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Sam Vigil Jr.
Portland, Oregon

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Published in Home-Based Business News, January 1995
Tabloid Newspaper

The Old Home Office Ain't What It Used To Be

By Sam Vigil Jr.

As increasing numbers of Oregonians learn of the joys of working from home as a legitimate part- or full-time endeavor, they've begun to consider more seriously the space in which they spend much of their working time — whether it's a closet, an extra bedroom, a corner of the family or living room, or the basement.

And that means they give more thought not only to equipping their home offices, but also to arranging and organizing that space. That's spawned a term — and an industry — that's now becoming nearly as common as home fax machines: home office design. Thus more and more people are consulting professionals to help them make the most efficient use of that space.

"The 'getting by' decisions people used to make aren't really the best," says professional organizer Sue Hurlbut of Clackamas. People are starting to realize the value of professional assistance, she says. "People didn't used to feel they needed that."

Hurlbut, who started Organization Plus! in 1987, says that today about 30 percent of her business now takes her into home offices. "It's been maybe in the last three years that I started picking up home offices," she says, increasing by about 10 percent a year.

California Closet Company, which for years has been organizing and custom designing other parts of the home as well as commercial office space, has added home offices to their list of specialties.

"We have a designer assess how you use your office," says California Closet's Judy Romano of Beaverton, who has been creating home offices for about five years. Then they custom design an office system that specifically fits your business and how you work. In addition to office furnishings with the corporate office look, California Closet has a wood veneer product line that fits nicely in the home environment, Romano says.

A number of manufacturers are responding to the burgeoning home office market.

"It's now possible to go to a furniture store and find what you need," says Vianova Interiors' Nicole Raate, past president of the American Society of Interior Designers. For instance, she said, the Sligh company of Michigan, which manufacturers high-end home furniture, now manufactures a fine line of home office furniture in mahogany and cherry wood.

Electronics manufacturers are also responding to the home office's small space requirements, Hurlbut observes. Telephones, fax machines and copiers that take less space are much easier to find than a few years ago.

"The key is to organize the office so they can work, so they can find things," Romano says. "Even if no one's 'going into the office,' you can work better if you're organized.

"The idea is that even though you're working at home, you're a professional," so you want to have a professional environment.

A good desk may be obvious, but just because you use a computer doesn't mean you should get a computer desk, says writer Herman Holtz, a home-based entrepreneur, in his recent book The Complete Work-at-Home Companion (second edition, Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA). Holtz himself spends a good deal of time at his PC writing, but because he needs to refer to voluminous notes and papers, a more conventional desk with a larger work surface better suits his needs.

One item home office workers often neglect, Hurlbut says, is an ergonomic adjustable chair, which can be found in local office supply and furnishings stores. "Several of the local home office stores have ergonomics experts," she says, that can help you choose the right chair for your work.

Look for a chair that allows you to place your feet square on the floor, she says, has lower back support, and enough padding so that your legs don't go numb.

Lighting is another area that home workers have tended to skimp on, but are becoming more aware of its importance.

"Glare is the main problem" on work surfaces as well as computer screens, says Tom Dearborn, of Tom Dearborn Interiors, who is on the board of the local chapter of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) and ASID. "There are lamps that project light at the correct angles to avoid glare on work surfaces. Selecting the right lamp makes a big difference."

Whether you depend on window lighting or lamps, you need to make sure the lighting is bright and even, Hurlbut says. And be sure it's white light — best from fluorescent or halogen sources — to avoid eye strain. If you have a choice of placing your desk near a window, she says a north window is best because it offers the least variation in daytime lighting. Augment window lighting with lamps to provide even lighting.

Furniture upholstery and wall and floor coverings are other considerations often overlooked in home offices, Dearborn says. Choosing the right coverings can help deaden distracting noises — passing cars and trucks, and children playing — that filter into your work environment. He said a sound system is also useful for creating "white noise" to block out other noises.

Of course, when outfitting a home office, you have to consider the resale value if you own your home, the experts say. Furnishings, lighting and floor and wall coverings that make your office into a professional work space usually are not your first choices for decorating the kids' bedroom. But certain touches can make your home office attractive while adding value to your home.

For example, when The SalesTech Group's Chris Bednarek, of Hillsboro, converted his basement into a workspace, besides adding commercial grade carpeting and three lighting systems, he had a stonemason put in a custom stone alcove for his wood stove.

These are a few of the elements the professionals are designing into the modern home office.

However, the bottom line remains — productivity. You need to be productive in your home office, Hurlbut points out. "If you're not being productive, you'll have a tough time being successful."




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