When Smaller Is Smarter

When Smaller Is Smarter

WHEN SMALLER IS SMARTER

She’s 59. He’s 61. And their kids have finally moved out for good!

 

Retirement’s just around the corner. Their 2,700 square foot two-story served its purpose well, but it’s been too big for the two of them for years. They want to build a new home. Something they can live in for a long time, maybe forever. What’s it look like?

We discovered the answer, along with a builder who’s become a specialist in meeting the needs of age-in-place buyers, in the picturesque Pennsylvania town of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Max Marbain built 77 town homes and 120 one-story, single-family homes from 1,200 to 1,800 square feet, specifically for downscaling empty nesters, retirees and an ever-growing sector of home buyers -older single women. The setting for these homes is Marbain’s 65-acre development of Evergreen. Featuring relatively small lots that offer simple maintenance for homeowners, Marbain designed Evergreen as a cluster development and incorporated aesthetic open spaces and walking paths to allow his buyers community interaction and recreation.

We recently spoke with Max to glean a few of his insights into the wants and needs of home buyers who are looking to build one last time.

The Ashley features long views to the sun room from the entry.

Design 2907, The Ashley

DBI: What is the age range of your clients?

Max: Typically, in the single detached homes, they range in age from 50 into their 70’s, maybe even the 80’s. In the town homes, they tend to be older and more single women. Pennsylvania has the second largest population of people over 65, so we have a unique situation. Most of our buyers are from the area, or have come here to be closer to their children. However, with aging baby boomers, this will be a very viable market across the country.

DBI: What do age-in-place buyers want in a new home?

Max: Open space and plenty of natural light, even in smaller homes. And of course, convenience! I always look for open floor plans with lots of light. Many of our windows are oversized and I put either cathedral or vaulted ceilings in the living spaces to give an illusion of a larger space. Also, I require the garage entrance to lead immediately into the kitchen so residents don’t have to carry parcels very far. And the kitchen must open into a living space. Since we have very few people looking for separate living and dining rooms, that becomes the primary spot for entertaining. They also want a relatively large dining area for the family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

DBI: Are large, opulent master suites important to this market?

Max:: Unlike younger demographics that are used to luxurious master baths, most of our buyers are moving from older homes where that wasn’t the standard. Our bathrooms are not exceptionally large, although we generally have two sinks, a tub and a shower plus the commode.

DBI: Do your homes meet universal standards for accessibility?

Design 2761, the Mayberry

Max: We don’t make our homes completely accessible unless the resident requests us to do so. But because all of our homes are one-stories with wide doorways and hallways, they can be adapted later if the need arises. We also put a low-thresh- old shower stall in the master bath so the older buyers don’t have to get in and out of tubs.

DBI: Storage is no doubt important for these buyer who have accumulated a lot of things over the years. Are there special ways you meet this need?

Max: All of our single family detached homes have two-car garages which often accommodate storage needs. Plus, our garages feature pull-down stairs which allow them to store Christmas decorations and other things they only use once a year. For those who have greater storage requirements, we have some lots that will accommodate basements. But actually, most of our residents are ready to simplify their lives. They want to get rid of things; they don’t want to carry a large accumulation of things with them.

DBI: What about “swing rooms, ” bedrooms becoming hobby rooms or workshops or offices? Is that something you see a big demand for?

Max: Yes, typically most of our homes have three bedrooms and buyers often convert one of the bedrooms into a study or a sewing room or some- thing of that nature. But I haven’t had anyone request a 4-bedroom home.

DBI: What about sun rooms?

Max: They are very popular. We often have people request a screened porch and I always tell them that it doesn’t cost that much more to build a sun room. Once they realize that, they usually opt for a sun room because it makes such an attractive leisure space.

DBI: Are security features an important issue for this market?

Design 3260, the Kirby

The Kirby’s den and 2nd bedroom offer plenty of flexibility for age-in-place buyers.
Max: We have offered alarm systems, but I can’t think of one person who has put one in. Evergreen has a small town type of atmosphere that feels very safe. The community is compact and everyone knows everyone else, so if anything strange went on, the neighbors would know. So people aren’t concerned about that. Even our snow birds haven’t put in security systems.

DBI: The issue of maintenance is important to these buyers. Are your homes 100% maintenance free?

Max: About 99 and 44/100% -like Ivory soap. About the only things they might have to paint on
the exterior are the front and rear doors; the rest is either vinyl or aluminum. That definitely is one of the things people look for. I do have a landscaper who will sign an individual contract if someone is going to be away for a long period, but most of the people enjoy doing a small amount of yard work them- selves.

 

DBI: Are there any keys to your success we haven’t touched on?

Max: The name of our development (Evergreen) symbolizes the kind of community we’re building, with an image of permanence, long life, sunny days and green surroundings. We’ve listened to what our buyers want -and this is basically it: People this age want a sense of space, light and one-story ease now and for the future. And even if they are single, they want a double garage for storage. Finally, we haven’t gone overboard on price: our single detached homes run from $160,000 to $200,000, which often allows for a significant financial cushion after the sale of their previous homes. It’s definitely an example of smaller being smarter.

