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Home Office Design Ideas

Where To Put It & How To Make It Work

You've decided it's time for a home office. That's the easy part.

What comes next is figuring out where to put it and how to equip it.

The information that follows is aimed at helping you do just that. However it's more than just a bunch of random home office design ideas. It's organized to help you figure out how to get your office design so that it's optimal for both you and your house, including ideas on making it as functional as possible in addition to maximizing the space you have.

There's a lot of material here but it's easily digestible. Take a look through the main subject links just below or simply read on down the page and absorb the ideas. Then make a plan to get started on your own office space.

home office

First Things First - Assess Your Needs

Designing a new home office is no different than designing any other aspect of your home. You'll get the best results with some careful forethought and planning on exactly how you plan to use the space.

Consider where you fall with respect to the following two scenarios as they relate to how you might use your office:

  • You work exclusively from home or do a lot of 'after-hours' work.
    If this describes your situation then you'll want to consider how much privacy you need and the amount of space that will work best. Comfort and convenience are key considerations because if you're there a good part of the day you'll want to make sure it's comfortable and spacious enough. You'll also want to be sure any design ideas include sufficient space for all of your support equipment. That includes printers, scanners and filing space.
  • You need a hub from which to manage the home.
    Paying bills, sorting the mail and keeping track of family schedules are easier to handle when there's a dedicated space where you can manage them. However since these aren't "full time" tasks you can probably get away with a smaller office space and one with fewer amenities than a dedicated room.

Regardless of how frequently you use your new office consider your work habits and tendencies so that you can be as productive as possible when you're there.

Next, think about the type of environment you need to get your work accomplished:

  • How much quiet and/or privacy do you need to get your work done?

  • Do you tend toward a "pack rat" organizational style that requires a fair amount of storage space?

  • How much equipment will you need? Is a laptop sufficient or do you require printers, fax machines, shredders and other types of equipment?

  • Do you see clients as part of your business routine?

  • How much separation from the rest of your home and family life is needed? Do you want your office more isolated or integrated into the living areas?

Careful consideration of how you plan to use the space and what you'll do there will go a long way toward helping you make the right design choices for a functional and efficient work space. The more equipment you use the more space you'll need. Work that requires a high degree of focus and concentration may require a less-public spot that can be closed off for quiet and privacy.

Once you have your needs identified it's time to figure out where you're going to put your office.

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Ideas On Where To Put Your Home Office

One of the biggest questions surrounding the topic of putting an office in your home is where to put it. The answer involves two scenarios:

  1. You have the ability to create new space, because you're building a new home or adding space to an existing home
  2. You have to work within your existing home's footprint and need to "carve out" space for an office

It might seem that the first scenario is easier since you're starting with a clean sheet of paper and adding space to accommodate your office. That's in contrast to the need to find existing space within your home that at first blush appears to be "all spoken for".

The truth is that there are challenges with either situation, the only difference being that you probably have a few more hurdles trying to find space in your home as it is now.

To help on both fronts here are some ideas on where you can locate your new home office, with consideration for both your existing house and for adding new space. The pros and cons associated with each suggestion are added as food for thought.

The Basement
If you have a finished basement you've already taken care of some of the challenges such as making sure it's heated and cooled. It's likely equipped with sufficient electrical service too so some of the basic infrastructure is taken care of. Look for space along a wall or in a corner where you can install a desk. If you need some privacy consider using a folding room divider to partition off the space.

A finished basement is usually "additional" space, with other living areas on the main level. From that standpoint the basement might offer more privacy and space than what's attainable in the main areas of your house. The drawbacks however include the lack of windows and minimal natural light depending on the the basement's design.

An unfinished basement can also be used but it's much less inviting in it's 'natural' state. Challenges here include making sure it's comfortable and finding sufficient electrical outlets for office equipment. Lighting is another issue although small desk lamps can suffice for infrequent office use. If you really need the space consider upgrading an unfinished basement with one of the finishing systems on the market. These can be less expensive than a more traditional basement remodel.

basement office

The Attic
Unlike a basement an attic may or may not be designed as livable space. If you can't stand up in your attic space then you'll have to think about remodeling to gain the necessary headroom. The floor structure also needs to be strong enough to accept the people and furniture it will accommodate.

If you do have a "livable" attic, or at least one that you can easily access and stand in, it may offer a workable option for an office. The questions you need to answer are whether it has the right utilities like heating, cooling and electrical capacity to make it an acceptable spot.

