December 22, 2008

Home Office Design Tips

Use these ideas to create a home office that works for you, from choosing the right room to buying a desk, chair, filing system and lighting.

Creating a comfortable and functional home office is easier than you might think. All you need is a plan of action and some helpful guidelines to get yourself started. In this Design Lesson, we’ll take you through the entire process of setting up your own home office. These tips are also handy if you only require a small family work space for household management or school projects.

Choose a site

Your first and most important decision will be choosing the location of your home office. The space you select can be its own room or part of another living area. Here are a few spaces to consider:

The Attic

  • Provides privacy, space and a view
  • Side walls may supply good seating space even if the ceiling isn’t high enough for standing
  • Must meet provincial building code requirements for head space and loads; may be expensive to renovate to meet structural and working needs

A Finished Basement

  • Offers privacy and quiet for concentrated work; can shut door to rest of the house
  • Good choice as amenities are typically present
  • Can be damp and cold with low ceilings

A Spare Bedroom

  • Makes an ideal office space, offers privacy, access to natural light and electrical outlets
  • More likely to offer ample square footage for a desk with computer and storage needs

A Closet

  • May be a candidate if you do not require a large space
  • Work surface and storage can be easily incorporated
  • Can be easily hidden away behind a closed door when not in use
  • May not accommodate privacy

Master Bedroom

  • Convenient location, privacy needs can be met if space not used during the day
  • Sleeping and working areas can be separated with a screen
  • If bedroom is shared, may disrupt others, especially at night


  • Best suited for household management work
  • Can be comfortable with good lighting
  • Near food preparation and accessible to other family members so chance of damage to equipment or materials

Living/Family Room

  • Suitable if you’re able to create a work corner away from other activities
  • Simple to organize
  • Offers little privacy

Dining Room

  • If dining room not used on daily basis this is a popular choice
  • Dining room table provides good work surface
  • May require extra maintenance to keep tidy when not in use


  • Only if space is not used for automobile storage; good idea if you require large space and privacy
  • May need renovations to make comfortable
  • Can be expensive to insulate and make weather tight


  • Can design space from scratch to meet requirements
  • May take a long time to construct
  • Is expensive and should be well-planned

Separate Structure

  • Can be an existing garden shed, artist studio or pool house
  • Can be expensive if built from ground up
  • Costly to maintain with separate heating/cooling, electricity, etc.

Assess your needs

Once you have decided on a location for your home office, compile a list of all your equipment and furniture requirements to help determine the layout of your space.


  • Potential requirements include : computer and peripherals, telephone, printer, scanner, fax
  • Determine amount of space needed and location for all equipment


  • Workstation, chair and storage are basics
  • Consider locations of electrical outlets and phone jack (if needed) when laying out workstation


  • Good lighting is essential in a workspace, types include ambient, task and accent lighting

Plan your space

Most workstation configurations are determined by the position of the computer (if one is used). Computers should always be placed with the screen facing away from windows to prevent glare and eye strain. Several typical workstation configurations include :


  • Work surface and storage furniture are placed against a wall side by side.
  • Useful layout for user who does not require access to many materials or equipment at once
  • Uses least amount of floor space

Corridor style

  • Desk and credenza are positioned parallel to one another with a corridor between them
  • Credenza is used for filing and surface top can provide storage space for office equipment (fax, copier, etc), books, magazine butlers, etc.
  • For maximum functionality of this configuration, the minimum space between the desk and credenza should be 42”


  • Desk modules are configured to create L-shape
  • Corner of the “L” is typically used to accommodate computer monitor
  • Adjacent worktop surfaces supply ample space for spreading out
  • Suited to computer work
  • Stations can measure from 6’ x 6’ to 10’ x 10’


  • Desk modules are configured into U-shape
  • Practical configuration if conference space needed
  • Takes up a lot of floor space

Select a desk

There are many options to choose from when selecting a work surface. Select a desk that will most comfortably support the type of work that you do. Here are a few types of desks to consider:

Computer Desks

  • Designed specifically to support computer work
  • Variety of shapes allows for work surfaces to be used together in different configurations (in-line, L-shaped, U-shaped)
  • Available in modules that can be configured to desired size
  • Can be added onto in the future

Built-in Desks

  • Work surfaces are customized to fit existing space
  • Smart space-saving solution
  • Can be customized to fit specific work and storage needs; design can be integrated seamlessly into a home’s existing style

Traditional Desks

  • Usually larger than office furniture; typical size is 30” d. x 60” l.
  • Supplies large space for spreading out work
  • Best suited for home management than computer work

Work Tables

  • Almost any type of table can be used as a desk
  • Ensure that height is comfortable for type of work performed
  • Work table types include : kitchen tables, dining room tables and drafting tables

Shop for the right chair

Your chair can be an expensive yet important part of your home office set-up. Depending on the amount of time you will be spending at your desk working, look for a chair that provides firm support and adjustability. For maximum mobility, chairs with a five-star base and casters allow for easy movement between work surfaces. Always test-drive a chair before you purchase it. The most common work chairs include :

Executive Chairs

  • Typically have a high back with arms
  • Tend to be wide in size
  • Not necessarily the most comfortable chair when used over a long work period

Task Chairs

  • Available with or without arms
  • Typically designed with a lower back than the executive chair
  • Better suited for performing computer work than executive chairs
  • Look for chairs with adjustable arms, seat and back

Kneeling Chair

  • Ergonomically correct chair with no back — user sits in a kneeling position, with knees resting on a cushion to keep back straight
  • Not recommended as primary seating

Add storage

You can never have too much storage, so be sure to plan for future needs when making your selections. Most office-style storage products are made of pressed steel and should have smooth finished edges. An increasing number of products are being made from plastic and MDF. Storage products come in stationary or mobile models. Typical storage includes:

Lateral Files

  • Easier to use than vertical files
  • Depth is approximately 19” with widths between 30” and 42”
  • Take up more floor space than vertical files
  • Only one drawer opens at a time to prevent tipping
  • Available in one to five drawer heights

Vertical Files

  • Various heights available depending on number of drawers needed
  • Depths are 14” to 25”

Flat Files

  • Deep wide drawers accommodate large scale sheets of paper
  • Commonly used by architects and designers


  • Can be purchased ready-made or custom-built
  • Allow for display of books, binders and other materials for easy access
  • Available in a variety of materials including MDF, wood and steel

Wall-mounted Shelves

  • Inexpensive and easy to install
  • Can be mounted anywhere on a wall
  • Underside provides surface for mounting task lighting

Miscellaneous Storage

  • For items that are used frequently, bulletin boards, small storage boxes and cups or pretty glasses make handy storage containers

Layer in lighting

Good lighting is essential in a workspace to prevent eyestrain and headaches. To adequately meet your lighting needs, a variety of sources should be used together. There are three types of lighting to consider for your home office:


  • Ambient lighting provides a uniform level of light to a large space
  • Several ambient lights are preferred to a single ambient light: Use recessed down-lights, flush-mounted pendants, large hanging pendants, or track lighting
  • A dimmer switch allows for easy variation of light level


  • Task lighting concentrates illumination over a specific area
  • Adjustable task lamps are a popular method of supplying task lighting
  • Halogen or fluorescent fixtures can be mounted beneath shelves or cabinets to provide task lighting over a work surface
  • A desk lamp should be positioned so as not to create a shadow on your work


  • Creates ambiance, not absolutely necessary for a workspace
  • Common types include wallwashers, hidden soffit tubes, and table lamps