The Entertaining Kitchen

The Entertaining Kitchen

Many of the best times of our lives revolve around being with family and friends. Whether it’s hosting a formal get-together, holiday dinners or your children’s birthday parties, the kitchen is the hub of activity. A little extra attention spent planning flow, layout and product selections will reward you with a kitchen that is more functional and efficient.Many of the best times of our lives revolve around being with family and friends. Whether it’s hosting a formal get-together, holiday dinners or your children’s birthday parties, the kitchen is the hub of activity. A little extra attention spent planning flow, layout and product selections will reward you with a kitchen that is more functional and efficient.

Due to the popularity of today’s open floor plans with kitchens in full view, designing kitchens is all about zones related to the flow of activity. Kitchen design is being further refined by an emerging knowledge of how layout and product choices can actually help reduce stress, particularly while entertaining.

Storage is the initial zone, because you want items to be stored in places convenient to where they will be used. For example, you’re going to want storage for your good dishes, glassware and silverware near the serving or dining area, such as a butler pantry.

It’s also essential to reduce clutter, ease accessibility and arrange items in an organized way. Include some roll-out drawers or trays. Drawer inserts keep small items, spices, silverware and utensils organized. But what about small, frequently used appliances? Countertop appliance garages for blenders,toasters, and coffee makers may be just what you need. On the other hand, if you want to keep your counter space free, consider going underneath the counter. You can include a pull-out mixer shelf, which comes out of the cabinet and swings up – bringing your heavy mixer even with the countertop.

The food preparation zone depends on lots of counter space, plus close proximity to the refrigerator, range/oven and pantry. Ideally, this is a separate space from the serving area, allowing both areas to function simultaneously. If you have a smaller island in your kitchen which will be used for food preparation, keeping the countertop a uniform height will provide the maximum work space. If your island is large enough to accommodate different levels, a 36-inch work level will be appreciated by bakers, while a taller side(usually 42 inches) shields work clutter from view and accommodates bar stools.

“The breakfast drawer”, with electric outlet wired at the back of the cabinet, so there’s no need to ever have the toaster cluttering the countertop. photo courtesy of Medallion Cabinetry

Your cooking zone, convenient to the food prep area, is centered around your cooktop and ovens. Two cooks in the home will require more utensils, pots and pans, so plan storage accordingly. In addition, you may opt for separate counter spaces, cooking areas and sinks. Common ovens and waste containment may need wider corridors around a central work area.Your cooking zone, convenient to the food prep area, is centered around your cooktop and ovens. Two cooks in the home will require more utensils, pots and pans, so plan storage accordingly. In addition, you may opt for separate counter spaces, cooking areas and sinks. Common ovens and waste containment may need wider corridors around a central work area.

If you are considering an island with cooktop, make sure there is sufficient room next to the cooktop to place large items, such as a big pot of boiling pasta. Also, warming drawers are great features for entertaining. They allow you to warm multiple dishes simultaneously.

Some serving zones are more formal, such as a built-in buffet in the dining area or a butler’s pantry along the path from the kitchen. For casual entertaining, islands or peninsulas may be just the ticket. If your guests are usually adults, consider a 42-inch height for the serving bar area. Your eating zone may consist of a formal dining area, an informal breakfast nook, a snack bar or some combination of all three. Many folks find themselves dining at a snack bar and rarely using their dinette. If that’s you, carefully consider what height best suits your family. If you have small children, they won’t be able to get up on higher stools (or worse yet, they may fall off of them)!

Clean-up is the final, but very important, zone when planning for entertaining. As two sinks have gained popularity, so have second dishwashers. In front of sinks, consider a small tilt-out tray to keep sponges and pot scrubbers out of view. Another item that can reduce clutter in your entertaining kitchen is a liquid soap dispenser that comes up through the countertop next to the sink. What about trash? Typical solutions have been the unsightly tall kitchen wastebasket openly on display (or a smaller wastebasket under the kitchen sink). Besides having to bend over to use the latter, ever notice how much stuff misses the wastebasket? Opt for a pull-out wastebasket tray in your base cabinetry.

Beyond how our kitchens flow, there are several other major considerations, such as ease of cleaning and durability. Think sinks, countertops, flooring and appliances. Laminate countertops offer the greatest variety in colors, patterns and edge finishes. They don’t require special cleansers nor do they need to be re-sealed every year or two. While aesthetics and price may be the top influences for kitchen flooring choices, scratches, everyday wear and low maintenance are major de-stressing aspects. Will spilled spaghetti sauce or grape juice stain the flooring? (Darker colors of grout for tile floors are increasingly popular for this very reason.) Will heavy or sharp items accidentally dropped damage the floor? Flooring choices in adjacent areas also play a large role in kitchen flooring, as many of us prefer a continuity of floor covering (which makes the entire area feel more spacious).maintenance are major de-stressing aspects. Will spilled spaghetti sauce or grape juice stain the flooring? (Darker colors of grout for tile floors are increasingly popular for this very reason.) Will heavy or sharp items accidentally dropped damage the floor? Flooring choices in adjacent areas also play a large role in kitchen flooring, as many of us prefer a continuity of floor covering (which makes the entire area feel more spacious).

