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A Wiser Use of Space: How to Set Up Your Home Office

Part Two of a three-part series on home offices: Tips for choosing an optimal spot and staying organized.

This story appears in the November 2010 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
Part One
Home Sweet Home Office

Finding the right tools to maximize efficiency and minimize pain.

Part Three
Open for Business: Designing a Home Office for Clients

The final installment of a three-part series on home offices: welcoming visitors.

The home office ideal: Take calls in your pajamas. Files never more than 10 steps away. Work whenever you feel like it.

The home office reality: Never enough room. Nothing ever organized. Distractions, distractions, distractions.

But must the fantasy that lured so many business owners to work from home remain a fantasy? Maybe not -- if you know the latest trends and technologies in office design. We consulted experts about three common home office challenges.

Pricing of the products they recommend, and of installation and final design, vary and may require the services of a professional designer. But the peace and the productivity gain of a functional home office speak for--and can pay for--itself.

1. The challenge: No dedicated office

Some work-from-home businesses (especially the sales-centric ones) require more time out of the office than in it. So they can often get by without a dedicated office. But it's easy enough to transform an existing room into one.

"I find that dining rooms are often underutilized," says Jennifer Coleman, principal at JKC Designs, a Rye, N.Y.-based design firm, with a practice in urban home office design.

Simple solution: Choose pieces that can do double duty.

Install an articulating keyboard under your dining table. A pedestal table is best, so the legs won't be in your way.

Stash the laptop, files and supplies in a buffet or sideboard that closes up after hours.

Head off eyestrain with an overhead light on a dimmer switch, like one from Boyd Lighting's Pendant series.

Perfect solution: The custom-made "rolling office."

Turn a rolling kitchen cart into a portable desk. A quality choice is the maple-topped "Cuce" Cucina Elegante from John Boos (, which has locking casters and is available with drop leaves.

Humanscale's customized articulating keyboardAttach a Humanscale articulating keyboard custom made to your specs.

Buy a bunch of Cinto stackable rolling chairs from Humanscale.

Hide your files behind a wall of hidden custom cabinets, like HBF's LogicWork Casegoods.

2. The challenge: Gadgets galore

Technical professionals, such as those in IT or telecom, amass rooms full of computers, printers, external hard drives and cords--often to growing familial horror.

"These clients need a highly customized solution that optimizes all the space they have," says Claire Tamburro, principal at Tamburro Interiors, an interior design firm in Arlington, Va. "That will most likely involve casework built specifically for the job."

Simple solution: Reach higher.

If you have floor and wall space, install simple floor-to-ceiling cabinets.

If wall space is at a premium, install cabinets horizontally along the ceiling.

Mount power strips inside desks or storage units to power and charge gadgets. Doug Mockett & Co. is the place for state-of-the-art desk organizing tools.

Perfect solution: Hide what's ugly and play up what's cool.

Run custom-built shelves right up to the ceiling and install sliding ladders to reach them, like the ones from Specialty Doors.

For brainstorming, meetings or a place to gaze at gadgets, choose a high-tech table like the A Frame from Brueton.

Body Chair by Davis FurnitureSit in style with the Body Chair, designed by Burkhard Vogtherr for Davis Furniture.

Hide the whole techno mess behind stylish sliding doors.

3. The challenge: Work space needed

Home manufacturers need large, open work surfaces and plenty of room to store raw supplies and finished goods. As a result, their businesses often fill a little of this room and a little of that room, making things difficult to find.

In these cases, I consider converting a space like a garage into the place for both raw goods and workers," says Mark Dutka, principal at InHouse Design Studio, based in San Francisco. "And then invest in creating the conditions essential to productivity and good health for that area."

Simple solution: Get it together.

Wrangle a space big enough for the entire business. Do you really need a guest bedroom? Could the formal living room go? Can you add a carport and take over the garage?

Determine the best way to store your raw materials and then mount it to the wall. Install racks and shelves for storage of inventory.

Start with simple but elegant industrial furnishings like a maple-top work table from Big Tray.

Perfect solution: Build a part-time manufacturing plant.

The business started in the garage, so put it there--permanently. Invest in a sliding glass false wall that sits behind the garage door. Open the door when it's time for business.

Close it after hours when you want your home to be a home again. A glass Glazed Folding System from NanaWall can be installed in any garage and still keep you both cool and warm.

Finish off the back-office areas with modular, half-home, half-office pieces with one of the many offered by Coalesse.

Round out the rest of the home office with office furnishings that can pass in a home. David Edward's Gower Line strikes the right balance. This hospitality-grade collection can really stand up to abuse.

Next month: The final home office frontier: Having a living, breathing client visit the house -- without losing your mind or your business.

Jonathan Blum

Written By

Jonathan Blum is a freelance writer and the principal of Blumsday LLC, a Web-based content company specializing in technology news.