The way we use our homes is changing. Whether you run your own business, work freelance, have children who need somewhere to study and surf the internet or need a space to keep on top of personal admin, a home office space is an essential addition to any modern home. 'It's all about using your home in a different way,' says Judith Tugman of Architect Your Home. 'I get real pleasure from working and being at home. I love the fact that I can make myself a decent cup of coffee, put the washing on and enjoy the view whenever I feel like it.' More affordable computers, faster internet connection and the advent of Wi-Fi mean it's now even easier to connect to the outside world, but it's still crucial that you plan your office space effectively. The perfect home office should look as good as the rest of your home, but, of course, be practical, ergonomic and functional, too.
When working from home, it's important to remember some basic ergonomics. Sitting badly can raise the load on your lumbar discs almost 200 per cent, compared to standing. Bending forward for a long time is also damaging, so a good chair is a wise investment (try Vitra for design classics or, if you're on a budget, Ikea). BCA chiropractor Tim Hutchful has this advice: Make sure you sit back into your chair so your back is supported. Knees should be slightly lower than hips, to put your spine into a neutral position. Stick to a desk-top computer rather than a laptop as it has a screen at eye level. If you have a laptop, invest in a stand so the screen is at eye level to stop you stooping (you'll also need a USB keyboard). Having your arms supported will take the strain off your neck and shoulders. If you can't, remember to take regular breaks (five minutes every 40 minutes).
Assess your needs
No matter how large or small your space, it's important to plan carefully. Before you begin, sit down and make a comprehensive list of the things you are likely to need and how you are going to use your office. Consider who will be using the office - will it just be you, or your family as well? Are you using it for business or purely for personal admin? Are you going to invite clients into the space? Are you going to be working by yourself or will the office need to accommodate another person? What equipment are you likely to need? A computer, printer and telephone are the most basic requirements of any office space, but you might also find you need further pieces, such as a fax machine, scanner or laptop docking station. Will you need shelving for reference material such as books and magazines, or space to archive papers or past projects? Designers may require plan chests, or you may need lockable cabinets for expensive or sensitive equipment. Always overestimate the amount of storage you think you'll need. Get the light right. Poor lighting can cause eye strain and if the ambience is flat, it can make you less productive. Ideally you need lots of natural daylight, preferably from windows, not skylights. Additional general lighting will also reduce strong contrasts. How do you want to present the space? Should it look neat and orderly, or contemporary and creative?
Super Small Places
If you only use your computer or desk for short periods at a time, then you may be able to accommodate a desk and chair in a redundant nook such as a hallway, landing or under the stairs. Long hallways often have lots of potential for storage space in the form of floor-to-ceiling shelving. An alternative is to stash your office essentials in a purpose-built cupboard. A well-designed system can easily house a PC or laptop, and when the work is finished, the whole lot can be shut away out of sight. For a bespoke design, log on to ratedtradesmen.co.uk to find a joiner who can tailor a space to your exact requirements. Alternatively choose a neat, freestanding office-in-a-box or a bureau that you can take with you when you move. 'Well-thought-out storage is of course, an essential part of any office,' says Judith Tugman. 'It's vital to be able to access equipment and files easily, and everything should have its own space. But I do think that when you have finished working, everything should then be stowed away neatly so it doesn't become a continuous part of your life.' Dual Purpose Rooms Whether it's a desk tucked away in a quiet bedroom, a laptop set up in the kitchen or a work station in a living room, this type of home office needs to integrate seamlessly into its surroundings. Take a leaf out of chef and full-time mum Sophie Conran's book - she has an open-plan living space, which also serves as an office. A long table provides plenty of desk space, and a bank of unobtrusive Vitsoe shelving ensures her reference library of books and magazines are all to hand, as well as all her filing. When clients visit the house, the oversized dining table also doubles up as somewhere to hold meetings.
Dedicated home offices
If you work at home on a full-time basis and have loads of work-related paraphernalia, then devoting an entire space to the cause is a sensible plan, as a cramped work area can become depressing and counter-productive. Consider converting a spare bedroom or even the attic, both of which are often fairly separated from the hub of the house, which means a peaceful and quiet working environment - particularly handy if you've got kids around. 'We have lots of customers who want to convert a bedroom or small space into a study,' says Daniel Nelson of Vitsoe, whose flexible 606 shelving system, conceived in the Sixties by Dieter Ram, is a design classic. 'In this sort of situation, we always try to encourage people to build upwards with their storage instead of sideways (which is what people tend to do). This way you can make the most of a relatively small space.' For alternative super-slick storage and home-office solutions, Neville Johnson and Hammonds can all fit out a space with bespoke office furniture.
If you're a home worker who simply can't squeeze an office into your existing space but have room outdoors to spare, it may be worth investing in a separate structure. In order to make sure your outdoor office performs all year round, it's worth asking a professional for advice. Get in touch with Riba for a list of qualified architects in you area. Alternatively, contact a specialist company such as The Garden Escape. Architecturally backed, they can supply a fully appointed structure that meets all building regulation standards, including connecting electrics up to your property, installing and networking the phone line and broadband in an ultra-fast two weeks from start to finish. They can even install washrooms, loos and showers if you need them. Prices start at around $17, 500 (and remember, if you're self employed then work-related expenses are tax exempt). Now for the science bit When working at home, a really speedy internet connection is top of most people's wish list. If you're running a business from home and have other people working with you, you may also need to network PCs and printers in order to share files. If computer science was never your best subject, companies such as Geeks on Wheels and The Mac Daddy can not only help you set up your wireless network, back up your data or even just get your printer working again, but can also advise on the equipment you will need and even supply it - a blessing for technophobes everywhere.