A home office is usually relegated to the periphery of the home. It's a room nice to have, the thinking runs, but it might be tucked up in the attic or down in the basement, somewhere out of the way.
A recent project in British Columbia's rugged interior required something different, however. The housing development, designed to appeal to retirees and empty nesters, eliminated any up-down travel – everything had to be tucked in on the main floor.
That meant figuring out how to fit in a large entertaining space, guest room, home office, master suite and laundry all in 1,600 square feet. With our project partner, Poss Architecture, of Aspen, Colo., we took a novel approach to the hard decisions around fitting a home office into such a tight design. Here is how we pulled it off.
The big idea
Whenever you want to cram a lot of functionality into a small space, the first question is always, "What goes overboard?" Here, the clear answer was to eliminate the floor-plan-gobbling hallways and dividing walls. That got us the broad entertaining space we wanted, and the adjacent laundry and office now doubled as corridors – the former to the garage, the latter to the master suite.
We embraced the idea for a couple of reasons. The office would act as a sound barrier between the living room and master suite and the proposed location allowed the office to have a large north-facing window with a beautiful view.
The big spend
It's no wonder that dressing a home is called staging: Design and theatre both shape perception (and shade emotion) by what they show and what they hide. Our big reservation about eliminating dividing walls was that the doorways to the laundry and office would be plainly visible on the main wall of the living room. A backdrop of doors and drywall, we felt, lacked design coherence and would seem too improvised.
Our solution was not to run away from the problem, but toward it. In a larger space, we would have tried to draw attention away from the doors. Here, by replacing the original swing doors with sliding barn-style models, we were bidding to make the wall worthy of attention. The doors – hung on special hardware recessed into the ceiling – now appear as great slabs of white oak gliding across the wall from floor to ceiling.
The big save
Our original plan had been to custom-build all the millwork in the office: a large desk below the window and a run of cabinetry on the wall behind it. During the cost-cutting phase of the build, though, it was clear that we would need to make some sacrifices to bring it in on budget. Able to keep only one, we decided on the run of cabinetry (and floating shelves above it) over the desk.
Our reasoning was simple: It is easier to find an attractive stand-alone desk than a simple storage solution that does not look like institutional furniture.
Sacrificing the built-in desk saved about $3,000; and we picked up a wood-and-iron alternative for $800, pairing it with a modern chair for contrast. With everything in place, the team agreed that the rustic desk gave the room a certain warmth the sleek original did not.
My greatest concern in putting the office between the living room and master suite was that it might feel neither here nor there – not a place you could settle in and spend hours working on something.
The key to establishing the office's sense of place was to distinguish it from the rooms flanking it. Our approach was unusual: to make it visually fuller than the other spaces. (Convention generally dictates that small spaces be visually undemanding.) We pulled together prints and photographs in varying sizes and shapes and placed them randomly on the back wall from floor to ceiling. Their large white mats contrast nicely with the dark walls, giving the room a hit of brightness.
On the shelves, we kept to our curatorial theme, laying out a selection of photos, books and objects. Now, instead of no-place, the office becomes a time capsule of individual expression – a place where all is on display, not tucked away.
Kentwood, Originals Brushed #30349, Oak Kalispell, www.metrofloors.com
Paint for walls
Ever Classic, Pratt & Lambert, www.prattandlambert.com
Paint for ceiling and trim
ProWhite, Pratt & Lambert
Kelly Deck is a principal designer in R. Kelly Deck Design in Vancouver.