Design: Office politics

Forget the beige box in a cupboard. If you work from home, getting your surroundings just right is crucial, says Kate Watson-Smyth
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The Independent Online

The number of UK employees working from home has soared over the last three years, according to a survey published earlier this month. The research, from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), reveals that 46 per cent of firms now offer workers the chance to work from home, compared with just 11 per cent in 2004.

You might be one of these lucky ones who always work from home, or you might be allowed just one day a week. Even if you don't actually work from home, you'll probably need a business space to store bills and keep up with emails. But not all of us have the luxury of a spare room to call an office. Sometimes it has to share space with a sofa bed, sometimes it's simply a corner of the dining or sitting room – maybe even that dead area under the stairs. So it's good news that designers are catching up on the need to provide comfortable, good-looking equipment that can fit into all manner of spaces.

Choose your space

If you're sharing with the spare room, then as well as a desk, you will have to find room for a sofa bed. The corner of a sitting room can also work well, as you can always put a screen around the desk to hide it in the evening. Alternatively, consider putting doors on an alcove and building a desk/shelf into the space. The chair can fit underneath so the doors can shut, and be pulled out when in use.

Lisa Jeary, of Home Office Design, says that she worked in the cupboard under the stairs when she first set up the company. "I felt like Harry Potter, but it does prove that you can fit a lot into a small space," she says. "These days, there's a lot of choice for flexible furniture, so that you can make the maximum use of the space available."

It should cost less than £1,000 to pull the panelling off the side of the stairs and replace with bespoke sliding or concertina doors. Don't forget the cost of sockets and lighting.

Decorate the walls

It might sound unimportant, but the colour of the walls will have an impact on whether you want to spend time in your office. Don't just assume it has to be white. Muted shades of blue, yellow and green can all be calm and conducive to work. Bright colours such as red and orange, or flamboyant wallpaper are best left to other parts of the house.

Choose your furniture

Glass and chrome are currently very popular as they add to the illusion of light and space. Make sure that your computer isn't going to take up all of the available space, and try to position your desk close to any natural light. Ensure there are enough sockets so that you don't have wires trailing across the floor. "Buy the biggest desk you can fit into the space," says Lisa Jeary. "And don't forget that you can always have a little trolley to the side for the printer, fax and any other pieces you might need."

However, Jude Tugman of Architect Your Home (see page 10 for Hugo Tugman's column) says that you don't need to spend too much on the desk. "We have plain wooden tables from Ikea that work perfectly. You don't see them that much anyway as they are always covered. The main thing is that it must be deep enough for the computer and any papers. Length is less important as you can always stash the printer underneath. Save money on the desk and spend it on the chair, which is really important." Alternatively, have one built to suit your needs and to fit the available space perfectly.


A practical solution for those without much space, a wooden ladder-desk will fit a laptop and task light and allow some storage on the two shelves.


Desks are a matter of personal taste, but this Rome L-shaped one is one of Jeary's favourite lines. It comes with matching shelves and chairs.


John Lewis has two great options for those who are really struggling to find space. The Boxer Workstation cabinet opens out to provide space for a computer, printer, and a spare shelf. There's not much space for writing or spreading out papers, but if your work is mainly screen-based, it's great. Or for even smaller spaces, the Prague Laptop box looks like a coffee table when not in use, but ingeniously folds out and can be moved next to the armchair for relaxed typing as it is the perfect height for a standard chair.


Your chair should be flexible and you should be able to alter the height, depth of the seat, and angles of the back and arms. A contemporary style might work better if the space has to double up as something else and you don't need to spend several hours a day sitting at it. If you have a dedicated office, then go for a proper office chair. If you don't need to use it that often, then you can choose purely on the basis of aesthetics.

Allow for enough storage

This is the downfall of many a home office. Remember that, in addition to all the usual household bills and paperwork, there is now the office paperwork, too. "You have to keep office papers for up to seven years, so you need to think about how much space you are going to need," says Jeary. "Be disciplined, make sure your filing system is easy to use, and then it won't get on top of you." She suggests modular shelving, which can be adapted and expanded to suit changing needs.

If your office has to double up with another room in the house, choose attractive storage files that will add to the decor, rather than clunky metal filing cabinets that will dominate the room when you're not working. Ikea is a good source for such items, but remember that second-hand filing cabinets can be sprayed any colour you like with car paint. Tugman suggests using the space above the desk, right up to the ceiling. "Keep the space under the desk as clear as possible for the printer and any other equipment you might need to get at."

Sort out the lighting

Obviously, you want to be near natural light, but not have glare on your screen. Overhead lighting is good, but a proper task lamp will also help on dingy winter days. Particularly if your office is in an otherwise unused corner of the room.

And finally, the accessories

Instead of cluttering your desk with endless Post-it notes, consider a magnetic board or blackboard, if you have a room to yourself. You can even buy magnetic blackboard paint (£9.99, and paint the inside of a screen, for example, so you can use it for notes, while the outside can be painted to go with the rest of the room. Tugman recommends cable-management wires to keep them tidy and safe (£1.99,

"It's really handy to have a couple of drawers for pens, paperclips and all those little things that clutter up the desktop," she says. "But above all, it's your office. It has to be how you want it so that it's conducive to work. It's no good being in a space under the stairs if you are going to keep wandering off into the kitchen because it's better lit."

Boxer Workstation £295, and Prague Laptop Box £175, both from John Lewis (; 0845 604 9049); Rome L-shaped glass desk with chrome £299 (; 01259 212 748); Ladder Desk £99 from The Futon Company (; 0854 609 4455)


* Hammonds for bespoke and fitted furniture (0800 251 505;

* Architect Your Home (0800 849 8505;

* Neville Johnson for bespoke and fitted furniture (0161-873 8333;

* Habitat for lights, storage and furniture (0844 499 1111;

* Back2 for chairs (020-7935 0351;

*; 020-8956 2880)

* Ikea for affordable storage and desks (0845 355 1141;