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How do you squeeze in a home workspace?

How do you squeeze in a home workspace? We all work at home, at least to some extent. Whether that labor involves sitting down at the kitchen table to pay monthly bills or running a full-time business out of a converted spare bedroom, more and more Westerners are coming home to work.

But how do you shoehorn an office into your house? We asked readers that question in our March 1990 issue. On these pages are ways nine Western families created, converted, or found shared space that let them set up efficient workplaces right in the middle of their conventional domestic settings.

Gauging your home-office needs:

how will you draw the line?

Almost all the examples you see here are self-contained and fairly compact. For the most part, they close up and are out of the way, or at least out of sight, when they're not in use.

These spaces set clear boundaries between home and office, from the simplicity of an open or closed cabinet draweer to the complexity of a hidden room. The break is critical> you don't want the home invading the office, or the office invading the home.

As you consider your own home office, first figure out how much space you'll need. Are you better off keeping things in a compact space that forces you to stay organized, like most of these examples? That may be better than a big room where you spread things all over, then can't keep track of the mess. Steve and Kim McCarrel say their compact kitchen office (shown on page 106) helped them clean up their act. "Before, everything always ended up in stacks on the kitchen counter," Mr. McCarrel says.

Ask yourself if the workplace can share space with other activities when you're not using it for business. Several of the offices here are part of other rooms. It may be all right to spread out on the dining table when you need lots of room, provided you can easily put work away when it's time to set the table for dinner.

How can you concentrate if your office is in the midst of the house with all its distractions, as several of these are? It depends on how--and when--you use it. Some of them are used when the house is empty or when everyone else is asleep. Others set rules: leave the worker or student alone> stay out of that part of the house. The rules should make it easy for the family to know when you're working, and when you--and the office--are part of the household again.

Setting up your workspace

How much stuff is going into your office? The short list might be just a well-organized file drawer, like Betty Laird's (shown on page 106)> a longer one might include desk, chair, lamps, files, computer, printer, copier, telephone, modem, and fax machine--not to mention paper, pens and pencils, reference books, charts, magazines, journals, and even a plant or two.

Most of these offices start with an efficient filing system. They're kept neat and up to date> it's a rare home office that has room to spare.

Though fitted into found space, the offices pay attention to work surfaces> each has counter space ample for the user's needs. Don't shortchange yourself here> if you need to spread out, plan for it. All these compact offices stick within their confines most of the time. But they expand when they have to--onto the dining room or kitchen table, onto the washer and dryer, onto the floor. It might not be ideal, but it's better than taking more space away from the house.

If a computer figures in, the desk surface has to work even harder. It needs to be adjustable, multilevel, spacious, and likely perforated with cord races and paper-feeder slots. Note how the five computers on these pages have allotted space for printers, keyboards, and so on.

You'll need sufficient light, likely both natural and artificial, but both must be controllable. A daylit space may not be needed--or desired. You may work best isolated from distracting views. Windows (along with ill-placed lights and bright, glossy surfaces) also might create glare problems for your computer screen.

Control light with blinds, shades, and dimmers. Pay attention to where equipment is in relation to windows (as well as heat vents)> computers and disks need to be kept cool. Make sure equipment has airspace around it for ventilation.

Dealing with all the electronic gear:

plugs, wires, other Gordian knots

You don't necessarily want to do without something at home that you would routinely use at your regular office.

As you bring in equipment, make sure the outlets you're plugging them into are adequate. Gentry Wade added two circuits to his closet office (page 103)> Judith Pacht made sure ample power and telephone service were part of her bedroom extension, shown above.

Make sure equipment is grounded> disks in ungrounded computers can be corrupted by a static electricity shock.

Isolate computer and disks from other electornics--or at least don't operate them at the same time if they're adjacent. Stereos, speaker wires, televisions, and telephones may emit magnetic fields that can corrupt disks or cause a system to crash. To protect your computer from power surges, caused most often when a major appliance cycles, get a plug-in surge protector> many units now protect phone and cable lines also.

Ideal home-office wiring has plenty of dedicated outlets that aren't on a circuit with other household appliances. If you're going to rewire, ask a computer dealer about safeguards and how much power you'll need.

For the really serious home office

Telephones, answering machines, faxes, and modems all use a telephone line. You can buy switching mechanisms that read an incoming call's signal, then transfer it to the appropriate machine.

A fax machine can double as a copier (albeit slowly), but you'll have to spend more for a plain-paper fax machine than for a standard thermal-paper one.

If you're serious about working at home, have a separate business phone with its own answering machine. Pick up that phone only during your business hours.

Check with the planning department to find out if you can work out of your house full time and what you need to do to make it possible. You might, for example, have to limit home-office storage and inventory to comply with city zoning regulations.

Check with an accoutant, too> the percentage of household space dedicated to business can be deductible if it's your principal, exclusive, and regular place of business. Phones, utilities, repairs, and depreciation can also be claimed as business expenses. And review your insurance needs, particularly if people are entering your house for business.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Mar 1, 1991
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