It doesn’t take much to set up a home office. No matter what the business, most folks can make do with a table and chair, computer, fax and telephone. Oh, and some storage space is always helpful.

But while bare bones may appeal to your budget and timetable, those who have the ability to actually design a home office that truly meets their needs, and is aesthetically pleasing to boot, typically end up with something special.

Creating design ideas for your home workspace is the subtitle of a new book by Neal Zimmerman. “At Work At Home” offers more than 225 pages of design ideas, all of which are illustrated in beautiful four-color photographs, sure to make your home office the kind of place you’d be happy to spend most of your day.

The central idea Zimmerman proposes is to create a space that provides balance between home and office, work and leisure. The design must be useful, with every ounce of space used creatively, but also beautiful. The ideas and solutions presented in the book are invigorating.

Zimmerman begins the book helping the reader identify his or her needs, and which location on the property will be the right one. “It’s one thing to make the decision to work at home, but quite another to create a home workplace that’s just right for you,” writes Zimmerman.

Makeshift workstations are giving way to a variety of well-equipped spaces that are specifically designed for their occupants’ work requirements and neatly woven into the fabric of their homes,” he adds.

Zimmerman says that the most successful home offices have three basic features in common. First, they balance work life and home life in a way that is harmonious for everyone sharing their working and living environment. Second, the workplace is planned and well organized.

“Third, a successful home workplace has a personal spirit about it, which is a reflection of its occupant,” writes Zimmerman. “It’s this personal spirit that stimulates home workers to do their best work.”

Sounds easy, but in practice combining these features is difficult. Zimmerman proposes ten questions that the home office user can ask before setting up his or her work space, including: How much space do I need? Will I have visitors, and where will I meet them? Is there enough space for storage and conferencing? Will there be adequate utilities (power, lighting, heat/cooling) to satisfy my personal and equipment needs? And, and much time and money will it take to build my home office?

Creating a home office means creating a sense of separation from the rest of the goings on in the home. Zimmerman points out that without privacy and protection, it will be difficult to work productively in a home office – Especially if there are children in the house.

Although experts believe more than 50 million Americans work out of their home, many cities, villages and towns have ordinances prohibiting homeowners or renters from working out of their residences. Or, you must register with town hall and pay a fee for a work-at-home license.

Zimmerman suggests that before you spend any time or money developing your home office ideas, you should find out whether you can operate legally in your location. If you have employees, you may need to investigate parking and building-safety issues, and what type of signage, if any, will be allowed.

While having an extra bedroom or first-floor den is the perfect spot to set up many home offices, rooms today are often multi-purpose. So a home office may turn into a guest bedroom on occasion. Or, a family den may be the backdrop for a business operated when the kids are in school. If you are sharing space, everyone needs to know the rules about when they can and cannot intrude on the space before you install your computer.

Zimmerman also delves into niche spaces, such as how to create a home office out of a nook, alcove, closet, hallway, stairwell, or loft. He also includes a chapter about adding on a rear or side addition, or converting an existing outbuilding, like a detached garage or barn, into a home office. And, as befitting an author who is also an architect with a couple dozen years of experience, he includes photos of his own home office.

With running commentary that gracefully points out the highlights of the home offices featured in the book, Zimmerman proves an able guide to setting up a home office that works for you.

“At Work At Home: Design Ideas for Your Home Workplace,” By Neal Zimmerman; Taunton Press, $29.95.

Published: Oct 17, 2003