Attics are an out-of-the-way spot thereby offering some seclusion and privacy. Many attics are also a single room without adjoining rooms and only one entry/exit point. With this setup you don't have the extraneous noise and interference of family members walking through the space to get to other rooms in the house.

attic office

Above The Garage
The benefit of putting an office above the garage is that it's usually off the beaten path and provides privacy from normal family activity, similar to the attic scenario. This depends on the design of your home but in most cases the garage is at one end of the house so it's usually on the periphery, away from the main living areas.

Most home garages however aren't designed with living space above the car stalls. That means you're looking at some form of remodeling to make this a viable office area. That includes equipping it with the right heating and cooling capabilities as well as lighting and electricity.

The floor also has to be insulated because it's exposed to the environment every time the garage door is opened. Access to this area is also something to think about if it's not already present in your home's design. You may need a new stairway and a door to access the space.

Alcove Or Stairway Landing
Homes with switchback staircases (where you go up several steps and turn 180 degrees to go up several more) have a landing midway up the stairs. These landings may have enough space to squeeze in a small shelf and chair as a spot for paying bills and managing the home.

Some stairways also lead up to a small alcove at the top where a similar setup might suffice. Both of these locations can be intentionally designed into a new home too if you're looking for niche office space and don't want to allocate any additional area to a dedicated office.

The point to ponder here is that these are obviously public spots and not an adequate space for spending any significant amount of time. One of the biggest hurdles you face is locating an electrical outlet to plug in a computer unless you just plan on using a laptop or some other portable device. Unless specifically designed for them, these spots don't usually have outlets or phone jacks at hand. Lighting is another design element to consider as well.

office under stairs

Under A Stairwell
The space underneath a stairway's footprint makes for very usable, if not cozy, space to locate the trappings of a small home office. There's typically enough space for a small desk or table and a chair. In some cases the space is covered by drywall, put there to hide the unsightly view of the bottom of the stairs. However what results is simply an unused dead area. By removing the drywall and the wall framing behind it you can access the space under the stairs.

Note: Be careful about removing any type of wall as some are load bearing (meaning they hold up the structure above them). Consult with a contractor or someone knowledgeable in architectural or structural design to know if it's okay before you start tearing out walls.

Whether you're building new or looking within your existing home, don't let this space go to waste. At a minimum it could house file drawers as an "adjunct" to your office that's located elsewhere.

Drawbacks include the need to watch your head when standing up so as to not bump it on the stair tread in close proximity. Other points to think about are how to get electrical power to the vicinity to power computers and other equipment. These spaces are usually more public and less private too.

Part Of Any Living Area
Take your pick: you can stake out a small office claim in the living room, family room, basement (mentioned above) or even a dining room. This simply means that you put whatever desk and equipment you need in a spot within one of those rooms. It's obviously not very private but it serves the need.

The up-side is that you're in a conditioned space (already heated and cooled) and the electrical and lighting facilities you need are usually present too. The only real drawbacks are the lack of being able to close yourself off from other household noise and the fact that you're giving up some living space where a couch or other furniture might reside.

Look for desks and other furniture that can both house your office equipment as well as hide them too. This helps camouflage the "office" part of the room.

office in living area

Convert A Bedroom
Either convert a bedroom or at least allow it to perform alternate duty as an office. This is one of the best options for gaining the most benefits while giving up the fewest concessions in locating a home office.

The positives include all the amenities of a livable space (electricity, lighting, windows, heating/cooling) as well as the capacity for closed-off privacy. You simply need to allocate sufficient space for a desk and whatever other equipment you need.

If you occasionally need to use the room as a bedroom install a Murphy bed (folds up/down from the wall) or get a futon or sleeper sofa. It gives you the flexibility of a dual-purpose room while maximizing space when it's being used as an office.

Avoid using a full-time bedroom as an office, particularly if it's your bedroom. You may find it difficult to mentally separate the boundaries between a space dedicated to rest from your place of work.

Utility Rooms - The Mudroom Or Laundry Room
Take a look at your existing mudroom or laundry room and see if there's room for a small office work area. These spaces typically have access to electricity and decent lighting. Their location may not be optimal however. You'll have to put up with appliance noise in the laundry room and a mudroom tends to get messy and dirty.

On the other hand if the alternative is a more expensive addition or bump-out and you won't be working full time from home, one of these two rooms might be a workable solution. If you're building a new home and simply need a space for paying bills it's possible to design either of these rooms with sufficient space to accommodate that. A small counter situated on one end of the room can provide enough space for a computer and 'desk-work'. It's just another way of doubling up on a room's functionality.

desk on wall

Convert A Closet
A closet is another spot that can be converted into a small, if not tight, office space. Sometimes referred to as "pocket offices" they can be converted to a working space with the installation of a small desk, chair and even some filing cabinets depending on the closet's size. One of the main advantages is that the space can usually be closed off behind the closet door when it's not in use, keeping things tidy looking.

