Do you work at home? According to the National Association of Home Builders, one in five Americans now works from home.
Whether you’re self-employed and work at home full time or are an employee who telecommutes one day a week, you’re likely to consider a home office to be a necessity rather than a luxury. After all, having a dedicated spot to spread out and work is preferable to using the kitchen table or a corner of the guest bedroom — and will no doubt enhance your ability to focus and make money.
Home offices are a type of “special function room” that often disappeared from houses during the downturn as homebuyers attempted to manage housing costs.
But home offices are back in style once again. According to the American Institute of Architects’ Home Design Trends Survey (based on activity from the second quarter of 2014, the latest period available), home offices are increasingly returning to home designs as buyers regain interest in these areas.
Builders are reporting an increase in demand for home offices as well.
“All of Grenadier Homes’ current floor plans have a space for an office,” says John Egnatis, CEO of the Dallas, Texas-based homebuilder. “We evolved that due to buyer feedback.”
Grenadier even converted some large closets into home offices in its urban mid-rise projects because the firm’s younger, professional buyers were requesting them. “We would provide these little multi-use spaces that could be used as a home office or tech center,” says Egnatis. Other floor plans in the firm’s larger homes permit dedicated home offices or studies, some at the front of the house to allow for client access.
Builders are finding that they can add home offices into niches or other unused spaces in their homes. “One way we’ve addressed the growing home office priority for our buyers is creating an option for a built-in desk or office niche on the second-floor landings of select townhomes at Lexington Hills and Lexington Oaks in Palatine, Ill.,” says Jeff Benach, a principal of Chicago-based Lexington Homes. “Almost 100 percent of buyers of those plans choose a home office option.”
Are you planning to include a home office in your new home? Here are some expert tips to help you create the perfect spot.
Consider Whether You Need a Separate Entry
Many new-home designs allow multiple options for the location of a home office. A spare bedroom, basement, den, study or even a large walk-in closet may provide sufficient space for home workers.
But some home-based workers may meet with clients from time to time. If so, then consider whether you need a separate entry — and discuss whether that’s a possibility with your builder. Some courtyard-type home models, which include a bedroom and bath in a separate structure that is attached to the main house, might work well as a home office. A mother-in-law apartment or suite could double as a home office, as well.
Include Sufficient Storage
A home office should include not only a desk and space for a computer, but also storage for files, reference materials and supplies.
Egnatis said that his homebuyers can select from a variety of cabinet types at the Grenadier design center to create built-ins, which not only look great, but are also efficient. Standard kitchen cabinets can be used to create a desk, as well as bookcases with shelves. Homebuyers can opt for a variety of desk surface materials, including granite. “A lot of money is spent in the kitchen to design it so that it fits your lifestyle,” he says. “The same should go into the home office because you’re going to spend a lot of time in that space.”
Light it Up
Make sure the space you choose for your home office has sufficient light. If it’s an interior room without natural light, then request that the builder install recessed lighting — or perhaps even a skylight.
Consider having the builder add extra electrical outlets throughout the room as well so that there are enough outlets for a computer, printer, fax machine, copy machine or any other technology you plan to use — not to mention floor lamps and desktop lighting.
Make It Homey
Your needs — and design selections — will no doubt differ depending on your occupation. An architect, for example, may need a large table to hold blueprints, while an attorney may make do with just a desk and a pair of office chairs for clients. However, a well-designed office is essential either way.
“Because people spend a large portion of their day in office spaces, it is important to create an aesthetically pleasing space that is both inviting and professional,” says Shana Jacobs, design director of MP Studio, an interior design firm in Houston that designs model homes. “We want individuals to feel comfortable where they work.”
Jacobs suggests incorporating a soothing color palette and bringing in natural elements like plants and flowers. Comfortable, functional and user-friendly furniture is also important, as is ergonomic design, which helps prevent muscle fatigue, increases productivity and reduces the number and severity of work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
“A home office should feel like an extension of your home and, therefore, should be presentable and have an inviting atmosphere,” Jacobs says. “As a bonus, in terms of resale value, a well-designed and organized home office can really add value and appeal to potential home buyers.
Robyn A. Friedman is an award-winning freelance writer and copywriter who has been covering the real estate and housing industries for over two decades. She writes the “Jumbo Jungle” column for The Wall Street Journal, is a real-estate and personal-finance columnist for City & Shore magazine, covers celebrity real estate for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and also contributes regularly to Commercial Property Executive, Multi-Housing News and numerous other publications.