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Den of ubiquity
Multi-use defines home office

By GARY WICKERT

 

The Jon and Amy Hopkins study, built by James H. Hoffman Builders, Inc., offers a quiet place for reading and is a
perfect getaway for late night work on the lap top computer. The room features built-in bookcases, rich wainscot paneling and a cozy fireplace clad in marble.

If having somebody else do the work for you is not
your thing, or if your budget requires that you
do the work yourself, planning for a home office will require even more thought and preparation.
Charles Radtke owns a woodworking business near
downtown Cedarburg. He lives and works on a piece of property that is zoned commercial but is also the site of his home, a 150-year-old house that used to belong to the brew master for Weber’s Brewery long ago. He produces museum-quality, one of a kind furniture, at the pace of around nine pieces a year. Recently, the Smithsonian Institute purchased from him a two-door cabinet that they placed in the
American Art Collection at the museum. Radtke had long since run out of space in his woodworking shop/office, which had been crammed into the meager 460 square feet provided by the two and a half car garage, and he desperately needed new office space.

Consulting his good friend Mequon architect Don Stauss for help, Radtke designed and built a new office and an addition to the existing garage. The project began by pouring a brand new foundation next to the existing garage/office. Next the existing garage was moved onto the new foundation, and an addition was built on to the front of it, using a natural wood and batten siding. Ten-inch wide solid pine planks were run vertically along the walls and the gaps were covered with a two-inch batten cover. Using natural materials whenever possible, the two took pains to make the new work look like it had been there for many years. Pipes full of warm water flow through the foundation and heat it using a hydronic radiant heating system. The remodeled office/addition is incredibly charming and rustic.

“Although I work with wood,” Radtke explains, “I never did this type of construction before.” The concrete was a bit of a challenge for Radtke as was the task of melding the two buildings together. The gable to the addition runs perpendicular to the original gable and also at a different level—making the tie-in extremely difficult.

“I strongly recommend working with somebody who knows about the detail work,” he adds. “And build it how you want to build it the first time. Don’t skimp and convince yourself that you’ll come back and upgrade later—because you won’t.”

Is there a downside to doing your own home office construction? Radtke says it took much longer than if he had hired it out, and trying to maintain his current occupation and workload while doing the construction was almost more than he could bear.

The recital hall boasts Tiffany windows. Note that Tiffany’s floral theme is repeated in the plasterwork on the domed ceiling.


Is there an upside? While Radtke maintains that the cost savings were minimal, there was a more intangible reward for him in doing it all himself. “Every time I open the door to my office I know that every detail was done by me—and this repays itself a hundred-fold. It’s a joy for me to work here now.”

It wasn’t too long ago that telling somebody you “worked out of your home” was taken as a euphemism for being unemployed or “between jobs.” Times have changed. With the growth of the Internet, the development of inexpensive and compact office equipment, and the “high noon” of an information age, the practice of working out of the home has become both widely accepted and profitable. With this new development in our business community comes a new priority and concern for those faced with a need for a home office, and the free market system has responded.

Looking to create work space in a to-be-built home? The task is not as straightforward as simply telling your builder or architect to add a home office. Kathy Schmidt is the vice president of construction for Embassy Construction Corporation (Embassy Homes). From the company’s Mequon office they oversee the construction of 45 homes per year. Schmidt has seen the trend toward home offices, and Embassy Homes has not been slow in responding.

hile we recognize the trend toward home offices,” Schmidt says, “we also know that over the course of time, the amount of use a home office receives will vary. And because people feel badly if they design and build a room which gets no use, the trend has been toward ‘multi-functioning.’” Schmidt explains that “multi-functioning” is using a room for more than one use. Embassy can point to two-story models that contain a “huge” first story den “multi-functioning” as a bedroom and home office.

“When the office is needed, it is available,” Schmidt explains. “When grandma comes over for the weekend and needs a guest room, it serves that purpose.” Catering mainly to second and third time home buyers from their late 20s to late 50s, Embassy Homes basically takes a guest room and gives it a second purpose—and sometimes a third.

The Mike and Julia Graal home office in Fox Point was designed by Judy Fleming of Manhattan Textiles, and built by Bartelt-Filo. Traditional furnishings were chosen for the library; the leather Ralph Lauren chair in natural brown leather and matching bench complement an antique desk.  The windows were dressed with French pleated drapes depicting an English Hunt hung from an oiled iron rod. A mix of antique books and photos along with travel memories give personality to the most serious library wall.


The office/guest room can also serve as a playroom for the children. Why? “Because a small percentage of buyers work at home, and a small percentage have a lot of out of town guests, and almost everybody is going to need a place for children to play, we triple value of the room for the money they pay,” says Schmidt. On one of Embassy’s models, this first floor “den” is in the front of the house and actually has its own door to the outside of the house. “This way you can bring clients and customers to your home office and they don’t feel as though they are intruding by having to walk through your house,” Schmidt explains.

Embassy Homes leaves many of the technical aspects of preparing for your home office to the experts—electrical contractors will discuss and plan for separate phone lines for voice and data, digital subscriber lines, satellite hookups, cable modems and the like. Planning is also needed to accommodate various types and sizes of home office equipment as well as their next generation. “We feel this trend is here to stay,” Schmidt adds.

Many existing homeowners are beginning to follow the trend in utilizing home offices, but may not have planned ahead when their home was built. Fear not! The market has already adapted to accommodate these individuals as well. Northshore resident Bruce Johnson is the president of BDC Building Design & Construction, Inc., a downtown Milwaukee firm that specializes in redesigning and modifying an existing room to accommodate a home office. After 22 years in the business, Johnson also sees a strong trend toward home office use. BDC is a member of the remodeler’s council within the Metropolitan Builder’s Association of Greater Milwaukee, which is itself a member of the National Association of Home Builders.

Like Embassy Homes, Johnson stresses multi-functioning, but has a variety of options available. Existing space can be turned into an area for homework for the children, office space for the homeowner, a media center, file storage and computer space and a refreshment area including microwave, refrigerator, sink and countertop.

The Jim Goelz office in Fox Point was
built by Pekel Construction and Remodeling.


On the other end of the spectrum is a remodelling plan that may strike the homeowner as “home office lite.” A closet of no more than six linear feet now is transformed into a compact office complete with knee space, shelf space, a desk and a computer area. The closet doors close to hide the “office” when the room again becomes a guest room or den area.

“Typical office equipment is beginning to appear in home offices,” says Johnson. “Faxes, printers, scanners and copy machines are all showing up in home offices. Therefore we have to design space to accommodate this equipment and be flexible enough for changes in the design of equipment and technology not yet developed.”

Planning for home offices also becomes vital when adding on to an existing home. In one remodeling project, BDC added two bedrooms, a master bath and a remodeled master bedroom on the second floor of the Bayside home of Frank Langley and Kate Sullivan. To accommodate a computer and office equipment, BDC created an open area at the top of the stairs that not only served as circulation space for the bedrooms, but also doubled as a home office with built-in shelves and cabinets.

“Cabinet manufacturers are recognizing the need for meeting home office needs and are developing and supplying stock or semi-custom multiple pull-out file drawers and similar home office furniture,” Johnson says. Other office equipment manufacturers are also adapting some of their equipment designs to accommodate the needs of home offices — an obvious outgrowth of the home office trend.