under your desk.

Walker and his siblings made their basement office more professional by clearing away old family paraphernalia, adding more lighting, and stocking a small refrigerator with refreshments for visiting clients.

There's a variety of affordable, space-conscious office equipment on the market to help you make the best use of your space. These include desktop copiers, laptop computers and fax-copy machine combinations.

Whether you hire a designer or do it yourself, keep these points in mind: Plan for the future, be flexible and understand what you can afford.

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