PITTSBURGH — Suddenly a lot of people are working from home, and some are wishing for a dedicated home office. Local designers and a productivity expert have lots of tips on how to turn a corner, a closet or the kitchen counter into your work space.
Basically you want to create a space that reflects how you work and how productive you want to be, says Nettie Owens, a Pittsburgh-based accountability and productivity expert.
“There is no perfect setup that works for everyone. But one thing you should think about when setting up your home office is who you want to be in that office,” said Owens, CEO of Sappari Solutions, which works with small business owners and entrepreneurs nationwide.
Betsy Wentz, owner of Studio B Interior Design in Sewickley, is working from home and says it can be as easy as pulling a console table and chair into a room. Wentz was selected to design a room in the prestigious Kips Bay Palm Beach Designer Show House earlier this year. She has created work spaces ranging from a desk at the bottom of a staircase to a work station along a bank of windows to rooms used only as home offices.
“Make a dedicated work space so you aren’t tempted to move from room to room,” she says.
You’ll need to separate yourself from the rest of the household. Use a vanity table, desk or any usable flat surface where you can pull up a chair, Wentz says.
“Even a large center hall table can be recommissioned as a desk.”
Her own work station is close to her kitchen. “With four active children and two working parents, it made the most sense for me to have my desk area — which is basically a large island open to the kitchen — where I spend a lot of time,” Wentz says. “It enables me to be present with the family while keeping an eye on schedules, bills, calendar and work.”
When choosing a room, Owens suggests starting with avoiding what distracts you. “It could be certain smells, bright colors, bright lights, interruptions or clutter that disturb you. So make sure to plan for and eliminate them.”
Currently, she and her husband both work from home while tending to children ages 10, 12 and 14, two with special needs.
“What I found works is getting them set up with an activity and then we are all working at the same time,” she says.
Designer Becky Jarold of B. Jarold and Company also has a dedicated work area in her kitchen. She chose this spot for the view and the light.
“The position of the desk and computer facing the door is so that I have a lot of light and can look up from my computer and see what is happening outside,” she says.
Jarold takes care of emails in the morning and catches up with contractors and vendors. She works on the design aspects of her projects in another office in the basement.
A work space must reflect your needs, she says. “Does your work space require paperwork and computer or other items? How big is the computer, printer and other equipment that you need to do your job? I sometimes need two computers side by side and then a side return for paperwork, for example.”
Susan Muschweck of Susan Muschweck Interior Design in Pine has done many home offices for clients. Some are unused dining rooms.
“I typically turn formal living rooms into office spaces, which is a wonderful use of square footage,” she says.
She is now working with her staff remotely from a dedicated room on the first floor of her home. “It’s a self-contained room with a window, a full closet for storage and right near a bathroom and exit to the outside. ... I am not a fan of second-floor offices.”
Decks, porches and other outdoor spaces can work, too, Muschweck says.
“The stay-at-home order has made it possible to segue into the spring and summer season seamlessly by getting a jump on setting up exterior spaces and having them fully operational once the warm weather descends upon Pittsburgh.”
Designer Allie Dolnack, who works with Muschweck, moved her office to the garden on a recent sunny day.
“While working from home, even the best designed office can start to feel confining, making the creative process difficult,” Dolnack says. “Since we’ve been experiencing some beautiful spring days, getting outside into the fresh air and sunshine really helps to recharge the creative drive.”
Owens, the productivity expert, says home workers must be realistic — goal-oriented rather than time-focused.
“It’s important to worry less about how many hours you put in and more about how much you accomplish, and if you have accomplished what is expected,” she says. “Even when you are working in a real office, on the very best days you only do about six hours of focused work in an eight-hour day.”
While working from home can be challenging, it can also be productive and even entertaining.
“Spring is popping with the early flowering trees in full bloom along with the daffodils and forsythia,” Muschweck says. “The directive of stay at home gave me the opportunity to cross off many to-do list items, cook more meals than I’ve even done, and occasionally sit and watch the neighborhood parade of dogs walking by from my window.”