Better Homes

[and desktops]

Computer furniture gets sophisticated as PCs move front and center in many Americans' homes

May 15, 2000|By Mary Jo DiLonardo | Mary Jo DiLonardo,Cox News Service

Long gone are the days when it was cool to set up your computer in a dank, musty corner of the basement on an easy-to-assemble wobbly desk from Kmart.

As more and more people are getting home PCs, the computer is attaining the status of the television set in American homes. More than half of all U.S. families have at least one computer at home. With that number growing at an incredible pace, having a computer is like having a television. The question now is, where do you put it?

Computer owners seem to be doing one of two things. They're either proudly displaying their desktop on fancy, gadget-filled desks or they're hiding it deep within the bowels of elaborate armoire-like furniture pieces.

"As more people are splitting their time between the home and office, it's no longer, 'Let me just throw it on the kitchen table,'" says interior designer Jerry Poole. "People are getting computer-related furniture."

Although you can still buy plenty of functional computer desks at discount stores for less than $100, furniture designers have jumped on the booming popularity of home PCs and home offices.

"Several of our furniture lines have specifically addressed furniture that is strictly for computers," says Custer Mayo of Mayo Wholesale Furniture in Atlanta. While this furniture may look like a simple entertainment center, chest or desk, it's specifically designed for computers with room for a tower, keyboard, monitor and all the wiring, says Mayo.

According to trend guru Faith Popcorn's BrainReserve marketing firm (www. brainreserve.com), the number of at-home workers has increased by 100 percent in the past five years to 10.5 million people. That number is expected to double by 2005. While an estimated 40 percent of all employers offer telecommuting, one in eight of all households has a full-time at-home worker.

Popcorn -- who coined the term "cocooning" and was dubbed the "Nostradamus of marketing" by Fortune magazine -- has ventured into the home office furniture design business herself.

Recognizing that women are leaving corporate America and starting their own businesses at twice the rate of men, Popcorn designed a line of home office furniture specifically for women. There are two collections in her inaugural line -- the feminine and traditional La Cocoon and the hipper, clean lines of Satellite.

In addition to being more attractive than a basic computer desk, the lines include special touches designed to appeal to women, including a locking compartment for purses and other personal items, a built-in bud vase and felt-lined jewelry trays for women who may take off their earrings when they pick up the phone.

Popcorn designed the desks higher than usual because, she says, women tend to cross their legs while they're sitting. In addition, there's a step stool that can double as a child's desk to keep the tykes occupied when Mom is working at home.

Popcorn's furniture ranges from $450 for the step stool to $4,500 for a desk/credenza. Obviously, these new computer furniture pieces are far from cheap. For example, Milling Road (www.milllingroad.com), a division of the upscale Baker Furniture Company, offers an impressive leather-top desk that retails for an even more awe-inspiring $9,262.

"Our customer is often the executive person -- usually between 30 and 50 -- who started his own business out of his home," says Milling Road lead designer Joe McCambridge. "He doesn't want to work off a piece of plywood desk. He wants something that will impress his customers."

This desk should do the trick. Complete with a drop-front keyboard drawer, hidden space for computer towers and printers, the maple desk is 18th-century Italian design, says McCambridge. It's obviously a step way above the basic metal job you can pick up at an office supply store.

How much people spend on their computer furniture seems to depend on where they plan on putting it, designers and retailers agree.

"If they're putting it in a space in their house where they entertain -- like the living room -- then they spend more so they can conceal it," says Poole. "If it's going in their basement or bedroom where generally people won't see it, then they spend just several hundred dollars."

For people who don't want to look at their PC when they're not using it, a few furniture companies have designed serious armoire-like pieces to conceal the computer when it's not in use.

"To look at it from 3 feet away you think it's just a nice piece of furniture," says Mayo. "But then doors come open and drawers open and trays come out. It's ingenious."

As people spend more time at home on their computers, they want their home office to resemble their work office in many respects.

"Clients want more than just a writing desk. They want a desk like they would have in their office with all the file drawers, keyboard trays and other details but with styling that is appropriate to their home in quality and styling," says Minneapolis interior designer Sue Walling. "They want their home office to function just like their office outside the home would."

For people with beaucoup bucks to spend, designers like Walling often design a setup to meet their clients' needs. Some people, for example, want televisions and stereo equipment built into their office cabinets.

In any case, people now want their home offices to be convenient, comfortable and practical, too. Says Walling, "It is passe to think a home office only needs to look good."

Pub Date: 05/15/00

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