Home offices: Balancing work and life

This outbuilding, designed by Rentschler and Co., combines a writer's studio and recreation area. — Photo courtesy of Rentschler and Co.

The electronic age trend toward working from home, at least part of the time, is particularly noticeable on the Vineyard where summer visitors often bring work with them and former urban dwellers have found it feasible to relocate to the Island.

“The Vineyard has grown so much over the last 10 years because people are now able to work from home,” said Julie Robinson of Julie Robinson Interiors. She and other local designers have found ways to accommodate clients who are placing more emphasis on home offices and expressing more interest in making a live/work space as inviting as possible.

Designer Mary Rentschler, who runs her own business, Rentschler and Company Interiors, from home, believes in investing a little time and money in the space that will command a good deal of your time.

“It’s like buying a good mattress,” she said. “You sleep one third of your life. You work, maybe, one third.

“Your state of surroundings affects your state of mind. The more it [a home office] functions and suits someone the more contented they are to think the higher thoughts. There’s got to be stimulation, air, inspiration.”

However, finding a balance between functionality, comfort, and aesthetics can be a challenge.

New York trained interior designer Lisa Benson starts with the basics. “I need a space that is going to be able to accommodate all the electronics and the wires in a neat and clean way,” Ms. Benson stressed. “It gets complicated. I put a real focus on trying to hide the wires.

“The next thing I really focus on is a really good ergonomically designed chair. People spend a lot of time at their computer – sometimes more than they realize.”

She recommends to her clients her favorite office chair – the classic looking Eames aluminum management chair, which was developed in 1958 for a house designed by 20th century Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen and can be purchased in an array of upholsteries including many shades of fine leather.

Privacy and quiet are the next considerations for Ms. Benson and the fact that the chosen space may not naturally afford either. For an office that is going to share space in a room, Ms. Benson said, “Sometimes I do a sliding wall door. Sometimes I do just a screen. Sometimes people just need that visual barrier.”

To address the noise issue, Ms. Benson often recommends headphones or earplugs.

Annie Parr, of Island Interiors, has designed home offices for clients ranging from stay-at-home moms, to people working part time in their homes, to those with full time home businesses.

“It’s really important to create a break from home life,” she said. She stressed the importance of a physical barrier – either a door or a screen, “So when you’re at work you can have a healthy break and you can close your day at work and leave and actually enter your home again.”

Organizing is essential

Compartmentalizing your life is important to Ms. Parr, who said, “You don’t want an office to get absorbed into one big chaotic mess. It’s important that you make the transition from one space to another clear so when you’re doing something in one space you’re not stressed out by what’s happening in another room, like a sink full of dishes or an unfinished workload.”

Ms. Parr notes that one of the challenges she often faces is discouraging people from what’s often the first choice for an office space – the bedroom. They don’t take into account the stress of waking up and going to bed with it. “Getting the office out of the bedroom has saved more marriages,” she added.

Once the essentials are taken care of, the client can start individualizing his or her space. Here, the challenge is creating a space that’s functional but not, what Ms. Rentschler calls “antiseptic.”

Ms. Benson suggests using baskets for organizing work, rather than filing cabinets. “I hate filing cabinets,” she says. “If I have to use one, I make sure it’s on wheels.”

Ms. Parr suggests using a console or sideboard in place of a filing cabinet. “I really believe in built-ins and hiding things,” she said.

Ms. Benson notes that lighting is an area where you can express a personal style. “Your desk lamp is important and it can be the item that really reflects your taste. It can be a ceramic lamp from Chilmark Pottery or something with a high tech look.”

According to Ms. Parr, “In general, men like streamlined. Women prefer comfort and more fun twists.” For one client, a recent widow with young children, Ms. Parr paid a lot of attention to a space that the woman would be using for a work situation that also needed to accommodate her kids.

She used furniture in fun, bold fabrics, a stylish rug and wallpaper, and added a fanciful custom made chandelier. She positioned a big comfy chair by a window that a child could curl up in and included cubbies with easy-to-grab art supplies for occupying restless kids. When the children were older, the individual cubbies were used to store school materials and other things that needed their mother’s attention.

Instead of a utilitarian bulletin board, Ms. Parr helped her client design a large message board covered in coordinating fabric with trim and large, colorful tacks. “Plastered or empty it looked fantastic,” she said.

Of the end result, which Ms. Parr described as “a jewel box but not over the top,” she said, “It really makes a difference when you spend eight hours of your day in a room. We did such a beautiful job of making it soft and inviting and kid-friendly. Of all the rooms, that was the one that really warmed my heart – helping her to manage life and work solo.”

Fit for clients

For people who may have clients dropping in, Ms. Parr strives for a more professional look and also tries to tailor the look to the business.

“I talk about their image and make sure the look fits. I might play off their logo with colors,” she said. But even the most corporate look needs life. “I’m all about plants – even if it has to be faux plants.” She also recommended other stimulating elements such as artwork, because, “You need a visual break when you take your eyes off your desk for a second.”

“You want it to be almost like you’re doing your home,” Ms. Robinson suggested. “Use a nice rug and comfortable chairs and art on the walls. You want it to be both professional and attractive.”

Ms. Rentschler just recently redid her home office and didn’t hesitate to splurge a little on it. “The benefits to having your office in your home financially are major,” she said. “You write off a good deal of your house. You have one electric bill, one heating bill. It’s great. I felt justified in sinking some money into making it more functional and more aesthetically pleasing.”