Moving beyond the kitchen and bath comfort zone can be a challenge, but embracing other-room design can often mean major profits for designers. How people live – and work – in their homes is changing significantly as the digital age pushes forward, and kitchen and bath designers who embrace the heightened demand for home office design can reap significant financial rewards.
According to Todd Race, president, Todd Race Construction in Rochester, NY, the design of a home office usually falls into two camps. “The first is as a get-away space, a place to do the bills, watch television, etc. Here, we are asked about flat-screens, maybe a wet bar, and the furniture layout is considered,” he says.
“In the second camp, the work space is the overriding factor,” Race continues. “Lighting, cabinetry and the amount of work surface are key.”
Indeed, when creating a true work environment, function and ergonomics are essential. “I see photos of some home offices and think, yes, they’re beautiful to look at, but who would want to work in them,” queries Mark Dutka, principal, InHouse Design Studio in San Francisco, CA. Dutka, who specializes in home office design, adds, “If I’m going to produce what I perceive to be a successful home office, first it must function as anticipated and then, secondarily, look fantastic – not vice versa.”
HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT
Cabinets are a major component of the home office, and custom designs are not unusual because of the special requirements of the space. Both the look of the cabinets and how they function are key to the overall success of the design.
Cabinetry that is beautiful and planned for special uses, such as lateral files, is a good profit center for a designer to design into the space, stresses Janice Stone Thomas, ASID, CKD, principal designer, StoneWood Design in Sacramento, CA.
Frank Harcus, sales, Lifetime Cabinet & Interiors in Deland, FL, notes that his firm always includes full-extension slides, as well as soft-close hinges, in cabinetry for the home office – bonus features that add to profitability as well as functionality. “And, since it is all custom, the customers have their choice of wood species, door styles and finish options,” he remarks.
He adds that, for uppers, the company does open-shelf units, applied doors, glass doors or “anything the customer wants, trimmed out with a choice of crown mouldings.”
According to Valorie Spence, president, Interior Design Solutions in Pukalani, HI, among the items included in home offices designed by her firm are built-in desks, custom cabinetry that includes pullouts for printers, and lighted upper satin glass cabinets over the desktop for storage.
“For a lot of my clients, it’s mainly about storage in the cabinetry,” stresses Laura Soto, CKD, owner/designer, Kitchen and Bath Design Studio in Houston, TX. “They don’t want to see things sitting out.”
“People like printers to be hidden, yet accessible,” agrees Dutka. Because of this, he has developed an armoire concept, “a tall cabinet with pocket doors. Within that cabinet there are adjustable pull-out shelves and outlets, and components can be placed on the shelves for easy access.”
“My clients want everything behind closed doors when the office is not in use,” adds Marlene MacDonald Ketchen, owner/designer, The Cabinetry in Hingham, MA. “They want an office that looks like one in a photo on Houzz – neat and orderly with nothing on the counter.”
Keeping things neat is especially challenging when it comes to electronics – both the seemingly endless wires for computers, printers and other equipment, as well as items that need regular charging, such as phones and tablets.
Soto has done a variety of different power sources for supplying those electronic devices inside the cabinet. “Whether it’s a pop-up outlet on top to quickly plug in a laptop or something else – we’re often integrating power inside the cabinetry.”
Dutka likes creating drawers that can house and charge items out of sight, and Docking Drawers now makes incorporating this option easier with its new charging drawers, he notes. “Between phones and tablets, there are wires everywhere,” he remarks. “So, it’s nice to have one drawer where clients can charge things.”
And, with regard to drawers, Soto reports that her firm often customizes the drawer interiors. “Just like in a kitchen, where you do dividers, you can do the same in a home office,” she explains. She had one client who had all of his paper products divided up. “He wanted a place for 8-1/2″x11″ paper, another for 11″x17″ paper, another for envelopes, address labels and so on. So, we sectioned a big drawer with different types of dividers.” This is definitely profitable, Soto stresses, because those are the little things that designers can charge extra for.
Home offices are incorporated into almost every room in the house now, according to Dutka, which has led him to doing more custom cabinets. Among his offerings is a remote-control retractable wall bed that can work within custom cabinet solutions that he designs.
“The bed snakes out of a big drawer at the bottom of the cabinet, making a right angle,” he explains. “You end up with a queen-sized bed facing you, with room for a television or bookshelf above it.” It works well in a home office/guest room design, or in a loft apartment in the city, he states.
“Many of my clients want to combine high functionality for work with a place to get away from it all and have some ‘me time,’” reports Barbara Brown, owner & creative director, Barbara Brown Interiors in the Washington, DC metro area. “They want an office where they can get their work done, but when the work day is done, they can use the space as a place to recharge, read a book or listen to music away from the hustle and bustle of family life.”
“In some instances, you’re looking at multiple users for the same area,” notes Soto. For instance, she explains, if the kids are doing homework at the homework desk, that needs to be different than a desk in the man cave. “So I’ve had different ideas of what the home office should look like,” she remarks.
Beyond working within the space, the home office needs to incorporate functional pieces and thoughtful design to meet the client’s expectations. This requires special care when choosing elements that will provide optimum service for the homeowner.
To meet the ergonomic needs of the client, Dutka places significant stress on elements surrounding the computer station. “Some people don’t want keyboard trays, but then they end up keying too high or low, or end up with carpal tunnel syndrome,” he stresses. Because of this, he incorporates high-end keyboard trays into his designs that have negative tilt, and go up and down.
And, while all concur that a home office needs great lighting, natural light might not be the design’s best friend. “The amount of daylight that windows provide may need to be screened in order to see the computer monitor,” notes George Deasy, residential designer, DeasyGroup in Mt. Vernon, WA.
While lighting may warm the space and give it a lift, distinctive touches make the room one’s own.
Soto notes that, lately, she has used a lot of reclaimed wood for countertops in home offices – “to make it more homey.” Reclaimed wood and barn wood also make a statement on the walls behind the desk and elsewhere.
And Dutka notes that he pays special attention when choosing the room’s hardware. “The pulls and knobs are the jewelry, and can make what otherwise could be considered a bit mundane look special,” he stresses.
While he uses different woods in his designs, Dutka believes the hardware really helps pull the whole look together. “I help people pick out higher-end hardware because, in the scheme of things, it’s not the most expensive item that’s going into that office, but it packs a punch,” he states.
While clients do challenge him with a long wish list, Dutka believes in recommending what is best for the client’s long-term comfort in the space. If they are adamant about having certain elements that won’t work in the home office space, it can sometimes lead to extra work for him elsewhere in the home – a great bonus.
“The whole idea is to look not at a single room, but a lifestyle – to look at the entire home and how it’s utilized,” he emphasizes. ▪