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Home, Sweet Office Creating A Work Space That Works Can Be Challenging

Fri., Jan. 6, 1995

One of the more unusual introductions at last June’s NeoCon, the international exposition for office design held in Chicago, was a “pod” that looks like a prop from a sci-fi movie. Called Computer Space One, the 4-foot-wide, 7-foot-long and 4-1/2-foot-tall elliptical cocoon is crafted from maple solids and veneers, with an upper part of translucent plastic.

Designed by Douglas Ball for New Space Inc., a division of Gilbert International Inc., it is made to be climbed into as you would a car. The idea is to close the door and shut out distractions. Everything in it, including low-voltage diffused light to eliminate glare from a computer monitor, an air circulation system and a seat that moves back and forth on a track like a rowing machine, is self-contained.

If the pod seems a bit impractical (and costly, at $6,000), it illustrates the scope of a growing problem. Of the 40 million people working at home - that’s 38 percent of U.S. households - most don’t enjoy the luxury of a separate work space.

Designers Tom Newhouse and Don Shepherd, who work out of studios in their own homes, investigated the inherent problems of the home office while visiting about 40 of them from coast to coast as part of a two-year research project.

The designers had experienced the conveniences as well as the hazards of combining work and home firsthand, but they still were flabbergasted at the clash of home and office cultures.

“The collision of home and office was so literal, so physical - everything was all jammed in together,” Shepherd said. “The reality may be nurturing a sick child in the same room where you’re writing the corporate report. Socks in one drawer, files in the other.”

Newhouse and Shepherd were commissioned by Herman Miller, a leading manufacturer of office furnishings, to create its first office collection for the home.

To take office furniture into the home market, the company researched work habits and office requirements, and tested its prototypes in real-life situations. The collection was launched in June exclusively at Crate & Barrel stores. A second collection designed by Jean Berise has just been introduced and is expected to be widely available soon.

The TD Collection (named for Tom and Don) consists of components that can be combined to fit a variety of spaces. The desks, storage cabinets, bookcases and various accessories such as bins, adjustable keyboard tray and work organizers, are sized, shaped and finished to fit any room or area in the home. This includes guest rooms, master bedrooms or the corners of family or living rooms and, of course, rooms dedicated solely to office use.

What distinguishes this group from other “systems” on the market is that it is crafted from solid hardwood - cherry. The design is characterized by a Shaker-like simplicity that Newhouse says looks comfortable “sitting next to traditional Duncan Phyfe furniture or very high-tech modern sofas.”

The TD Collection has troughs and channels to contain and conceal the tangle of cables that flow from computer, telephone, fax machine, printer, modem, scanner and surge suppressor.

Despite the highly functional nature of the furniture, the collection has an appealing sculptural quality. The desk is only 25 inches deep and the diagonal return (to complete an L-shape) is a little under 20 inches, to accommodate an articulating keyboard. The basic 45-inch-wide, 29-inch-tall desk has optional drop leaves, which more than doubles the standard width from 42 to 92 inches, and a display, which expands the depth from 25 to 36 inches.

A product guide walks the buyer through the components of the collection, which range from about $200 for a printer shelf to $1,500 for the big desk with drop leaves. The pieces are fully described and 13 floor plans are suggested for three situations: shared private space, such as a master bedroom; shared common space, such as a living room; or a dedicated space, one converted solely for office use.

Herman Miller isn’t the only office furniture manufacturer to jump on the home office bandwagon.

“We think it’s a really booming market,” said Ken Tameling of Turnstone, a subsidiary of Steelcase Inc.

Turnstone, which was launched in May, includes two desk styles in two sizes (30 inches wide by 48 or 60 inches long), stackable storage cabinets (including lateral files with drawers) and a technology cart on casters that has an open back for printers and fax machines and a flip top for easier access to printer papers.

The line, which is available through Steelcase dealers, a toll-free telephone number and a catalog, is offered in melamine and wood veneers (mahogany or cherry). Prices range from $139 for the storage cabinet to $400 for a desk.

Since a warm look is so coveted, some manufacturers such as Techline, which is known for its versatile component systems, are expanding their lines to include pieces with the look of solid hardwood.

Techline’s newest designs combine cherry, maple and oak veneers with laminate, available in four neutral colors.

One modular system of black laminate with cherry veneer is shown tucked into an 8-foot-long hallway at the top of the stairs. The 5-foot desk ($559) with hutch ($192) has an under-desk computer holder ($72) and retractable keyboard tray ($58). It’s flanked by a pair of 12-inch-deep bookcases with heavy-duty shelves ($250 each) and a floating pedestal file on casters ($300).

For those who prefer more traditional styling, the Bombay Company offers pieces finished in mahogany with Chippendale details. The desk has a front door that folds down to hold a computer keyboard. Three locking drawers include space for files. Hardware is brass-plated and lacquered to prevent tarnishing. The desk sells for $499.

A companion bookcase has an adjustable shelf and can sit on its own base or a matching credenza. The credenza has two drawers with removable, adjustable file racks and brass-plated hardware. The bookshelf plus base costs $358; the credenza, $499.

In addition, there’s a table designed to accommodate a computer printer or a TV/VCR. It has an interior shelf with space for cords and a paper slot in the back. The piece measures 29-1/2 inches high by 24-3/4 inches wide, is 16 inches deep and sells for $179.

Mixing styles for a lived-in, layered look with personality is just as effective in the design of a home office as it is in other rooms of the home.

“You might have a wall of built-ins that is very slick and simple and team it with a fabulous antique desk,” said Denise Caringer, interior design editor for Better Homes & Gardens, “or a bookcase that resembles fine furniture might be put together with a slick laminate desk.

“By the year 2000, it’s projected that 50 percent of homes will have home offices. People who work from home are looking (at the situation) holistically. Work life and home life are one and the same.”

Some of the products mentioned can be found in or ordered through local furniture stories, or they can be obtained from the following sources:

Crate & Barrel, 725 Landwehr Road, Northbrook, IL 60062-2393; (800) 323-5461.

Herman Miller for the Home, 855 E. Main Ave., P.O. Box 302, Zeeland, MI 49464-0302; (800) 646-4400.

New Space Inc., a division of Gilbert International Inc., 459 S. Calhoun St., Fort Worth, TX 76104; (817) 921-5331.

Reliable HomeOffice, P.O. Box 1501, Ottawa, IL 61350-9916; (800) 869-6000.

Techline, 500 S. Division St., Waunakee, WI 53597; (800) 356-8400.

Turnstone, 3528 Lousma Southeast, Wyoming, MI 49548; (800) 887-6786.

MEMO: See sidebar that ran with this story under the headline: Tips for making your home office cozy

See sidebar that ran with this story under the headline: Tips for making your home office cozy

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