Home office brings fridge and family near

This article originally appeared in the Commercial Appeal on Jul. 25, 2013

Whether she’s doing research for her day job or paying bills, Diane Jalfon likes to stay connected to her family when she works from home. Her “office” is a nook that’s tucked behind French doors in a hallway that leads from the master suite to the kitchen.

“It’s the size of a closet — very compact, very efficient,” said Jalfon, executive director of the Memphis Library Foundation. “It’s a concentrated space specifically for work, so in that sense it really fits the bill. But it’s very central in the house.”

Jalfon and her husband, Daniel Weickenand, use the office nook regularly. Their two teenage sons, however, cart laptops from room to room. The family represents many American families who are using their homes as much for work as for play.

As a result, home office spaces are evolving as quickly as technology itself.

“Everybody works differently,” said architect Joey Hagan, a principal with Architecture Inc. who worked with Jalfon and Weickenand on a renovation of their East Memphis home. “Some people prefer to be comfy, sitting in the living room with their kids watching television, with the dog barking, and working. Myself, I can’t do that. I have to get away and have peace and quiet so I can concentrate.”

In his own house, Hagan has a full-fledged office — one he uses only for work.

“When it’s time to work, a lot of people need to, quote, go to work,” he said. “They

get out of bed, get in the shower and go into the office — it’s a separate room.”

That’s true for many people who do all or part of their jobs from home. When Gretchen Ledgard set up her Seattle-area home office, she included a whiteboard and visitor’s chair — “the whole deal,” she said.

“I even kept my old door nameplate and put it on the door,” Ledgard added. “I generally kept that door closed when I wasn’t in there so I wouldn’t get stressed if I looked in.”

Between 2005 and 2010, the number of people who worked at home at least one day per week grew from 7.8 percent to 9.5 percent of all workers, an increase of more than 2 million, the U.S. Census Bureau reported.

And with technology making it easier than ever to conduct business remotely, even people who work primarily outside the house find themselves answering e-mails and doing research at home.

Jill Hertz, a partner in Memphis-based Jill Hertz Interior Design, said these work-style changes mean clients’ needs are “all over the board” when it comes to home office space.

“It depends on what they do and how they do it,” said Hertz, who gravitates to her kitchen and breakfast room when she works outside her own office.

Some clients request a specific table and an outlet near a favorite chair in the living room so they can work in the midst of the family chaos.

Others — and this is a request both Hertz and Hagan are hearing repeatedly — want office hubs in the kitchen.

“We’ve been doing these for, like, 15 years,” Hertz said.

“It’s nothing new. But I’ve noticed as I’ve been going back and redoing homes and reassigning spaces that (clients) are actually using these desk spaces off the kitchen.

“It allows them to be centrally located and deal with their children or their guests or their families, and it’s right there in the hub.

“They didn’t use them before, but now they’re using them.”

Hagan calls these spaces “kitchen centers.”

“Everybody wants a computer in the kitchen these days for recipes,” he said.

“It also becomes the mail center in the home and doubles as a place for kids to do homework while parents fix dinner, so they’re part of the group. It’s serving multiple functions.”

These spaces work well for families who use their home office spaces occasionally, and for multiple functions.

However, millions of Americans work from home full time, and that number continues to grow for a variety of reasons.

Dr. Heather Hardison, a Collierville-based clinical psychologist, moved her practice nine months ago from an office she shared with other professionals into her home.

“The market kept getting worse and worse, rates were going higher and so many people kept moving out that rent was going to be triple next year if I’d stayed,” Hardison said.

“I decided to take the plunge and give myself a year to see if I could make it work. If not, I knew I could always go back into the office world.”

In the space of a week, Hardison and her husband converted a former workout room into an office, adding crown molding, moving furniture and carefully replicating her old office in the new space to keep disruptions to her business at a minimum.

Once inside, her clients barely noticed the difference.

“When people come here, a lot of times they forget this is even in my home because it looks just like my outside office,” she said.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised by hearing people say when they leave, ‘Oh yeah, I’m in your house.’

“So many have said it’s more comfy and intimate and quiet here, and they actually prefer it.”

In Hardison’s case, her furniture needs were specific for her professional environment.

But in all types of home offices, ergonomics is a top concern, said Gayla Hobbs, senior account manager at APG Office Furnishings.

“A lot of people have back trouble,” said Hobbs, noting that pieces like the Herman Miller Envelop desk, which features a sliding mechanism that brings the desk forward to the user, and stand-up or sit-to-stand desks, are gaining popularity.

“Our bodies are not meant to stay in a seated position all day long. It creates a lot of fatigue, and it’s not healthy.”

Hagan said tech-friendly furnishings, like chairs and sofas with docking or charging stations, “furniture islands” with built-in workstations and chairs that incorporate fold-down desktops are coming onto the market for residential use.

“You’re seeing a lot of that stuff in airports and travel stations these days,” he said.

“The home office environment is starting to borrow trends from that industry.”

Hertz recently had a table custom made for a Nashville-based executive who wanted a home workspace that didn’t cut her off from the parts of her house she likes best.

Part desk, part coffee bar, the Parsons-style table includes a grommet to hide cords.

“She wanted it to be like an eat-in dining space, but she also wanted to be able to plug in her laptop and work from home,” Hertz said.

“She calls it her ‘perch.’ She works there, but she’s also able to have breakfast and enjoy her new kitchen.”


Image courtesy of the Commercial Appeal