Developers say that most folks looking at new construction don’t have much use for a formal living room. They’re very interested, however, in having a home office.

Over the past ten years, the number of Americans who work from home has grown exponentially. Some estimates put the number at upwards of 20 million people who now work from home at least part of the time.

The IRS has recently loosened it’s requirements for a home office deduction. No longer does your home office have to be the only place that you have an office. It just has to be a place where you do a substantial amount of work.

But just because your employer gives you leave to work out of your bedroom doesn’t mean you can lounge all day in bed. Working in your pajamas is a home office pipe dream, say some home workers. For most folks, it just doesn’t cut it.

To be productive at home, you need a routine and a home office that offers privacy, security, and plenty of storage, say designers. When creating a home office, keep these ideas in mind:

Technology is king.

If you can’t communicate (whether by phone, fax, email, or voicemail), it will be hard to get anything done. Make sure you have at least one extra phone line (and preferably two, if you get a lot of faxes or use the Internet frequently) so that you don’t tie up your home line with business calls.

Having a segregated phone line or two is a standard business deduction that really pays off when it comes time to leave your home office behind at the end of the day, experts say. You can rig your new line to ring only in your office. When the office is “closed,” you can turn off the ringer and not be disturbed in the rest of your home.

If you frequently use the Internet for your business, you may want to pay for a service that will give you a speedier Internet connection, like DSL, an ISDN, or a cable modem. Some of these will require special wiring. An electrician who specializes in installing high-tech systems can help you figure out what you need.

Make it cozy, but useful.

It’s your home, not a 25-story steel and glass building. So you want your home office to reflect you, not your employer.

Before you run out and choose an antique wood desk, think about how you intend to use the space. Do you to build out the closet to provide filing space? Or, do you need shelving to house your samples or inventory. Does your business require a lot of paperwork? Do you need bookshelves? Or do you need to install other kinds of equipment?

Will you have frequent visitors? Do you need conference space? Can you solve this with a couch and table or do you need a desk that can be turned into a conference table to seat 5 or 6 clients.

Once you figure out how you’re going to work in your space, you can buy furniture that walks the line between office and home. Do you have a space problem? Is your home office space in an unusual shape? Hiring a carpenter to build in a desk and bookshelves might solve some of these issues.

Before you run to your nearest office supply shop for a standard issue desk and chair, take some time to look through decorating magazines, and some local furniture stores. The home office market has grown enough to make the furniture solutions much more interesting than they were even five years ago.

Making your home office work 24/7/365

Often, home workers discover that their home office has to serve multiple functions. It may be an office during the day, a computer/homework center for the kids at night, and a guest room overnight. (You may lose some or all of your home office deduction, if you are taking it, if your home office has other uses. Consult a tax advisor for details.)

If your home office environment needs to fill various jobs, consider buying furniture that works double duty. If you’ll have people sleeping in your office over the weekend, consider a futon couch that turns into a double bed. Or, buy a new Murphy bed, that looks like a cabinet, but opens up into a double or queen size bed.

Some European furniture companies make coffee tables that can grow taller and bigger and serve as conference tables or desks. At night, they shrink back down to service your overnight guests. You may even want to put some of your furniture on casters to make it easier to get out of the way.

By thinking through your home office uses ahead of time, you’re more likely to end up with a working environment you can easily live with.

Published: Nov 13, 2000