Make a study work for you

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The Independent Online
Working from home is becoming the norm for more and more of us, whether we are part of the growing ranks of the self employed or just trying to cut the time and cost of commuting. The computer and telecoms revolution means that most creative and administrative tasks can now be carried out easily from the spare bedroom.

Many people work better at home, away from the distractions of the office. But the convenience can be offset by the disadvantages - unless you are careful, your home can become your office and work can intrude on leisure.

Grant Smith, a photographer, has been employed by national papers and magazines but is now freelance. He needs equipment storage and office space, and recommends building a special work area: "It's hard to work in my living space, and difficult to get away from the work in the evening. If you're looking at it, you're thinking about it; you need to be able to shut the door on it."

Shutting the door on it can involve sectioning off part of a room, either permanently with partitioning, or with something as simple as a Japanese folding screen. Or you might install an "office in a cupboard"; built- in or free-standing workstations are available to match bedroom or living room furniture.

Other solutions, requiring some construction work, involve adapting previously unused space. Loft conversions are a favourite, but offices can also be built in coal cellars, under-stairs cupboards and even on platforms above stairwells.

But first some basics. It will pay to reorganise lighting, electrical and telecoms sockets so you can minimise trailing flex and extensions. An extra BT line costs only pounds 49.50 to install, and is pretty much essential for serious home workers. And you can never have enough electrical sockets. Lighting is important for mood, efficiency and the health of your eyes; a concealed downlighter above the work surface and a track fitting in the ceiling can be augmented by an adjustable desk lamp.

Next, furniture. Office desks are always going to look like - well - office desks. They can dominate a room. A good DIY alternative is a couple of two-drawer filing cabinets with a length of kitchen worktop laid across. Filing cabinets can be bought from second-hand office furniture stores for around pounds 30, but you do see them dumped in skips. Paint them with Hammerite and choose a worktop to suit - pounds 16 from a DIY shed.

Adjustable shelving is best, and the Spur system, although not the cheapest, is sturdy and looks good. Shelving systems can be cheaper from builders' merchants like Travis Perkins than from the DIY shops. For the shelves, planed pine boards from a timber yard are cheaper and more attractive than the melamine-covered chipboard.

At the professional level, fitted home office manufacturers can supply desks, workstations and filing cabinets that look like good-quality reproduction furniture. Companies such as Conquest provide a full design and fitting service, and prices are roughly on a par with those for a fitted kitchen; pounds 3,000 will buy about 4 metres of fitted desktop with cupboards, drawers, filing cabinets and bookcases in a real wood veneer finish.

Richard Kimbell has a range of free-standing units in real timber, including a fold-away computer centre for around pounds 1,000 and a two-drawer filing cabinet for pounds 255. Ducal supplies free-standing timber modules that provide any combination of worktops, cupboards and bookcases. Prices are around pounds 400 for a computer desk and pounds 300 for a filing cabinet.

q Contacts: Conquest 01705 370654; Richard Kimbell 01344 875168; Ducal 01264 333666.