Designing a home office is a big undertaking. After all, you may spend eight or ten hours a day in the space you create, and the decisions you make today may impact the direction your business takes in the future. The most important thing you can do when starting to design a home office is to take your time. Be patient. Ask questions. Try different approaches and see what works for you.
With that in mind, here are 10 things to do before designing a home office.
Location, location, locationHeed the realtor’s old saw and don’t spend a penny on furniture, fixtures or hardware until you’ve thought through where you will work. Your basement may offer a quiet, isolated space, but can you really do without sunlight for months or years? I couldn’t. Carefully judge the environment of your proposed office space in the context of your home. Do you have young children? That room next the foyer may not work. Do you need to receive clients or frequent deliveries? A spare upstairs bedroom might not be best.
Set a budgetFormer U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen once quipped about government spending: “A billion here, a billion there, and soon you’re talking about real money.” The same can be said for your home office. A good sized desk can easily cost $600 or more, and an ergonomic chair can set you back $300. It won’t take long to sink thousands of dollars into your office. So before you start, figure out what you can afford to spend. Create a line-by-line budget and assign dollar values to all the expected purchases and work needed to establish your space.
Get tax savvy
The money you spend creating a home office may be deducted from your taxes. If possible, use a dedicated space for your home office. A shared space like a dining room may not qualify for valuable tax deductions. Keep detailed records and receipts and learn the relevant portions of the tax code, or better yet, consult a tax professional. Also check out About.com’s Tax Planning site for plenty of guidance on setting up a home-based business.
Seek inspirationIf you want to design a great home office, go look at a lot of home offices. Visit the work spaces of friends and colleagues and ask them about their setups. Why did they create their home office where and how they did? What aspects of their space work best and what would they most like to change? Ask questions, write down notes and take pictures and video. You’ll be amazed at the great ideas you’ll find on these tours.
Avoid the wire trapEvery home office demands adequate phone, power and network access, and that means lots of cables and wires. Before you put down roots, make sure you have plenty of electrical outlets (you’ll need them!) and that the wiring is up to the task of driving your equipment. Aesthetically, wires can pose a challenge. Consider stashing computer network gear in a closet or corner bureau, where it is out of sight yet accessible. Plan to run cable behind walls? Make sure your wiring plan affords you the flexibility to move things around. Also, consider wireless network gear to ease the cable crunch.
Seasons in the sunI thought the south-facing loft space in my home was the optimal spot to set up shop, until three months later when the autumn sun dipped beneath the eaves and blazed like a blowtorch into my office. If your space has lots of windows, consider their orientation. South facing exposures invite direct sunlight almost all year, while north-facing ones will keep things darker. East- and west-facing windows may be flooded with rays early and late. You might move your work space to account for direct sunlight, but remember that the sun shifts with the seasons. My solution? Unwilling to move, I purchased a six-foot-tall shoji screen that I can position to block the sun.
Don’t scrimp on storageAt the end of the day, your home office is a place that processes information—lots and lots of information contained in files, documents, discs and sundry other media. Think ahead about where and how all that media will be stored, filed and managed. Does your vision of aesthetic excellence include a six-foot-wide metal file cabinet? If not, you’ll need a plan. Maybe that cabinet can be stowed in a closet or other hidden space, or you could scan the bulk of your paper documents to digital format to minimize filing. Consider storage solutions and how they will fit in with your office layout.
Style mattersYou don’t need to be an interior designer with deep pockets to create an attractive, coherent and even inspiring home office space. All you need is a vision. Browse magazines and Web sites, and print and file images that appeal to you. Then take inventory. Do you have a desk you love or a sofa you want to integrate into your space? Identify the dominant element in your office and work outward from that point. Match materials and colors. Place complementary elements (like end tables and picture frames) in visual proximity, so the eye gathers the common message.
Work the Web
The About.com Home Office site is loaded with advice for home office owners, but you’ll find plenty of resources to help you across the About.com network. Check out the sites for Interior Design
, Home Renovation
and Mobile Office Technology
for useful articles and advice that can help you get the most out of your working space.