Like the dishwasher and the latte maker, the home office is one of those modern conveniences that many of us would be hard-pressed to do without.
Think what you can do with it: An office at home can be dedicated to the business of running a household, or to building a library, or to keeping a hobby up to speed – tasks considerable enough to justify outfitting an extra bedroom as a workroom. For writers, designers, researchers and other folks in the knowledge trades, it can become a productive studio. I have known accountants, lawyers and even architects who work from home.
That said, the average home office has certain limitations. One is that it’s rarely big enough or otherwise suitable for meeting clients and collaborators.
So what are the design options open to those who want to do their jobs at home, but need to be able to welcome customers and co-workers into a serious, sociable context? How can a home be turned into a workplace without also making it as ungracious as your basic corporate boardroom?
Such were questions that a pair of media professionals – he’s in advertising, she is an event planner – put to Jaegap Chung, principal in the young Toronto firm of JCI Architects. Mr. Chung’s reply, realized in partnership with builder Wes Myles, featured the successful transformation of the couple’s conventional, old Hogtown dwelling into a place that accommodated both family life and business.
The architect wrought this $365,000 change, for the most part, quietly. Located on Dupont Street, just beyond the northern edge of the Annex neighbourhood, the detached house was one item in a row of structurally identical two-storey buildings, each with its familiar gable at the attic level, pitched roof and little bay window. Mr. Chung did nothing to interrupt the visual ecology of the urban landscape – no dropping of a flat roof on the scheme, for instance, and no other radical alterations to the basic formal rhythm of this stretch of street. When he had finished with it, the house still fit into the neighbourhood.
Or almost did. Instead of a porched front like the neighbouring dwellings, the building now presented to the world a large, emphatically outlined horizontal opening that framed the main entrance and an expanse of glass. The house still looked like a house, and behaved like a house. But Mr. Chung’s move made the façade chime visually with the two- and three-storey storefronts so typical of Toronto’s older shopping avenues.
In other words, he grafted the shop-sized window, something that says “public” – see what we’ve got for sale, come in and browse – onto a form that speaks of privacy, the intimate and personal. The new façade announced the hybrid character of the building behind it.
By means of both formal layout and appointment, this sense of blended home and office was carried past the front door into the main level. (I understand that Mr. Chung supervised the interior arrangements.)
The visitor or client who came through the entrance stepped immediately, without any more transition than one would find in a Main Street shop, into a large, wide, sparsely furnished space with an alert little glass-walled staircase zigzagging up one side. A businesslike grouping of living room furniture sat just inside the door, while, a little farther along, there was a thick-topped wooden table with seating provided by benches, not chairs.
This broad, prominent table was too rustic for a properly starchy urban boardroom, although its warm surface seemed to invite (as it was perhaps meant to do) a gathering round of interested parties, the spreading out and discussion of plans and drawings. When not performing official duties, it served the owners as a dining table.
Mr. Chung’s attempt to create a business environment from the stuff of domesticity could have turned out badly. Had the dining/conference table been something confected from glass and steel by Le Corbusier, for example, the atmosphere on the house’s main level would almost certainly have been cold, too austere. The owners’ art also helped brighten and freshen the air of this sparely kitted-out place.
While this attempt is the most interesting aspect of the 3,300-square-foot Dupont Street project, it’s not the only thing about the work worth mentioning.
Mr. Chung’s budget was restricted (as full-scale overhauls go), but with the money available to him he was able to fashion a comfortable, terraced master bedroom in what had been the low-ceilinged attic.
He also popped out the rear of the house more than 15 feet to generate space for the new ground-floor kitchen and – you guessed it – for a private home office.