When Glen Richardson decided to create his own home office, it was done with his four young children foremost in mind.

And no, he didn't build the workspace in a secluded corner of his basement.

Instead it was planted in the hub of his home, right next to the living room.

"I try to be in the largest open area possible during the peak hours to help the family," says Richardson, a Calgary interior decorator and furniture designer. "I have to be around with the kids during the peak hours. I'd get into such trouble if I went and locked myself away in an office."

Mike Sturk, Business Edge
Glen Richardson built his reclaimed wood-panelled workspace in a formerly narrow passageway that once linked two rooms.

It seems that Richardson, owner of Hammer and Heat: Interiors & Furniture, isn't alone.

"What we are seeing is that the home office has replaced the family room, and it seems to be the most utilized room in the home," says Susan Speake, owner of The Art of Working, in Oakville, Ont.

"The kids are using the computer and parents do want to monitor what the kids are doing on the computer," she adds. "But the bigger issue is that they want to be together."

The growth in the home office's popularity has been spawned by the increasing number of people who work full- or part-time at home, or who bring work home at night to be nearer their spouse and kids.

In 2000, according to the Evolution in the Workplace study by Statistics Canada, more than 2.8 million people (17 per cent of Canadian workers) spent some or all of their time working from home, up from 2.1 million (16 per cent) in 1995.

Speake opened her downtown 1,500-sq.-ft. concept store five years ago, a showcase of workspace "configurations, esthetics and ideas designed to inspire people who value their home office," and who see it as a key part of their lifestyle.

"These people enjoy their home office. The clients we are seeing are willing to put the money into it because they are spending a lot of time there."

Indeed, the typical office that Speake helps clients create is equipped with two computers, to serve husbands wives and children who spend more time in the home office than watching TV.

"What we know is that the technology in a home office far exceeds what is available to individuals on a corporate basis," she explains.

"The technology that home offices have is the latest and greatest - wonderful printers, flat screens, the newest software. They've got whatever works for them."

Typically, she says, a "fully loaded" functional upscale home office created by her company costs between $3,500 and $5,500. That includes a U- or L-shaped desk, overhead cabinets, filing cabinets and ergonomic chairs. Often, she creates a design in the $2,000 range where components can be added later as needed, or a fundamental desk and cabinet can be had for under $1,000.

Speake, along with her husband, has been helping people create home offices for nearly a dozen years. Her philosophy is simple: Form follows function.

"We ask a lot of questions. What technology do they have? Is this for you, or the family? How many hours will you work there? What kind of storage capacity do you need? What does the room look like and does the room have another function?" Once those questions are asked, she and her staff create an ergonomically sound work area.

"Ergonomics is big with us. If you want an executive high-back chair because you like the esthetics of it, but you are sitting a lot and doing a lot of computer work, it won't work for you. We tell the customer that and let them decide."

Liz Nandee, Calgary-based owner of Basic Black Designs, says her clients across Canada and in the U.S. share a common need: Storage.

"That's what people are looking for in a home office. It's really important because a home office is usually the size of a bedroom," Nandee says.

Many of her clients seek designs that are functional, efficient, but don't necessarily look like an office when people come to visit. Multifunctional, these offices can be easily converted into guest rooms, are less cubicle in nature, and more arty and esthetically pleasing.

Often, creativity is critical. One home office she designed for a counsellor was a mere 180 sq. ft., but divided into two separate work stations; one side for computer work, one for counselling. Screens, upscale bifolding doors, sliding glass doors that can be frosted and dozens of other tools can shape a room that works for each individual, she says.

Perhaps there's no better example than Hammer and Heat's Richardson, who builds and designs furniture using reclaimed wood from structures in Western Canada.

Richardson is putting the finishing touches on his Calgary home office, a unique workspace built from old barn paneling. The work area also was once the passageway (double-door wide) that linked his small dining room to the front sitting room.

To utilize the passageway space, Richardson put up a full wall to block off the walkway from the dining room, but used pony walls (three feet high) that front onto the living room. The low walls provide an openness that is airy but also functional, because he can keep tabs on the kids.

"The small wall gives you all the visual separation of a room while still making the two rooms that are attached seem bigger because they are joined," he says. "It's just another trick on space without breaking a house up into teeny rooms."

Richardson only recently decided to work fulltime from home. While his open-space office is eye-catching, space-saving and functional, it does buck advice from workplace experts who say full-time home workers require a separate space for work.

Dedicated space (with a door) allows people to focus on their jobs, but also allows them to shut work away at the end of the day.

Richardson understands the philosophy. But with four demanding kids, ages two to seven, he needs flexibility.

"There are times when I'm doing some work, and they want to see what I'm doing so they sit on my lap," he says.

"During the day when they are away I can work, and again at night when they are in bed."

Like a growing number of Canadians, it's a situation he can work with.

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(Mike Dempster can be reached at miked@businessedge.ca)