December 2, 2008

How To Set Up An Office In A Finished Basement

Q. I have a room in my basement that I would like to turn into an office. The room measures 9’ by 9’ and has a floor-to-ceiling height of 8’6”. The existing flooring is loop pile carpeting in a tan colour. The walls are painted in a sand tone and the ceiling is stuccoed white. The room has two windows and there is a door on the west wall that opens against the south wall. I could use some help in designing the space efficiently as a comfortable home office with space for books, a substantial work surface and computer desk. I also need some advice regarding colour and window coverings.

— C.B.

A. There are really two parts that will contribute to the effectiveness of your home office: furniture and equipment selection and planning. One of the first things you will need to consider is a desk. In your case, an L-shaped desk is the best choice. Specifically designed to support computer work, this design has a curve on the inside corner to accommodate the depth of a computer screen. Another desk option would be a typical rectangle shape, but be sure to get one that is between 30” and 36” deep so that you won’t be sitting too close to your screen. Typically, your work surface should be 29” from the floor. Be sure to check that there is nothing to impede free movement when you are seated. Many newer desks have casters to make reconfiguring simple.

If you plan to use your office for long periods, having a comfortable chair is essential. You don’t necessarily have to buy the most expensive chair, just one that provides good support. Look for an office chair with adjustable height and back. Casters will allow you to maneuver easily. When seated your feet should touch the floor and your legs should be flat against the seat.

For your books, choose a bookshelf that accommodates more than what you already have and place it within close proximity of your desk. Consider some type of filing cabinet for storage of paper and equipment. Some filing cabinets are also available with casters. Display regularly used items neatly on your desktop.

Proper lighting is important for concentrated work. Situate your desk near natural light if possible. But be sure that no light hits your computer screen directly, which will cause glare. Place your desk so that your computer screen is at a right angle to the window. For writing, get a good task light with an adjustable arm and ensure that your room has proper ambient lighting.

For finishes, it would be best to keep what you have for the time being. You want to have a space that is light in colour to reflect the maximum amount of light. Using dark rich colours in a basement will make it seem cavernous. Use your budget for good furniture and equipment and, if necessary, change your finishes later. The best window covering choice would be horizontal blinds. They are inexpensive, look modern and provide great control of light. When planning your space, be sure to arrange your furniture so that you can freely move about. As well, try not to place yourself with your back to the door. Remember to check for electrical and phone outlets when determining furniture layout.