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March 01, 2009

Right on task: a condo home office that works

Designing a condo-sized home office that works

Jasmin So-Armada

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WORKING FROM HOME demands a certain discipline to get up and get going. Those who decide to shift from an office environment to work out of their homes sometimes discover the struggle to keep things organized.

The beauty of working from home, however, is being able to learn what works as you go.

In this day and age, when condos are becoming more popular as a lifestyle choice, people are blending personal and work lives. And, though not all condo units are created equal, it certainly doesn’t help when you have to live and work in cramped quarters. By adjusting your personal and workspace, you may just discover what makes for a workable, functional space necessary for both sanity and visual eye candy.

What work one does is the most important consideration when setting up a condo home office. That being said, certain personalities thrive when they’re working for and by themselves. “Everybody has different needs, performs different tasks,” says Sam Chahda, president of Ducky’s Office Furniture, a 20-year-old family-run business that has crafted everything from small home offices to custom-designed Calgary skyscrapers.

According to Chahda, certain jobs, like home-based engineers and designers, generate more paperwork, whereas computer-aided work requires less space. The requirements, whether a large or small workspace, are the same: a desk, a chair and work storage. Many newer condos come equipped with a specific work area, while older condos may need reconfiguring. Other options and factors to consider include shared spaces such as bedrooms and kitchens that do double-duty.

Getting exact measurements of the space should be given particular attention. The experts also advise taking note of the plug-ins: phone, electrical, cable entryway, windows, etc.  “Once we know the size of space we’re working with—then we can go from there and start looking at the type of layouts that can actually fit into the area,” says Chahda.

Making sure your home office is away from noise is as key as is where to put it. Chahda says people also ask for tips on office furniture arrangement, especially in smaller spaces. “As much as possible, we often suggest that they orient the desk in such a manner that your back is not to your door, or that your computer monitor is not directly facing a window.” Chahda says that they try to incorporate an element of Feng Shui, not so much for its spiritual benefit but for practical design elements. “Having your back to your door, for instance, creates distraction, because you’re constantly looking over your shoulder to see if someone is coming.”

Computers shouldn’t face a window for practical reasons. “Your eyes will constantly be adjusting back and forth between the light coming from the window and the computer screen, so you have to be careful in terms of where you place your monitor,” Chahda says.

Often a door in a home office is nonexistent, which brings the challenge of separating work and living. “The ability to separate your spaces is very important from a mental standpoint, because you can then carry on with your personal life and not think about the business after work hours,” says Debbie Bruce, president and Founder of neatfreak™ and chair of the Calgary Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada. One option is to suspend a curtain on a ceiling track or have a folding screen to separate the spaces.

Most home offices function as a space for work brought from the office, but there are many people who work at least eight hours or more from home. “You have to take the durability of the furniture into consideration,” says Chahda. Inexpensive home offices in the market are not designed for continual use. “If you do a lot of filing-you have to remember that an inch of paper weighs three pounds. So if your cabinet is 18 inches deep with paper and it’s not commercial-grade, chances are, you’ll be replacing that unit in a few months.”

One item people miscalculate is a desk. “A lot of times people will buy the big office chair and the big office desk with the big shelving unit and they wonder why they don’t have enough space,” says Bruce. Scale and proportion as well as flow are important elements when buying office furniture. “If all your furniture is mahogany and you put a metal desk in your office, it doesn’t flow with the other pieces in the space,” says Bruce.

Another important element is an ergonomic chair. “Not having the proper chair can create a number of problems and issues,” says Chahda. A well-designed chair on the other hand, will improve posture, circulation, decrease fatigue and permit the proper transfer of body weight. It can also improve work performance.

By design, most condos mean scaled-down living, so spaces need to be used creatively.  Walls are often overlooked, but can be useful vertical spaces. “Storage options can be mounted on the walls, whether it’s shelving or close hutches. You can get at your files, manuals and materials just above your desk. You can go up as opposed to out,” says Chahda.

For those who don’t have a second bedroom, an alternative would be to convert a closet into what Bruce refers to as a Murphy bed-style office. “A narrow table could be an interesting work area. Another way to is to put up shelves vertically. It’s more economical and cleaner and can make your room seem larger,” says Bruce.

Lighting is as important as furniture in a workspace. A quality desk lamp or overhead lighting to illuminate your work surfaces is essential. “For instance, track lights can be oriented to different parts of the workspace. Spotlights help illuminate walls and white boards,” says Chahda.

A home office should be conducive to being creative— an inviting, stimulating, yet quiet place where there isn’t a lot of traffic. For Clare MacDougall, an architect graduate and owner of MacDougall Design Group, having her own home office gave her the ability to run her own show. “It was a natural gravitation. And I had the passion to do what I do.”

MacDougall, who specializes in inner-city residential design, lives with her partner in a two-bedroom 1,000-square-foot condo in Bankview. MacDougall says the condo and her workspace has evolved—at first, it was a desk area in the kitchen, until she gradually took over the spare bedroom as her base. “When it came to planning my own space, I deliberately took it slowly,” says MacDougall.

Her layout is not so different from the one she had in the corporate world. “I needed storage for client files, research information, and then of course, my computer.” MacDougall also uses a bedroom closet to store files. “We ripped out a drawer that was underneath the desk surface and we put in a cabinet that was in the kitchen which we incorporated into the home office,” says MacDougall.

A dining table comes in handy for many activities, including sewing, design and even her renderings. “I needed a surface that I could use for administration duties like writing, sorting mail, even talking on the phone. I also needed the surface for my drawings and sketches.” MacDougall says living and working as she does in a condo, meant really comin up with a priority list of what to accommodate. “I think condo living is all about double functioning, using movable furniture when necessary.” CL

Everything in its place: Tips for an organized home office

  • First thing’s first: make sure that the space where your future home office is going to be located is away from sources of noise.
  • If possible, put your desk by a window. Natural light creates more focus and harmony in your environment.
  • Avoid paper clutter. A table behind your desk allows you to spread out.
  • Storing other infrequently accessed reference materials in a bookcase down the hall curbs workspace clutter.
  • A combo fax, printer, copier and scanner fits perfectly in smaller spaces.
  • Shred as you go. Privacy compliance in a condo office is crucial with personal information in sight.
  • Recycle. A little bin beside your shredder works well for ubiquitous pieces of paper you can re-use.
  • A filing cabinet on casters can be rolled around the office and tucked underneath or beside your desk. You’ve also gained a table top.
  • Arrange lateral file folders on a corner of your desk or on a table adjacent to your work area which you can reach even when you’re on the phone.
  • Self employed? Separate personal from your business papers. Colour-coded folders help you see at a glance.
  • Computer savvy? Scan your work and put them into electronic file folders. This saves paper and makes your information portable. Pay bills online. Notify utility, credit card and cable companies  you would prefer bills be sent electronically.

Create 12 separate envelopes from January through to December and file them, current month in front. At the end of the day, empty your purse or wallet and take out the current receipts. Write what the receipt was for and file them right away. Do it repeatedly until it becomes a habit.

Source: neatfreak™; http://www.neatfreak.org

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