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Designing a Dream Home Office

May 30, 2008
More Americans are working from home these days, but many are finding that the key to productivity involves some separation from the home. These 4 at-home workers built work spaces just right for their needs.
By Diana Ransom , SmartMoney

IT’S OFTEN SAID that innovation springs from necessity. Try running a business out of the 9-by-12 spare bedroom in your house when half of it is monopolized by a bed.
That’s the situation Joseph Marek, a landscape architect in Santa Monica, Calif., found himself in before transforming his 400-square-foot garage into the colorful, contemporary design hub that it is today. John Patrick, a former vice president at International Business Machines, turned independent company director, author and speaker in Ridgefield, Conn., wanted a wire- and distraction-free home office, which is a feat considering he has four computers, a flat-screen TV and an entire printing station complete with three types of printers, a scanner and a digital scale for weighing shipments. Printmaker Liz Lyons Friedman and author Amy Bloom, on the other hand, just wanted to get away. “It was the hum of the house,” says Bloom. “I often had to wait until everyone was asleep to get any work done.”
But rather than continue working under distracting conditions, these business owners took matters into their own hands and designed work spaces to fit their needs. After all, says Patrick, “it’s where I spend the most time. Why not make an investment in it?”
The key to a perfectly productive work space, says Debra Prinzing, a Los Angeles author who has interviewed a number home-based business owners for her new book “Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways,” is detachment. “You have to be able to walk into this space and have it be fully dedicated,” she says. A truly separate space boosts productivity — and “quality of life is so much more enhanced,” she adds.
As more and more Americans work from home — be it running a business or telecommuting for a job — the home office, which was once relegated to a small corner in a kitchen or perhaps a dank basement, is finally receiving some well-deserved attention.
Here’s how some crafty business owners are taking their work home:

John Patrick

Independent company director, author, speaker and owner of Attitude in Ridgefield, Conn.

John Patrick's mahogany-paneled home office
Click image to enlarge

After nearly 40 years at International Business Machines (), John Patrick, who now works as an independent company director, author and speaker for his company Attitude, still spends most of his time at the office — his home office, that is. In 2002, with the help of Hartford, Conn., architect Neal Zimmerman, Patrick’s roughly 21-by-16 mahogany-paneled new home office was completed.
Patrick wouldn’t disclose how much his home office’s renovation cost, but it’s safe to assume the task wasn’t cheap. While the room is entirely clad in wood, rustic it is not. From solar-controlled window shades and a central audio system to radiant floor heating and a remote-control gas fireplace, the entire room is wired and automated.
Despite being at home, Patrick says he wanted the look to be clean and professional. While hidden cords and wires promote fewer distractions, the fireplace and quaint sitting space create comfort. “When you invite someone for an in-person meeting,” Patrick says, “it is very warm and pleasant for them.” The room, he adds, “looks like a living room but functions like an office.”

Joseph Marek

Landscape architect and owner of Joseph Marek Landscape Architecture in Santa Monica, Calif.
Design is hardly a foreign concept to Joseph Marek. However, fluorescent lights and sterile white walls certainly are. Seven years ago, shortly after starting up his own landscape architecture firm, Joseph Marek Landscape Architecture, Marek quickly went to work on his own home office — formerly, a 400-square-foot concrete garage.
Despite doing much of the design work himself — namely, the outdoor seating and other garden areas — the project still rang in at around $20,000. That amount, says Marek, included laying dry wall, painting, installing a skylight and windows, building custom desks and shelves, and furnishing the space. To keep costs in perspective, he notes that “renting a comparable-size place would [cost] about $1,600 a month.”
While Marek still jokingly calls his home office the “garage,” the name is just about the only remnant of its dingy former self. Back when it was a garage, “I didn’t want to work; I didn’t want to come out here and do anything,” he says. Today, the paprika-colored stucco structure is not only a fully functional home office with electricity and Internet access, but also “a testing ground for my work,” the architect says.

Liz Lyons Friedman

Self-employed printmaker in Aptos, Calif.
Before moving to her current home office in 2001, which now occupies a former 10-by-25 boathouse, printmaker Liz Lyons Friedman used just about every room of her home for different artistic activities. She would carve in one room, then head to the garage to work with inks in a well-ventilated area. At the end of the process, she’d mat and frame the finished product in yet another room.
However, seeing the utility of keeping everything in one place away from the main house, Friedman put her artistic acumen to work renovating an old boathouse a five-minute drive away. The whole project, which cost less than $10,000 and took about three months to complete, consisted of installing electricity, sheetrock, a subfloor and carpeting, not to mention French doors and 16 feet of windows that face the Monterey Bay.
While Friedman’s studio can now house each of her artistic tasks and function as a gallery, “what’s really nice about this space is I’m away from my house,” she says. “I am away from the distractions.”

Amy Bloom

Self-employed author in Durham, Conn.
Like many home-based business owners, author Amy Bloom started out at the kitchen table. However, in such a prime spot, distractions were hard to avoid. “When I walk into the kitchen and see dirty dishes,” she says, “I have an impulse to [clean] them.” Combined with simultaneously raising two young girls, it’s no wonder she had difficulty focusing.
About six years ago, Bloom finally began designing her dream home office — that is, a writer’s shed in the woods near her home in Durham, Conn. To build the 14-by-14 cottage-style structure, Bloom asked a carpenter friend, Roger Bryson, for help. Nearly eight weeks and $15,000 later, Bloom’s home office, which sits about 200 feet from the main house, was complete.
The cedar room is austere with just a desk, window seat, bookshelf and a couch. But perhaps most notable about the space is not what it contains but what it lacks. For example, there’s a computer but no Internet, no phone and no view from her desk. “It has everything I need, including the absence of what I don’t need,” she says.