A home office that's smart and casual: How to make a house into a great workspace

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It's not all documents on the dining table or conference calls over the cornflakes, as Huma Qureshi finds out

Thank goodness it's a new year because, let's face it, last year wasn't all that great. Unemployment soared to 2.62 million and, according to some reports, around 1,589 people were made redundant every day. Just as well we can start again, then.

Thankfully, there is something to be optimistic about. Those unemployment statistics are far from inspiring, but on the upside, working from home is booming. According to the Live Work Network, the number of people working from home has gone up 21 per cent since 2001, with one in 12 Brits now running their own business from home. For nearly three million people, home isn't just where the heart is, it's where the money is too. But what's it like in reality when your work space is actually your living space? And, if you're starting the new year with a career change that starts at home, what's the best way to set up a workspace which will inspire and motivate, rather than distract, you?

Judy Heminsley, author of Work From Home, has a home office in the converted mill she shares with her partner in Frome, Somerset. She says: "Often people who work from home maintain an office mentality. They set up a room to look exactly like an uninspiring corner of the office, with a boring desk, chair and grey filling cabinet. Obviously, your office furniture has to be suitable, but it doesn't have to be ugly. It makes sense that your surroundings affect how you feel; if you are surrounded by things that make you happy, then intuitively it's got to have a knock on effect on how productive you are."

Jane Cumberbatch, an interior design author who works from her London home, agrees. "People don't think about the importance of having a personalised workspace. It should be intimate and calming. That's the beauty of not being in a conventional office – you can make your work space at home entirely yours."

Before she moved house, there wasn't room for Cumberbatch to have an office; instead, she worked from a desk in the hallway. "Even though there wasn't much room, I made the most of it by having shelves above my desk that went right up to the ceiling," she says. "Storage is key. My solution was to have stackable boxes for paperwork and intersperse the open shelves with pictures and decorative objects to make it feel like a feature point. If you buy boxes in the same or contrasting colour then you can create an organised feel."

Cumberbatch now works in a big, light room with open shelves and an inspiration wall. But what if your home isn't big enough to allow you to have your very own work room? "It's not totally necessary to have an office space that you literally close the door on at the end of the day," says Heminsley. "It depends on your personality. Some find that if they are in an enclosed space, they get nothing done. It's important to get a sense of where you want to be when you work."

So how do other work-from-homers work from home?

The therapist

Heather Bestel moved from a semi in Liverpool to a six-bedroom farmhouse in south-west Scotland in 2006, where she works as a therapist and stress-management consultant.

"It got to the point where I was talking to stressed-out executives about the importance of a work-life balance, when the irony was I was so stressed-out myself. As a family, we wanted a better quality of life, so we moved to Scotland and I do all my consultations over Skype.

"Working from home is wonderful. Originally, I designated a bedroom to be my study, but it felt very closed off. I still do my consultations in there, but I prefer working in the kitchen, especially when it's cold, as that's where the Aga is. Being in the kitchen lets me be in the heart of the house, where I can get on with sending emails while my husband makes tea or my daughter tells me how school was.

"I wanted to create a sense of comfort and I like the country-cottage, shabby-chic style. I love to work on a table with a bunch of flowers in the middle, but if I was in an office, people would just think I was weird if I started bringing flowers in. As a stress-management consultant, I believe it's very important that your working environment is calm. Just because it's an office, it doesn't have to be sterile."

The small-business owner

Deany Judd lives in Whitecraigs, south Glasgow, with her three children, husband and two dogs. She teaches an online tuition course, called Star Student, from home. "I used to work from a room in the house which was always the dumping ground. Every time the phone rang, I had to ask the caller to hold and put the laundry on and off.

"I hated it. Tutoring online means I record lessons and Skype pupils, and I couldn't do that from a glorified laundry room. So I turned the dining room, which we hardly ever used, into my study.

"I wanted a really grown-up looking study. An interior designer friend helped come up with the grey colour scheme. I chose a glass desk, because it gives a really airy feel, and I got my desk chair from Ikea – it's comfortable, but wasn't too expensive. I had wanted bookshelves forever, and this room finally had the space to build them. I've also got tons of photos of the children and my husband dotted around the shelves. My husband is pretty opinionated about the other rooms in the house, but I just did it how I wanted it!

"I tend to only work in the study now, and since having it, I can close the door and separate the working day from family time."

The writer

Food writer Nick Baines lives with his wife Emma in a two-bed flat in Westbourne, Bournemouth. He writes at the kitchen table.

"I have a desk in the spare room, but it's a dumping ground for all sorts of stuff which does my head in. It is devoid of inspiration. The kitchen table is where I get most done; writing about food, it feels right being in the kitchen.

"It is frustrating sometimes, though. Right now, all my books are in the lounge and spill into the kitchen and if I had the space, I'd love to have my books in one place and work right by them. I'd kill for an open fire and a wing-back chair in the corner to read in. That would be nice.

"Mostly though, I'm pretty set with just a table, a chair and tea. Tea inspires me to work. I need space to stick my ideas up and write them down, and that's what the blackboard is for. I usually have notes stuck up on the wall too. I work on the go a lot, writing from hotel rooms and service stations and cafés. So it's always good to get home, come back to the kitchen, flick the kettle on and pull the chair out.

"The kitchen really is my little haven. It's where I work best, where plans are developed, decisions are made and where we eat. It's the starting point to everything, and I think that's why I like it. It's a place for ideas and relaxation all at once."

The photographer

Former television producer Rosie Bray, 35, works as a lifestyle photographer from the three-bedroom Victorian cottage in Weybridge where she lives with her husband.

"My office is in a small, light bedroom upstairs at the back of the house. It's got plain white walls, which are great as a blank canvas for my photography. I photograph children and families in their homes and on location but all the editing and post-processing happens here in my office, along with all the other various jobs that come with running a small business.

"I love clean, white, simple design with a touch of pretty. I have an 'inspiration board' above my desk that changes regularly, where I cut out and stick up anything that catches my eye.

"Having worked as a producer, I'm used to the hustle and bustle of an open-plan office environment, but there's nothing like having a quiet room of your own. The room overlooks the garden – perfect for day-dreaming.

"Storage is really important (God bless Ikea), and I crave good light so I like being near the window. I compromised on style for comfort when it came to my chair – I need proper back support for the hours spent editing at my computer. It's not the prettiest of chairs but comfort wins. I got it from a company called Milan Direct.

"A good home office should also be your ideal bedroom/retreat so that you love being there, and I genuinely look forward to 'going to work' every day. Work feels less of the daily grind and more of a daily pleasure. And I love that I can wear slippers to work."

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