The main disadvantage with this arrangement is the loss of the closet's storage space, which are typically in short supply in a lot of homes. They usually don't have any access to electricity for computers, printers and other pieces of equipment either. You either have to use extension chords or take the step to have electrical access installed.

The Kitchen
The kitchen office is not a new concept, with many homes having been designed with a small desk sandwiched into the cabinetry. While the trend for a kitchen office has diminished, that doesn't mean it's not a viable space if it works for your situation.

The positive aspect is that the kitchen is often the activity hub of the home. The mail gets dumped on the kitchen counter and it's the same spot where kids plop their schoolwork. If the kitchen has a small office center it's a convenient spot to process those items right at their point of origin, freeing up the countertop.

The downside of this scenario is that a kitchen desk takes up valuable real estate. Unless you know you have sufficient cabinet space (or will have with a new home design) a kitchen office might not be the best use of space resources. It can also become a clutter spot too, particularly if you don't make a habit of taking care of the mail and other paperwork that enters your house.

office in kitchen

Build An Addition
Sometimes the best alternative for an existing home is to add on in order to gain a new office. It doesn't necessarily have to be a completely new room however. A bump-out of an exterior wall may provide enough square footage to house a desk and other necessary items.

This is obviously not something that's accomplished in a weekend and takes time and money to accomplish. However if you absolutely need a place at home to work and your existing layout simply won't produce adequate space then adding on may be your only answer.

Go Outside Your House - Use An Outbuilding
The alternative to adding on to your home is to build an office outside your home somewhere on your property. This can be as simple as purchasing a small pre-fabricated out-building like a kitHAUS or building a separate studio. Adding a small loft to a detached garage is another similar option.

Cost is a primary deterrent with this scenario since you're essentially building a new space with all that's necessary to make it functional and livable. However it's sometimes better than settling for less-than-optimal space within your house.

The positives include the ability to design an office the way you need it to be. It's also private, away from the living area and provides separation between work and home life.

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Making The Most Of Your Office Design

Finding the right spot for your office is the lion's share of the battle but there's still some work to be done after that. The location you choose plays a role in how the office can be furnished and equipped. Making it "work" means getting creative within the space you've allocated and setting priorities based on how you'll work there.

What follows is a list of ideas that'll help you get the most out of your home office by offering suggestions and considerations to make it as functional and efficient as possible.

Space Saving Ideas

Consider Movable Furniture For Double-Duty Rooms
Office furniture that's on wheels is particularly convenient in rooms that share a purpose. For example, if you locate your office in a spare room that's also used as an occasional bedroom you can easily move the furniture (desk, file cabinet, etc.) out of the way as necessary to fold down a Murphy bed or sofa bed.

Invest In An Office Armoir
An office armoire is a piece of furniture that's akin to getting an instant office. They're large all-in-one cabinets that host a variety of features and amenities. They offer a place for a computer, shelves for filing, and most feature a fold-down desktop.

The beauty of these units is that when they're closed up they don't reveal any mess behind their doors. They're great for home work areas that are set up in common living spaces because of this camouflaging characteristic. When it's all closed up it appears no different than an entertainment center or other piece of furniture that looks perfectly natural in that setting.

home office armoire

Look For "Non-Office" Style Furniture
Along the same lines as the office armoire there are other types of furniture that are styled so that they blend more effectively with typical living area furnishings. In other words, they don't necessarily scream "office furniture". This makes them good for shared-space home offices like the family room or living room.

They're typically wood furniture pieces that house file drawers but are combined with shelving that gives them more of a household furniture look and less like an office filing cabinet. It may take a bit of searching to find pieces that satisfy your particular taste but they do exist.

Use A Sofa Bed or Murphy Bed For An Office/Bedroom
Converted bedrooms make good office space but they occasionally have to be used as a bedroom too. Instead of keeping a conventional bed in the room switch it out for a futon or sofa bed that can be pulled out whenever a bed is needed.

You can also opt for a Murphy bed (sometimes called a wall bed) that folds down from the wall. This way you're able to accommodate more space for the office role while still maintaining the flexibility to convert it into a bedroom very quickly.

Partition A Room With Folding Screens
If you don't like the idea of having an office plunked down in another shared-space room consider giving the office it's "own room" by partitioning it off. Folding screen partitions are one way to divide a space into visual sections that give the appearance of separate areas.

