Making an executive decision Design: People who work at home deserve comfortable, accommodating surroundings that will help them be more productive.

September 07, 1997|By Michael Walsh | Michael Walsh,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

All those who are weary of the home-office-in-a-closet concept, please raise your hands. Converting a closet into an at-home office has always been a lame idea. But with distressing frequency and for reasons unknown, it continues to pop up in decorating magazines.

Even if there were such a thing as a "spare" closet, who in his right mind would want to spend his work day (week, month, year, career) working in one?

Something on the order of 50 million Americans work at home full- or part-time. It is time to acknowledge the fact that earning a living at home is anything but a closet industry.

Indeed, working at home is serious business, and setting up a home office is worthy of some serious thought and some serious square footage. Banishing a home office to a dank corner of the basement or attic is no more acceptable than the closet idea. People who work at home deserve comfortable, accommodating surroundings that will help them be more productive. Working at home doesn't have to take a back seat to other home-based activities.

In some cases that can mean devoting an entire room to the enterprise. Well, why not? Depending on the kind of work you do, the amount of time you spend doing it and the amount of furniture and equipment required, staking a claim to a whole room can be justified. If that means sacrificing a guest room, well, that's what sleep-sofas are for. If it means the kids have to share a bedroom for a few years, tell them you'll send them to separate colleges later.

Office space

In many cases (if not most), though, a home office can be integrated into a room that ordinarily serves other purposes. A formal living room is a good candidate. So is a formal dining room. They're not being used for much else these days, what with family rooms, great rooms and extended kitchens catering to casual living.

The living room is an especially appealing site for a home office because it's often the nicest room in the house. It's big and has lots of windows and good views, maybe even a fireplace and some architectural details, not to mention comfy furniture, artwork and wall-to-wall carpeting. As a high-powered executive, what more could you want?

Will office appointments compromise a living room's formal personality? There are two answers to that question. The first is, "Possibly, but so what? Isn't making a living more important than keeping up appearances?" The second is, "Not necessarily."

Office furniture, particularly home office furniture, has come a long way in recent years. Much of it -- desks, bookshelves, credenzas -- is formal without looking corporate. A polished mahogany desk isn't likely to impose on a traditionally styled living room.

Some home furnishings, particularly entertainment units with closed-door storage compartments, can perform corporate functions while maintaining their domestic character. A prodigious amount of office supplies and equipment can be stashed in one of them.

Not that you have to keep all your office supplies in the same place you keep your office. Printer paper, cellophane tape, staples, file folders and all the rest can be kept in a remote location (a better use for a closet anyway). You don't need access to these things several times a day, every day, so there's no reason to let them impose on your living space.

Decentralization

Also, just because centralization works in a corporate office, you don't have to follow the same pattern at home. If you rarely use the copier, put it in another room. Ditto for the fax machine.

How much office do you really need? Away from the corporation, you're free to write your own definition of office. Maybe you don't need file cabinets and bookshelves. Maybe you don't even need a conventional desk. Perhaps all you really need is a domestic-looking writing desk or an antique table.

How much of your work is desk work? There's no rule that says you must sit at a desk to talk on the telephone or review reports. With a cordless phone, you can conduct business from the sofa in front of the fireplace. With a laptop computer, you can write your marketing plan on the deck.

If you have to have them all in one place, a personal computer, copier and telephone/fax machine can be squirreled away in a roll-top desk or an armoire that converts to a computer desk. Either one amounts to an instant, on-call office, yet is compatible with living room or dining room furnishings.

A perfectly acceptable alternative is to allow the hardware that makes working at home possible to take its rightful place, right out in the open. These elements of commerce have become so common on the home front that they have ceased to be noticed.

And even if they stand out, so what? They are the tools of your trade, tools that allow you to be productive, to earn a living, to pay taxes. What's shameful about that?

At home, at long last, you're the boss.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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