My home office occupies a corner of the basement in our little Bethesda Colonial. We wanted to keep our ground-floor rooms--galley kitchen, dining room, living room--free of clutter, so the basement was the natural choice.
Though my view is a glimpse of the backyard through a ground-level window and behind me lies a Thomas the Tank Engine table and the couch where my son watches TV, my desk is an island of professionalism. As long as the Wiggles aren't singing too loudly, I manage to focus on my freelance writing and editing. Sometimes I take a stack of pages to proofread in bed or on the porch, but I've made this space my office.
While setting it up, I learned a few things about using space designed for other functions:
Take a careful look around your house.
The first step in creating a home office is deciding what room to use. "It's a good idea to make use of space a room already has," says Deborah Lerner, project architect at Core Architecture & Design in Georgetown. "Houses often have space that people don't think of as usable, such as stair landings and hallways. Most closets are about two feet deep, which is a good depth for a work counter--and you can simply close the closet doors when you want to make the room look more presentable."
Basements, kitchens, playrooms, and guest bedrooms are ideal. They can often stand a few more pieces of furniture without feeling cluttered.
Don't be afraid to reconfigure room elements. While renovating the kitchen of our former house, we moved the refrigerator and replaced it with a built-in, three-foot-long granite desk, complete with barstool chair. In a guest room, you probably have space for at least a small desk, especially if you have a foldup sofa bed. A side table in a living room can become a desk if you pull up a chair and supply good light. If all else fails, open a laptop on the dining-room table.
Combat clutter. "Be serious about what you really use and how often--and cut down on the office accessories," Lerner says. She suggests buying a laptop and drawers on wheels. "This way you can work just about anywhere and not have to worry about a dedicated office space."
Choose a functional but stylish storage pedestal that won't scream "office" in downtime, like Topdeq's Switch cabinets, which start at about $400 (866-876-3300; topdeq.com) and are available in five bright colors and optional casters or legs. Container Store (888-266-8246; containerstore.com) and Hold Everything (888-922-4117; holdeverything.com) offer a wide range of cabinets, drawers, and more.
Multitask. "When furnishing a room, look for items that can be used for more than one purpose," Lerner says. "Rather than buying shelves that are entirely open, select shelves that have a portion covered by a door or drawer fronts. This lets you hide away items like office supplies and paper." Lerner also recommends looking for furniture with dual functions, such as narrow console tables--these can serve as work surfaces.
Choose furniture that doesn't overwhelm the area. You'll want to make sure the furniture matches your style so you won't mind looking at it when you're in the room for another reason. Hold Everything's crisp, simple Centro line of desks (various sizes, $245 to $350; 888-922-4117; holdeverything.com) comes in several colors. You'll need a comfortable--but not lazy--chair to make you feel like you're really at work. Design Within Reach sells the classic Herman Miller Aeron; for $869, you get Aeron's perfect ergonomics, innovative open-web seat and back, and a choice of three sizes and two colors (800-944-2233; dwr.com).
To perk up a kitchen office, Hold Everything's galley chair ($155)--a bright-pastel wooden version of the 1940s aluminum Emeco chair--is cheery and fun. Topdeq's Karo swivel chair ($379, plus armrests and casters), black with white dots and cute as a Kate Spade bag, would look right at home in a playroom.
Make it your own with lamps and photographs. If you like bright colors and fun prints, Target (target.com) offers stylish, inexpensive home-office products from store-exclusive lines such as Swell and Isaac Mizrahi. Ikea has fun printed magazine holders, letter trays, pencil holders, and other desk accessories (800-434-4532; ikea.com).