With the right tools and foresight, your home office can be your haven.
When Holly Dunn began working from home alongside her husband, Michael, it wasn’t long before they knew their cramped basement office was due for a dramatic overhaul. “I realized we didn’t have a space for anything. I just had an Ikea desk,” Michael recalls. “We needed a place where we could do our business and do it well.”
The pair run Dunn & Associates, a PR firm, from their home in Halifax. Renovated from a garage into a basement in the 1960s, the Dunn’s space needed a lot of work. Wanting a professional office open to clients, with room for a family area and storage space, the couple turned to architect Rayleen Hill, owner of Rayleen Hill Architecture and Design in Dartmouth.
“It was a small space that needed to do a lot,” Hill says. She began the work last July, converting the basement over the next four months from a retro rumpus room into a unique and welcoming multi-purpose office.
Stepping in through the door, the space looks like a sleek living room. A flat-screen TV hangs on a textured brick wall, facing a bright red couch, a matching leather ottoman and a stylish rug. “The rug is black and white to match the dog’s shedding fur,” Michael smiles. Just beyond the seating area is the office, which features a long wraparound desk with shelving along the back wall. Behind the brick wall is the second section of the basement, which has a chic wine bar area and a bathroom. Keeping with the Dunn’s wish list, part of the space still functions as a traditional basement for storing family items, tools and muddy shoes.
The office is funky and streamlined, elevating it from the sterility and dullness of many basements. “It’s the drywall box problem,” Hill says. Rich in texture and colour, the basement office is warm and inviting. Holly credits Hill for visualizing the space. “I said, ‘I like your aesthetic—go,’” she says.
Hill used original materials with a touch of the new. She stripped down the wall dividing the two sections of the basement to expose the bricks and painted the office and living room walls dark blue. An exposed Douglas fir beam on the ceiling gives a rustic look while the birch heated floor gives the space a warm glow.
Holly wanted a modern space that wouldn’t look dated in 10 years. With that in mind, Hill gave the permanent fixtures, like the desk and cabinets, a neutral palate. The Dunns can update the furniture, paint and accessories easily with new colours and textures.
Intertwining different colours and materials in your office can be challenging. Beverly Barrett, an interior designer in Moncton, New Brunswick, says you can avoid that by choosing the furniture first and matching the paint afterwards. “Paint comes in a thousand different colours, so that’s the easy part,” she says. She suggests sticking to neutral colours that will match anything. Keying a colour (adding grey to the original) can tone down the hue, allowing it to blend with its surroundings.
Practicality should come before the decoration. Know the size of the area you’re working with and what it must include. “Make a floor plan before you buy the furniture,” says Barrett. With the measurements in hand, you’ll know the size of the furniture pieces before you bring them home.
In her 30 years working in interior design, Barrett has seen homeowners overlook important features. “Wiring is the biggest—it can be a mess if you have to keep adding extension cords,” she says. “It’s well worth hiring an electrician to make the space more usable.”
Having enough outlets will make lighting your area much easier. Stand-up lamps are great for small spaces and side lights give all-around brightness without needing overhead lights. Pin point lighting is ideal for highlighting certain spots in your space. Windows for natural light are always practical, but keep other options in mind if you work at night.
When working from home, create a division between your work space and your home life. “The most important aspect to creating a home office is to have a dedicated work space,” says Colette Robicheau, a professional organizer with Organize Anything in Halifax. “You don’t want to be running all over the house to find your supplies,” she says. Hill agrees that home-life can creep into the office, adding that if the line between the two areas isn’t well defined, “sometimes it feels like you’re always at work.”
To avoid that problem, the Dunns designed their office differently than the rest of their house. While their house has a French country look, their office is streamlined and contemporary. “When I come down here I’m ready to work,” says Holly. “It’s a mental switch.” Whether your home office is a nook under the stairs or a separate room, you’ll need to find a way to keep it business-oriented. “This is a place to make money and to motivate you,” Robicheau says.
The Dunns took care to separate the different uses of their office space. “We still come down here to watch a movie together,” Michael says, “and our daughter has sleepovers down here.” While the living room and office walls are dark blue, the bar and bathroom areas are deep brown, almost black. “I wanted to differentiate,” says Hill “The spaces have a different service.”
A stylish home office can also reflect your personality. “It’s all about knowing your personal style and working with it,” says Robicheau. Barrett encourages homeowners to be patient when deciding on office décor. “Take time to find styles that work for you,” she says. “Be creative…get the basics in the office, work in the space, see what you’re missing and add to it.” The Dunns added a personal touch by using the same dark-blue wall colour on their business cards.
Don’t limit yourself to run-of-the mill office furniture. A good piece can be a vintage table or other offbeat item—just make sure it has light commercial durability to withstand the wear and tear of daily use. A good office chair is key but “reupholster it and make it your own,” Barrett advises.
Ultimately, understanding your work style and personal taste will help you create a functional and inspiring home office. “If you need to see everything laid out, have a desk and then a separate work table,” Barrett says. “As long as you have the basics, it will work.”