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Most houses we design at KDD have a home office. One we recently completed, on Vancouver's west side, required a balancing act in a small space.

A little background: the general design of the home is French-inspired, with high ceilings, detailed baseboards, and beautiful moulding details throughout. The colour scheme – a palette of dark woods and limestone floors, linen walls and heavy accents – is a balance of light and dark, and one carefully calibrated. In its finishes, powerful colours have the emotional heft of powerful moods. Unchecked by their opposite, they threaten collapse.

We designed the home office – an eight- by nine-foot room in the southwest corner of the main floor – to be a darker element in the overall scheme.

Our design, which aimed to use strong ingredients in a confined space, would be an easy one to get wrong. It required careful planning and explanation to a client interested in preserving the home's overall balance. Here are five questions we answered along the way.

Why the wood panelling?

Few things have a character as inherently Old World and masculine as wood wall panelling. We wanted to incorporate that earthy richness into the elegant atmosphere of the main floor.

Located off the foyer, the office's walls are visible through the room's bevelled glass door. The depth of the dark finish draws you into the room's sensuous visual weight. Tucked away from the rest of the house, the tiny retreat is a space where you could while away the hours.

One could argue that we might have achieved dark walls for a lower cost by using wallpaper or paint. But we worried that the room's many windows, with their substantial mouldings, would compete with the wall finish instead of enhancing it. So we proposed cladding the windows and walls in the same finish, creating a uniform look and a sense of expansion.

Why that configuration of cabinets?

At the beginning of any project, we extensively interview our clients, learning as much as possible about how they live and what they need.

For an office, the questions are focused: How many lineal feet of file storage? Which file format – legal or letter? How much open storage for books? How many pieces of electronics and AV equipment? And so on.

These homeowners needed the greatest surface area possible for a desk, four drawers of file storage, a couple of open shelves for books, several closed cupboards for household guides, and a television. It was a tall order for a small space.

The only way to accommodate it all, including the desk, was to make everything integral to the room. In an all-or-nothing plan, efficiency and good judgment are the capital virtues.

We decided on an L-shaped configuration, locating the desk on the room's west wall, and working with the architect to position correctly the windows above it. The height of the desk (29 inches) determined the height of the lower cabinetry on the adjacent wall, enabling us to incorporate four substantial file drawers at the base of the millwork wall. The 10-foot ceilings allowed for tall upper cabinetry, which included shelving for the television and bookcases and the two large, closed cabinets on either side.

Why the integrated pin board?

It's usual for home offices to look messy; pin boards contribute more than their share of disorder if they're not well proportioned to the space. In this case, with such a streamlined design, it was critical we didn't stop short on the pin-board. We designed the frame's profile to be the same as the wall panelling and sourced "self-healing" corkboard in a colour that matches the wood stain beautifully. It's slightly over the top, I'll admit, but now the only thing that draws attention is what's on the board, and that's up to the client.

Why the over-scale light?

High ceilings in a small room are great for extra storage, but designing high carries the risk of overemphasizing a small room's verticality. We wanted to counter this by filling some of the overhead volume with an oversized drum light. We considered using a bright colour, like orange, but decided it would draw the eye too much and distract from the chromatic harmony of the room.

This simple drum light has a double shade – the exterior a translucent brown organza, the interior ivory. It adds an intimate, layered effect to the room. And the drum, in concert with the puck lighting under the cabinets, provides ample lighting for the tasks at hand.

Why the modern chair?

One modern element in a traditional space is a wonderful tonic. Here, the white modern chair does the work of contemporizing the space and leavening its atmosphere. And it has another important function: contextualizing the Apple computer.

In traditional-looking office spaces, especially those where every element is true to the genre, a modern machine can look strange. We solved that by giving it a friend to share the load. The two modern pieces give strength to the room's aesthetic sub-theme, and swing it back into balance.


Flooring: Karelia Hardwood Flooring,

Drum Light: Robert Abbey,

Chair: Lider Office Chair,

Bone Box: The Cross,

Blue storage boxes: Room in Order,

Hardware: Bradford Hardware,

Blinds: Hunter Douglas,