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How to create the perfect home office

Whether you have a shed or a spare room, a cupboard or a corner, it's possible to work from home with the minimum of fuss – and cost

Kate Watson-Smyth
Wednesday 21 January 2009 01:00
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Whether you've always worked from home or have suddenly found yourself in that position, or just want a proper space to keep all those papers and bills from cluttering up the kitchen, a home office is an increasingly important part of the way we live now. The lucky ones will already have a room that they use as a study, others will be doubling up with the spare room. But if neither of those is you, think about creating a space in a cupboard – when I first started working from home, I spent most of my time in the wardrobe – or replacing the garden shed with a state-of-the-art home office.

Jane Hughes has worked from home for eight years, first sitting on the sofa, then in an alcove and finally in a spare room before graduating to a proper home office. "I have found that the best tip for making your office work for you is to turn it into the kind of room where you want to spend time," she says. "For me, that means creating a good ambience, with pictures, a bookshelf and a comfy chair where I can read over work I've written on the computer. I also make an effort to keep my desk and office clear of junk and have regular clearouts, even though I am not naturally a tidy person. A good desk light is also a must. I've found that I get more done when my office is at the back of my home away from the distractions of the street, which always seems to be full of people who are happily not working, especially on a sunny day."

Nina Campbell, an interior designer, advises that plenty of storage and no distractions are the key factors in a successful domestic office. "To make it work, you need storage – sensible shelving and cupboards that will take unsightly box files – along with a desk that is fit for purpose and a comfortable chair. Consider painting the room in restful colours – either neutral cream tones, or blues and greens to promote calm. More than anything, a home office should be a place for proper focus, so should be kept free of distracting elements wherever possible!"

THE CUPBOARD

Take the sides off the area under the stairs and build a fitted desk with shelves above and around, but remember that your hall needs to be wide enough to allow people past. On the other hand, if there's an alcove in the sitting room, you can fit doors on to the front, then build in a wide shelf – possibly an extending one – put up some shelves and install a light. If your chair won't fit in, buy one that goes with the rest of the decor in the room and it can sit in front of the doors.

Moving upstairs, if you have fitted wardrobes in a bedroom, clear out any clothes you don't wear and put a desk in there. That way, you can close the door on the computer, which is better for sleeping and means that your bedroom doesn't have to look like an office. Even a corner of the kitchen has space for a triangle desk across it – room enough for a laptop. Fit cubbyholes above, and you can quickly access bills, newspapers and other paperwork.

THE SPARE ROOM

Many of us are trying to organise one spare room into an area that stores the ironing board, dries the laundry, accommodates the odd guest and is also the office – hopefully not all at the same time. The key to this is storage. Sofa beds or chairs, computer desks that fold into coffee tables, and drying racks that hang from the ceiling can work wonders. If you're a part-time worker, a pretty bedside table and a laptop can be all you need.

THE STUDY

Bliss... a whole room with nothing to do in it except work. It's probably still a mess, though. We all expand to fit the space available, and if that sounds familiar, you need to take yourself off to the storage shop. Decide what can go into long-term storage, and put it there. Arrange box files on shelves, and clear out the filing cabinet so you can stop using it as a dumping ground. It's also worth calling in the electrician to add extra sockets, so that you can put the desk where you want and not be ruled by where the plugs are.

THE GARDEN

Not literally the garden, but consider building your office in it . This can be anything from a kit summer house to a proper small building. You can usually build a garden room under permitted development rules, but check first. It's also worth spending a bit of money making sure it's properly insulated, so that you can use it all year round. Your electrician should be able to connect a shed to the electricity in the house without busting the budget.

Consider installing a large skylight to make the most of the natural daylight. Wickes does a log cabin from around £2,000, but if you shop around, you should be able to find an even cheaper one. Invest in underfloor heating and double-glazed windows, and you should be all right all year round. You will need to make sure that the locks comply with your home-insurance requirements and consider toughened glass if you've got expensive equipment in there.

ACCESSORIES

The Hennes cabinet from Ikea (£199; www.ikea.com ; 0845 355 1141) can be used either for linen or boxes of filing, and is a good solution to the spare- room-as-study dilemma. Ikea is also a good source of either wooden or plastic boxes on castors, which means they can be easily rolled away when not in use, and are easy to get at when you are settling down to work. A desk is a very personal piece of equipment, but consider a glass one, which will create the illusion of space and can work equally well as a dressing table.

Dwell ( www.dwell.co.uk ; 0845 675 9090) do a plain version for £295, but there are dozens of styles about. Hall storage units can double up as seating and units for storing paperwork. After all, you won't be at your desk all the time, and putting one of these under the window gives you a place for a break and a cup of coffee. Malvern two-basket storage benches from Argos (£59.99; www.argos.co.uk ) with a cushion on top are perfect for this. The M&S three-tier bamboo storage unit is a great idea for the instant tidy. It won't take up much room in a corner and you can use it for paperwork, pens and everything else you need. The advantage being that you can just chuck it all in for instant tidiness (£49.50; www.marksandspencer.com ). If you hate scruffy noticeboards, think about painting a section of the wall in blackboard paint, so you can write down all your reminders. Wall-mounted lights will free up desk space and lessen the number of cables.

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