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Designing your residential or commercial office space

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Chalk it up to an anemic job market or an upsurge in entrepreneurship, or both, but a surprising number of Americans are taking firmer control over their collective career fates and starting their own businesses, often working out of home offices or small commercial office spaces.

American businessmen and women spend an average of eight or more hours a day, 40 or more a week and 2,000-plus a year at their jobs. When investing that much time and energy, they need a comfortable, functional work environment that promotes productivity, safety and efficiency.

Entrepreneurs ready to launch a new business out of the home or those already established in a home office who want to take the next step and move into commercial space, should be aware of several key elements when engaging in the process of planning and furnishing their office set up.

According to Lucretia Fabian, a business and home furnishings consultant for IKEA San Diego, the primary objective when designing and furnishing an office is organization.

"We're big believers in the old expression, 'A place for everything and everything in its place,'" Fabian said. "You'll want the work space properly organized so the different elements work well together instead of having things randomly thrown together that don't necessarily function well."

For example, if you use computer and office equipment like fax machines, copiers and scanners, you'll want to locate the equipment, file cabinets and office supplies nearby your desk to create good workflow, which saves time and improves efficiency.

Some key considerations when designing and organizing a work space include determining how many will be using it, whether there will be other uses for the space -- such as a guest bedroom doubling as an office -- the primary purpose the space will be used for, and what items the user already has that can be incorporated into the space.

"This process helps you decide what you can keep and what you'll need to add to the space," Fabian said. "It helps determine what new items you'll need to match to existing ones, and also how to gauge the configuration of the space you have available."

The first step is to make a list of items you'll definitely need to fit in the workspace, followed by those you'd like to add if space allows. Then take overall measurements of the space and make a rough sketch that includes room dimensions and locations of all doors, windows, electrical outlets and phone jacks. Play around with furniture and equipment location until you have a layout that is functional and accommodates all the desired elements.

IKEA also offers an online planning tool that can be downloaded for free that helps users plan out their workspace while simultaneously providing cost estimates on items they have selected in their design.

Once the layout and budget have been determined, said Fabian, the decorating can then begin in earnest. The rule of thumb, she said, is always begin this phase of the process by positioning the desk in the room first.

"The desk is the nucleus of every office work space and will determine how much additional space is available and where you'll be able to place other items in the room," she said. "It's usually the biggest piece of furniture, so it takes up the most space. But it also will determine to a large degree the style and color of the other complementary furnishings and equipment in the room."

Essentials of a well-organized workspace include the desk and chair, filing cabinets and ample storage, preferably with doors that can conceal clutter. Fabian said some people mount kitchen cabinets on the walls to store supplies out of the way and free up prized floor space, but filing cabinets and storage units can be placed anywhere there's extra space.

"Under the desk is a good spot for a filing cabinet," Fabian said. "It's wise to get one with wheels, which makes it easy to move around or slide under the desk to conceal it. You can also use the top of the filing cabinet as a printer stand."

In addition to proper storage capabilities, lighting is extremely important to reduce eye strain. Fabian suggests using a combination of task or spot lighting from a halogen desk lamp and soft overhead lighting to achieve a nice balance.

Natural light from windows can brighten a space considerably, but if using a computer, avoid placing the desk in a position that can cause glare on a computer screen. The desk should be positioned so that the windows are to the left or right of it to reduce glare and distractions.

Seating is another important furnishing consideration, especially for those who spend a fair amount of time working at computers.

"If you use a computer a lot, you need a good chair that is ergonomically designed," Fabian explained. "This is one area where you don't want to cut corners. Big cushy chairs look nice and seem comfortable, but they don't provide adequate back support. It's smart to sit in the chair and test-drive it for a little while before purchasing."

Look for chairs that have built-in lumbar support, adjustable height and adjustable tilt to suit workers' size, posture and tasks.

For the sake of both safety and aesthetics, Lucretia cautions against having phone, computer and other equipment cables running everywhere. These can be easily gathered together and run along baseboards, or can be placed in cable management systems that use relatively inconspicuous narrow tubes to contain errant or excess wires and cables.

According to Fabian, some of the more common pitfalls people make are taking inaccurate measurements or none at all, failing to take into account details about the space such as location and height of windows, and simply not knowing how they want the space to function and what should be included in it.

"Whether a one-person office or more than one, people should know they don't have to do it all themselves," Fabian said. "There are lots of tools and resources available out there to help and they should take full advantage of them. It's so much easier when they don't have to run around to multiple places and can take care of everything from start to finish all under one roof."


Ellman is founder of Beck Ellman Heald.

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