Personalize it
Style your home office space just for you



Working from home with no one looking over your shoulder sounds like an ideal setup ó if the setupís ideal.

While most have the basic necessities to work from home, creating an environment thatís productive takes more than "all the electronics," as Jim Grote, architectural designer for Cream City Construction in Milwaukee, puts it.

The home office should have a residential feel, he says.

But how do you create that environment?

Much depends on the type of work being done and style of the home, says Marcia Klode, owner of Mille Tesori in Thiensville. "I wouldnít do a stockbrokerís office the same way as an art directorís," says Klode, whose approach is to make a home office look less like an office and more a part of the home, with lots of the electronics "well-concealed but accessible. Itís more about the application."

And personal preference drives design too, says interior designer Linda Shores of Spaces 3, Pewaukee.

Take color, for instance.

"Some people like to be energized by bright colors, and others want to focus on the work and not be distracted," she says. The same goes for music; some canít work without sound while others need silence. But family photos and other homey touches are a must, Shore says. "From a personal standpoint, everyone needs to put something up thatís personal. Otherwise, itís too institutional.

"I think you can overdo it," she adds. "And, again, the focus is off work (if) youíre too busy arranging the junk on your desk."

Greg Holm, lead designer with Peabodyís Interiors in Whitefish Bay, says color can be used to create a less sterile looking home office. "Colorwise, I would say something soothing," he says. "You want it to be conducive to work. Weíve been working a lot still with the earthy greens, golds and browns."

Consider, too, window treatments, he says, to control light and add color. "Woven shades are big, as are wood blinds and shutters with drapery panels to light up a room," he says.

If you have hardwood floors, use area rugs for the same purpose, and to absorb sound. "Sometimes, that can be done with wall coverings as well," Holm says.

Grote says the trend is toward custom cabinetry and furniture ó and crown molding. "Offices are really becoming personalized," he says. "There are even themed offices. I think, really, the skyís the limit when it comes to that."

Bill Koehnlein, one of the owners of Collaborative Design in Waukesha, says with the advent of wireless homes, the home office can be any room of the house. "People are even going into the window seat or sunroom," he says. He created an office for an engineer that had only four swivel chairs with an ottoman and a small table for a wireless laptop that was hooked up to a TV monitor. "I find people are enjoying opening up different ways of working on the computer," Koehnlein says. "I think the trend in the future will be smaller houses with greater detailing and greater function."

Whether youíre an empty nester looking for a place to cruise the Internet free from distractions or are revving into the telecommuting fast lane, turning an extra room into a home office is easy with these tips from organizing pros.

1. Zone out

First, identify your needs and then create "activity zones" in the physical layout to meet them, says professional organizer Barb Friedman, who runs Bayside-based Organize It ( For example, make a zone for supplies, a zone for your computer and related items and a place for your files. Try to anticipate your future needs, such as more filing space if youíre running a growing business.

2. Use a big space

"Donít take the smallest space in your house and then live your whole life in there," laughs Friedman. She and her husband were using the smallest spare bedroom in their home for an office before it dawned on them to convert her grown sonís bigger bedroom.

3. Plan

Ask yourself what you want to do to the space and let that guide your furniture choices. For example, if you will spend an eight-hour workday there, invest in a high-quality office chair, such as Herman Millerís gold-standard Aeron model. But if you only plan to bill-pay, your extra dining room chair may do. Measure the dimensions of the room, plus the pathway to it, including all doorways and stairwells. Ask when you buy your furniture if it comes in one piece or needs assembly to make sure it will fit. Make note of outlets and phone lines. Friedman found IKEAís online space planner tool helpful. "When we went there we already knew what we wanted," she says.

4. Use the closet

While having a small filing cabinet at your fingertips is helpful, install shelving in a closet for long-term paper storage or a place to put office supplies, such as bulky padded envelopes. Or, if you want to also use the room for non-office activities, Sara Kern of Marrin Designs in Milwaukee suggests putting your desk right in the closet. Then you can shut the closet doors when youíre not using it.

5. Buy furniture

Ask yourself what you want to do in the space and let that guide your furniture choices. For example, if you will spend an eight-hour workday there, invest in a high-quality office chair and furniture. But if you only plan to bill-pay, a small table and an extra dining room chair may do.

Jamie Wilke, who owns a design business in Oconomowoc and Delafield, suggests custom cabinetry. His firm uses Custom Shoppe, a Watertown, Wis., company that creates cabinets and desks for any configuration. The result is a custom look, more economical than built-ins, and you can take it with you if you move.

6. Go vertical

Donít overlook vertical spaces where you can place bookshelves, CD/DVD shelves or tall, lateral files.

7. Storage is good

"If it has storage capability itís great," says Friedman. "I use baskets I already have to separate outgoing mail and reading materials; or shoeboxes ó it doesnít have to be all brand new. Even a paper bag will do. It doesnít have to be perfection; it just has to be a system."

8. Add style

While being frugal and recycling your old baskets works, Kern, ever the designer, suggested indulging in a little style for your space and adding personal touches. "The nicer the space, the more youíll want to work there," she says.