Working from Home means Outfitting your Office with Great Furniture
By Vick Sanderson
Survey the 1.8 million Canadians who work from home, and they’ll cite as perks the ability to avoid rush-hour traffic, spend less on an office wardrobe and — in many cases — stay home with a sick child without causing an international business crisis. On the downside, the home office is too often treated like the cottage: furnished with whatever is no longer good enough for other rooms in the house.
As more and more people work remotely, the second-class, second-hand status of home office design and decor is changing, says Thien Ta Trung, owner (along with his sister My) of Domison ( www.domison.com) a furniture designer and manufacturer that launched an office or “contract” line last fall.
“You don’t need a scientific study to tell you that the environment you’re in affects the way you work. That’s why corporations spend money, time and effort into creating the right atmosphere. They know it affects performance,” says Ta Trung.
The four pillars of office furniture are a desk and chair, storage and — ideally — at least one side chair, either for clients, occasional collaborators, or a reading/thinking spot.
How these elements are put together will affect both your enjoyment of work and your productivity, says Steve Cascone, vice president of consulting services for Mayhew ( www.mayhew.ca), a Markham-based office design and furniture company.
Partnering with a professional at the design stage can help avoid common missteps, says Cascone. “A lot of people, for example, just don’t allocate enough space. If it’s a single individual and they don’t meet with clients, a 10-foot by 10-foot room is probably sufficient. But depending on how you use the space, you may need more.”
Mayhew works primarily with corporate clients, but individuals can access flooring, window treatments and furniture lines from such makers as Knoll and Steelcase by working with one of Mayhew’s interior designers, the cost of which runs between $75 and $125 an hour.
Both men think the best home offices are distinct from the rest of the house. “You should feel like you’re stepping into another world when you go through that door,” says Ta Trung.
Cascone suggests that without a separate niche devoted to work, the business and personal worlds can collide. “In those cases, they both tend to suffer, in my experience,” he says.
As the second-generation owner of Klaus, which designs its own line of home and office furniture and distributes high-end, high-design lines from a King St. E. location it has occupied for 44 years, Klaus Nienkamper believes, understandably, that good design matters for every room in the house.
But while he concedes there’s merit in the separate room rationale, Nienkamper adds that for some it makes more sense to create a space that works for business by day, and family during off hours. For that, there are pieces such as a “Two Top” desk Dutch wunderkind Marcel Wanders designed for Moooi ( www.moooi.com). It has a conventional tabletop surface that flips up to reveal a work space.
New desks offer other kinds of flexibility, says Cascone. “Some people like to change their posture, to sit for a few hours and then, say, make their phone calls while standing. For them, we have height-adjustable tables.”
In more conventional desk design, it’s hard to beat the meeting of form and function found in the line of desks designed by Marcel Breuer in the 1930s that Nienkamper carries.
Those whose taste leans toward the edgier might consider a piece from Castor (local design team Brian Richer and Kei Ng), who sell a witty, pretty desk with mismatched legs through Nienkamper.
Storage is key, either in the form of a console, or shelving, or both. Ta Trung advocates for consoles. “When you have stuff scattered all over in plain view, it’s hard to focus on your work.” he says. Those less sensitive to mess, or who need easy and frequent access to materials, might opt for something open, like the Arie Regal shelving by Arik Levy Nienkamper offers, which can be used both for storage and as a free-standing room divider, possibly to “define” work space.
Ta Trung also thinks a second chair which the home office worker can use while reading or making calls is a good investment. Just don’t make it too deep or too soft. “You don’t want to fall asleep in it,” he laughs. As an example, Ta Trung points to his own Corian chair, a simple, clean-lined unadorned piece that offers equal parts support and comfort.
All three agree there’s a trend toward better-built pieces made from “real” materials, such as wood and metal, and a shift away from plastic. “But then, I think disposable design is pretty much over,” says Nienkamper, “for every room in the house.”