Remote Possibilities: The evolution of the home office

Remote Possibilities: The evolution of the home office
Photo courtesy of Design for the PPL
Design for the PPL's Erin Haskell Gourde redesigned this standard-issue home office for a client who wanted a dramatic Old World feel.

Home sweet home. It's what you've invested a lot of time and energy into, where the family gathers for meals, where you curl up in your favorite chair to relax after work. Only now, for more of us than ever before, the workday might have occurred just down the hall, at a desk nudged into a bedroom, or at a chair near a plugin in the corner of a quiet room.

But even before recent statewide closures and slowdowns forced people out of the office and into telecommuting, there was a trend toward working remotely. According to FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics, over the past ten years, the "remote workforce" has grown by more than 90 percent.

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Photo courtesy of Design for the PPL
Designer Erin Haskell Gourde (right) enjoys a laugh with Eileen Barbieri, in her newly designed home office.

Global Workplace Analytics further estimates that more than half of the non-self-employed workforce — around 75 million Americans — could work from home at least part time and that the longer they work from home, the more likely it is that they will never fully return to the conventional office environment.

So how can home offices evolve to meet the needs of a new cadre of stay-at-home workers? Local designers offer ideas on how to create a multipurpose office space that not only meets workday needs, but also offers space for other activities as well.

In their Spokane real estate business, the Fowler Group's Danielle and Ryan Fowler have noticed an uptick in clients looking for extra spaces they might convert into home offices. Many transplants, says Danielle, are moving to the Spokane region knowing they'll be telecommuting.

The Fowlers include themselves in the telecommuting workforce, and like many families, they also needed space where their four children could do schoolwork. So when it came time to build, they incorporated an office into the plan for their still-under-construction Peone Prairie home.

They added steel and glass barndoor-style walls to transform the formal dining room into a roughly 12-by-12-foot, multifunctional office just off the kitchen. The glass lets light in, allows for two-way visibility, and yet provides a minimal sound barrier.

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Photo courtesy of Design for the PPL
With expansive windows providing views to the stables, this office for a professional equestrian team owner incorporates built-ins to hide office-related equipment, freeing up shelf space for more interesting displays.

Another consideration in the design, says Danielle, was centralizing paperwork and other frequently-accessed office items, yet hiding clutter through built-in storage.

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DESK PICK: Add a little whimsy with this petite, but perfectly functional desk. — Signature Design Mirimyn Trestle Desk, Runge Furniture in Coeur d'Alene

"I wanted it to be attractive as well," Danielle says.

Aesthetics and multifunctionality are high priorities for clients, say several local interior designers who, like the Fowlers are seeing increased interest in adding a new office space or converting existing spaces into ones that accommodate those working from home.

"I would say there is a lot more awareness of how an office is designed within a home — and clients to a degree have been very involved in this desire for dual function and creating beautiful rooms that they are inclined to want to spend time in — that are more fluid and connected with the rest of their homes," says Tammie Ladd, of Tammie Ladd Interior Design.

In addition to more decorative lighting and design that incorporates personal touches, requests have included maximizing space, from storage units to built-ins to the room itself, Ladd says. For example, she recently completed a dual-functioning yoga studio and office space for a client and created a double workspace for another.

"We've added console tables, desks behind sofas in living rooms that can also double as a docking station or place to set up shop and still maintain the enjoyment of one of the best rooms of the home," Ladd says. "Even in a more traditional styled office with a desk, seating, task chair and built-ins, often media will also be incorporated along with direct visual connections to the main living spaces."

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Photo courtesy of Design for the PPL
A desk area can be seamlessly combined with comfortable seating and media, allowing the room to offer multiple uses.

Designology's Deanna Goguen and Milieu Design's Sarah McGovern collaborated to overhaul a space for a professional equestrian team owner that also addressed the dual need of multifunctionality and livability.

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DESK PICK: Ample storage in this compact, cottage-styled package. — Libby Allyson Park L-Shaped Desk Walker's Furniture

Taking a design cue from the world of dressage tack, the design features a leatherwork surface and a metal and glass wall to partially enclose the space, which also has a view towards the barn and track so the owner can oversee the horses and team workout areas.

"Built-in shelves showcase awards and original art, while the enclosed cabinets below hide the day-to-day necessities like files and the printer, so that the beautiful parts can take center stage," McGovern says.

Location of the office within the home is also important. When it's closer to the front door, for example, that allows for meetings with clients without exposing the more intimate spaces of the home.

In the past, Ladd says, the kitchen was the catch-all, sometimes featuring a little desk tucked in among the cabinets that doubled as an office. Now the kitchen island might get extra outlets and charging ports, functioning more like a docking station with thoughtfully concealed or even portable storage.

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Photo courtesy of Tammie Ladd Design
Tucked into a long hallway, this docking area offers the perfect location for working, while still enjoying the larger spaces of the home.

Design for the PPL's Erin Haskell Gourde says sometimes clients don't know what they want other than what they have isn't working anymore, especially as more people are finding themselves unexpectedly out of their regular office environment and working remotely from home.

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DESK PICK: Tuck work away in time for happy hour with this sustainably sourced, solid walnut laptop desk — Copeland Laptop Desk, Tin Roof Furniture

At the same time, she notes people may not want to devote space in their homes exclusively to work. "Don't just design it as an office and that's it, because things can change," she counsels. For example, "A library can be stunningly beautiful and then you can have, you know, cocktails in there." Recently she worked with a client to create a dramatic room, featuring office accouterments like a standalone desk and guest chairs, yet also incorporating stylish touches including a range of inset and ceiling lighting and built-in bookshelves, creating an Old World feel. It was the perfect fit for a client who wanted, "A classic beautiful place where she can do her work, but also just want to dwell in, a place where she can just be."

Space Specs

Working from home might seem comfy and cozy, but we still need to take our bodies into account when we go about creating a home workspace. "That means practicing self-care," says Contract Design Associate's Gwen Marlow. "An office that's functional makes us feel good."

Whether it's a spot on the couch with your laptop or a wraparound desk in your former third bedroom, ergonomics are important.

"We just have to remember: Don't conform your body to your space," Marlow says.

Instead, conform your space to support your body. Check your posture — aim for sitting straight up, with your shoulders relaxed and your feet on the floor. Try using pillows to alleviate pressure and offer support while seated.

If your work from home requires considerable time sitting at a desk, ergonomic seating should be a consideration. A "task" chair with adjustable positioning for the seat, back and armrests can facilitate better body mechanics.

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Graphic courtesy of Herman Miller

At Contract Design, customers can even take one of 50 available task chairs home for a "test sit," Marlow notes, adding it can be hard to assess a chair's features without trying it in your own space, with your own office set up.

Also, Marlow says it's a good idea to consider an adjustable-height desk, so you can alternate between sitting and standing. After all, when it comes to sitting, too much is not a good thing. "Those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking," according to the Mayo Clinic.

Taking frequent breaks is also good for your eyes, which can suffer from too much screen time. Be smart about glare, Marlow says, and sit next to natural light if possible.

"I think the light makes us feel better," she says.

Carrie Scozzaro

Carrie Scozzaro spent nearly half of her career serving public education in various roles, and the other half in creative work: visual art, marketing communications, graphic design, and freelance writing, including for publications throughout Idaho, Washington, and Montana.

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