This might be an appropriate choice for a home office in a finished basement. They tend to be larger rooms and a screen partition could be a good way to section off one end or corner to be used for an office. They're also effective in hiding things like fax machines, printers and similar types of office equipment.

office with partition screen

Use All-In-One Equipment To Save Space
When you don't have much room to spare consider using office equipment that performs more than one function. Units that can print, fax and copy save space since they don't occupy the same footprint that three individual components would.

Also, consider a mini desktop personal computer. These units are smaller than traditional desktop computers and can be tucked away in small places. Some even integrate the computer right inside the monitor so you avoid having the 'big box' style of computer altogether.

Use Pocket Doors In Place Of Traditional Swing Doors
An office with doors is great for privacy but small spaces suffer when using conventional swing doors, particularly if they swing into the room. That's because you can't locate any furniture like chairs or file cabinets in the swing path of the doors.

Instead, opt for pocket doors. They don't take up any room yet provide the same amount of privacy as conventional doors.

Use Wall Space To Maximize Storage
Use as much wall space as possible to minimize your office footprint. In other words, think shelving, bookcases and wall cabinets. These items get things off the floor and onto the wall, maximizing your floor space. This is particularly helpful when space is at a premium or for shared-space rooms that serve several purposes.

For example, files stored in binders and kept in a wall cabinet or on shelves might alleviate the need for a file cabinet that would otherwise take up floor space.

office shelves

Making It Fully Functional

Use Stock Cabinets For Storage & Filing Functionality
Don't overlook the products made by kitchen cabinet companies for use as office furniture. While some offer full suites of office cabinetry, you can effectively mix and match various components to suit your own needs. Cabinets also offer the benefit of doors that keep some of what's in your office private, as opposed to open shelving.

If you look at a cabinet maker's catalog you'll find a wide range of specific cabinet types in all shapes and sizes. Find the specific units that offer the type of storage you want if standard office furniture doesn't suit your needs.

office cabinets

Provide Additional Seating If Possible
There are two reasons you should have more seating than just a desk chair in your office (if there's enough floor space): room for guests and clients as well as another, more comfortable place for working.

Sometimes creative work comes when we're not seated in front of a desk or computer in a standard office chair. A sofa or a relaxing chair lets you do other tasks like reading in a comfortable position. Whether you see clients or you just want a spot for your spouse or kids to chat with you while you're in your office, additional seating makes the space more functional and home-like.

office with sofa

Choose The Right Flooring
Your flooring choice is important because it factors into the room's comfort, acoustics and mobility. Carpeting helps soften sound transmission but it also makes it tougher to move about in a rolling office chair.

If you plan to use a rolling chair use one with hard wheels or casters for a carpeted surface. The larger the pile height, the larger the wheels should be. The best bet is to use hard mats on top of the carpet because rolling chairs tend to stretch and wrinkle the carpet. Hard jute rugs might be a more decorative approach if you don't like the look of those office mats.

Softer rubber casters or rubber wheels are better for hard surfaces. They're not as punishing as hard plastic casters/wheels that tend to crush the grit that inevitably gets between the floor and the wheels. Over time that grit scratches and dulls the floor.

office flooring

Incorporate A Closet
If you have the luxury of dedicating a room for your office use one that contains a closet or incorporate it into a new design. Closets offer more hideaway space for supplies, files and even your clothing. You can hang your clients' coats there and keep an extra sweater close by for when the weather turn chilly.

Don't overlook the functionality that a closet can give you particularly if you are building new or remodeling for the purpose of adding a home office.

home office with shelves

Use A Dedicated Electrical Circuit
A dedicated circuit helps insure against losing work which might occur if your office is on a shared circuit with other areas of your home and an overload trips the breaker. This is more important for work that relies on the use of computers and other electrically powered equipment.

Sometimes it doesn't take much to trip a circuit breaker -- using a lot of lights and a hair dryer will do the trick. A dedicated circuit can avoid these infrequent but potentially frustrating circumstances.

Don't Forget The Phone Service
If you still use a dedicated fixed-line phone you'll want to remember to have the proper connections wired into your office.

Also keep this in mind if you're searching for where to locate an office in your existing home. If you need phone access but can't be near a phone jack consider using a remote phone system.

Put Electrical Outlets In The Floor
An office design that locates the desk or workspace away from the perimeter walls is best served by electrical outlets positioned in the floor beneath the desk. That way you won't have extension chords running across the floor and under throw rugs.

Some forethought is necessary in order to determine where certain pieces of furniture and equipment will be placed. However once that's decided a floor socket can make for a more convenient and tidy office layout.

