News & Politics

Great Home Offices 2005: Where They Do Business

A cottage, treetop views, a house in the country--why fight traffic when you can work here?

Former editorial intern Kate Ghiloni ( is a DC writer working out of her home office.

Beverly Celotta loves her morning commute. A child psychologist in Gaithersburg, Celotta slides into her slippers as her husband leaves for his office. She spends the morning upstairs in her library, takes the dog for a walk, and then sees clients in the afternoon at her office–in her home.

Celotta is one of a growing number of Washingtonians working in a home office. Andrew Winters of Andrew Winters Architects in North Potomac, who designed Celotta's office, has seen a jump in recent years. "Almost everyone requests home-office space, whether part of an addition or a renovation on the existing home," he says.

As more households go wireless and area traffic worsens, working at home is becoming a popular alternative. More people are asking: Why go into the office when I can send faxes from my desk, receive e-mail on my cell phone, and log onto my work server from home? Some companies are now catering to the mobile professional.

According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 25 million Americans are doing at least some work at home.

Most people want more than a desk and bookshelf. Celotta's office includes a waiting room, consultation room, and bathroom plus a separate entrance. "Rule number one is that the home-office space–no matter its location within the home–has to have some sort of separation from the rest of the house," Winters says. The divide can be as simple as a stairway, hallway, or doorway.

When space is tight, the separation may be a state of mind. Local DJ Dominic Redd, known to fans as DJ Dredd, has been working out of his Southwest DC waterfront condo since 2002. His office is tucked into a small nook in the corner of the apartment. But it works. Redd needed a space where he could work on his Web site and record music. Alongside his computer and fax, there's a recording console, turntables, and drum machine.

"I can record, surf the Web, check e-mail, print, spin records, and play keyboards without moving more than a foot or so," he says.

Sometimes function is only part of the home-office equation–personal style inspires many renovations.

Sheila Johnson, cofounder of Black Entertainment Television and president of the WNBA's Washington Mystics, works out of a stable turned office at her Middleburg home. Johnson's horses are housed in one wing of the U-shaped stable; her office is in the other. She did the office almost exclusively in wood to retain the bucolic feel of the estate. Antique Oriental rugs cover the hardwood floors. A custom-made desk is the centerpiece. Family photos and indigo accents–for Johnson, blue symbolizes tranquility and comfort–complement the wood.

The country setting inspires Johnson. Plus, she sees more of her children–and her animals.

The only drawback? "When people know you work from home, they know you are almost always there," Johnson says. "People you don't know will just drop by unannounced." It's a tradeoff she's willing to make.

Architect Mark McInturff's employees come to his renovated cottage, set on a half acre in Bethesda. Over the years, he's built two additions to the cottage, creating a large workspace for his staff. "Architects work long hours but are always very aware of their environment, so the aesthetics are important," says McInturff, whose home is 50 feet away.

Nestled on a hill, the office has balconies that overlook the surrounding woods. There's a stone patio and a courtyard. Decorations are functional–mostly books and models of projects he's working on. What was once his garage now is a conference area.

"I read somewhere if you have a half-hour commute to and from work, you end up spending six workweeks a year in the car," he says. "That was enough for me."

Kids are another reason to bring business home. Author Edward Dolnick and his wife, Lynn, looked for a house with room for an office when they moved to Chevy Chase in 1985. "Our kids were little, and we were in juggling mode," says Dolnick, author of The Rescue Artist, about the 1994 art heist involving Edward Munch's "The Scream." "My wife was working out of the house, and I didn't want to be too far away."

For Dolnick, the biggest adjustment was working alone. "Going from the reporting life I had with newspapers to the more solitary life of a freelance writer, I had to mix my out-of-the-house interview time with my writing time to avoid feeling like a recluse."

When Dolnick writes at home, he can look out his window and see kids walking to school. His white Pyrenees, Blue, keeps him company. Dolnick's prints of stolen paintings and photos of George Orwell and Charles Dickens help keep him focused.

Natural light is another draw for those looking to work at home. You don't have to worry about windowless offices or shared cubicles. You decide if you want lots of windows that open or lots of walls.

Matthew and Wendy Lesko each have been running a business from their Kensington home for 20 years. Wendy, a youth-activism coordinator, works in the big corner office upstairs, with lots of light and a prime spot to watch for the FedEx truck. She loves her treetop views, overstuffed bookshelves, and the organized chaos of her piles of paperwork. Every few weeks, she transforms their living room into a conference area and hosts meetings.

Matthew, an author and late-night-television personality who wrote Free Money for a Better Home and Free Money to Quit Your Job, prefers his basement office. He lovingly refers to it as "the cave." Working at home, he says, gives him the chance to talk to his kids on their time. "That 20-minute walk home from school is when they're ready to talk about their day," Matthew says. "I can't imagine getting home at 7:30 and missing that."

His signature color, yellow, welcomes guests to his office. Papers cover every surface. When the cave feels too solitary, Matthew goes to the nearest coffeehouse. He tried a "real office" once, but that was short-lived. He and his employees are more productive when they work from their homes.

"There are no personality conflicts to get in the way," Matthew says.

He doesn't miss the morning rush. Says Matthew, "To me, commuting is the nuttiest thing people do."