Think About The Functionality You Need
Consider how you're going to use your office (remember the needs assessment above?) to figure out what capabilities you'll need. If you're designing a new office space think about whatever cables and wiring you might want for audio/visual capabilities you'd like to have, even if it's a 'down-the-road' wish. That way they can be installed when the walls are assembled, before the drywall is installed.

Making sure the space is fully equipped to meet your needs including electrical, phone service, audio and lighting will make it that much more efficient and productive.

Ideas For Maximizing Productivity & Quality Of The Space

Design For Privacy
If you do business at home and need to see clients it's helpful to locate your office on the periphery, or if possible, detached from your home for the most privacy.

It's less business-like (and sometimes embarrassing) if a client has to traipse through your kitchen and down the hall past your kids' bedrooms to get to your office. A better setup is when there's less "house" to travel through to get to your place of business.

Soundproof If Necessary
If your location has to be near a living area consider soundproofing the room to keep extraneous noise from filtering in. There are many products and building techniques on the market that address soundproofing a room. However recent innovations have made this concept easier and less costly through sound-deadening drywall and other easily used products. A contractor or builder can help you identify the practical and most cost-effective approach.

Consider Location Carefully
Whether creating new space or carving out existing space for an office, think carefully about your location and how you'll be most productive. If you can work amidst noise and chaos then a hallway office under the stairs might be just fine. On the other hand if you need quiet, a location away from the activity is probably the best option.

This is a slightly different point of view from the first item above about designing for privacy. The point here is to locate your office where it will best accommodate your work style and needs.

Make It Light
The right amount of lighting is crucial for making any work space a productive one. It also has a direct impact on mood as well. If you're designing a new office take advantage of as much daylighting (the use of natural light) as possible through windows and skylights.

Use dimmers with artificial lighting. There will be times when you need to crank up the lights for specific tasks. Other times, particularly when staring at a computer screen, lower light settings may be preferable.

Keep the basics of good lighting design in mind. Combine ambient lighting with task lighting to make your office comfortable and productive. Effective lighting is important, even for small pocket and niche office spaces. It doesn't have to be elaborate, just enough to get your work done without strain.

office with windows

Make It In Your Own Style
This is your office but it's your home too, not bound by some corporate standard. There's no need to make it "look" like an office if you don't want to. There's benefit to styling and decorating it in a way that's appealing and comforting. Even though it's a place of work it can also be inviting and a place you want to go to.

Don't be afraid to give it your own unique personal twist. Hang pictures on the wall. Use that funky eclectic desk lamp that's consistent with your retro style (if indeed it is!). If it's a place, even just a nook, that's styled to your liking, you'll be more inclined to spend time there, be more productive and simply happier doing what you do there.

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Publisher's Comments --
My Own Home Office Experience

I work out of my home and when that part of my employment evolution came about I had to decide how I was going to make it work. My situation was one where I had to look for room in the house since there wasn't any option to add on at that time.

The end result is shown in the photo below. The office is a piece of real estate that branches off from part of our finished basement. It was an unfinished portion and required some remodeling work to get it the way it is now. In truth it wasn't very expensive to convert. The sheetrock and electrical work was farmed out but I laid the carpet and painted it myself.

It's a good location because it's in a lower-level corner of the house and is private for the most part. There is a television in the adjoining part of the finished basement but house rules dictate that it's on low volume if the office is occupied. Most of the time there aren't a lot of distractions.

It's furnished to accommodate working at the computer as well as "written work", hence the desk. I knew that I'd need some filing capability so that's the reason for the file credenza (which is just off-camera to the right side in the photo below).

It probably has more recessed lights than what would be considered typical for a space this size but there are times when my aging eyes need the extra light. Most of the time however the lights are dimmed while I'm working in front of the monitor.

My non-work interests include aviation and history, which explains the artwork on the walls. Those features, combined with my fondness of darker earth-tone colors, explain the decor. It's a place that I like to be and it reflects my interests.

Nothing's perfect however and tradeoffs were made. Because of it's location there are no windows. That would be a welcome change but on the other hand, the need to stretch my legs now and then give me the excuse to head upstairs and see if it's sunny or snowing.

The office originally didn't have any direct heating or cooling vents which made it a bit chilly in the winter. Fortunately when we remodeled another portion of our home I was able get the HVAC contractor to tap into the ductwork and add a vent directly into the office. There is definitely something to be said for making your office comfortable.

The moral of the story is that getting a home office that works is doable. Depending on how much office you need it's simply a matter of assessing your needs and determining where to stake your claim. From there it's just a matter of using the right functional and style ideas that can help you get there, no matter if it's a small attic nook or a dedicated office space in a new home.

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