A recycling center housed within a base cabinet is ideally located close to the kitchen sink, because many containers need to be rinsed out first. photo courtesy of Medallion Cabinetry

Appliances are one of the first items you and your guests see in the kitchen. Are the surfaces easy to clean, especially the oven/range tops and inside the microwave? How about the exterior finish? The stainless steel look has been quite popular, but it attracts fingerprints like a giant magnet. Look for new finishes which don’t show fingerprints and are easy to clean.

Quiet is an often overlooked aspect of a dream kitchen. Few things are more annoying than having to vacate the kitchen just to hear each other talk. Pay special attention when selecting your dishwasher and kitchen vent/hood. Some models are actually so quiet you’re not even aware they are running! Almost universally, people describe the amount of light in their kitchens as inadequate. A light, bright and airy kitchen is de-stressing for you, your family and your guests.

As kitchens have become more open to adjacent areas of the home, they are benefiting from increased levels of natural light coming from these areas. More recently,glass block or small traditional windows are appearing between kitchen counter backsplashes and upper cabinets.
Today, recessed ceiling lighting has replaced the standard light fixture approach common years ago. Task lighting concealed under the upper kitchen cabinets offers a pleasant light level and helps reduce eyestrain. While you might want all available light when preparing dinner, controlled light levels are much more comfortable for everyone later in the evening.

Pay extra attention to where electrical outlets are located. Only you know how you intend to use the kitchen, so don’t leave it up to the electrician’s imagination where to locate outlets and switches. (Then there’s cable TV and the internet. Plan now where wiring needs to go).

Whatever lighting approach you choose, make sure you’re in control. From window coverings to dimmers, lighting helps establish the mood for your next get-together. Finally, consider decorating and how you reveal who you are through what you display and how you decorate your kitchen. Most women use words
such as “comfortable” or“ homey” to describe their dream kitchen. Color choices throughout can have either an exciting or a calming effect. Do you decorate according to the season? Is there space above the upper cabinets for display niches or plant shelves?

We cherish relationships. We take pride in a functional and orderly kitchen. With a little extra forethought and planning, our kitchens will beckon to entertain a simple family dinner or an extravagant gala!

www.Merillat.com – Merillat Cabinets website.

Cooking, Cleaning, & Rejuvenating… 10 years later

Cooking, Cleaning, & Rejuvenating… 10 years later

by Nita Hull 

HOUZZ® + www + HGTV® = ___?___ Housing Consumers

What is the most significant change in housing in the last ten years? In my observation as a space-planner, it is the homeowners themselves! Easy access to inspirational photos + access to live or post-construction experiences and product/material reviews + entire television networks dedicated to housing = SAVVY consumers. The house designer becomes a trusted adviser more than an educator of options. What are well-informed women choosing for their kitchen, laundry room and bathrooms?

 

KITCHEN TRENDS

OPEN LAYOUT. A by-product of kitchens being open to the entertaining area is the desire to hide messy aspects of food preparation/clean-up and cooking odors. This has spawned a combination walk-in-pantry/closed mini-kitchen located off the primary kitchen, dubbed the “work-in-pantry” by Design Basics LLC, containing a sink, and possibly a refrigerator. Some clients prefer a Wok or Fry kitchen with a sink, range, tiled walls and heavy-duty ventilation, others a kosher kitchen. The interior designer’s role has become significant, as visually, kitchen selections need to blend harmoniously with those in adjoining spaces.

Since the dominant kitchen layout philosophy – the working triangle (the connection between the refrigerator, stove and sink) was based on a single cook in an isolated room it has given way to designing “zones” for storing, food preparation, cooking, clean-up etc. Identifying the triangle is still invaluable as a tool for assessing flow in and through a kitchen plus dual triangles anchored by a second sink facilitates multiple cooks.

Author and kitchen design expert, Ellen Cheever, has noted a fresh take on open kitchen design she calls “The ‘Live-In’ Kitchen Concept” which places the kitchen in the center of the overall living area. She says that this ‘floating’ approach allows various people-related activities to occur along the perimeters of the space; people gathering ‘around’ instead of ‘in’ the kitchen, resulting in “cooking theatre” –others observing and socializing but not getting in the way of the cook. An island is typically the stage for the ‘show’.

ISLAND CENTRAL

The peninsula has given way to an island in medium to large kitchens because it dramatically improves traffic flow. Islands must have a minimum of 42 inches (48-54” is better) between the island and cabinets against the walls, measured between the counter top overhangs. Frequently the primary sink is placed in it, enabling the person working there to see into surrounding rooms and out their windows.

Note: NEVER place the sink right at the end of an island. The primary sink must have counter space on both sides to function properly. I have had clients in tears describing what it is like to NOT have counter on one side and have seen several ugly make-shift attempts to add flip-up counter space out of sheer desperation! Since a huge island can overwhelm a kitchen and the center be difficult to reach for cleaning, two smaller islands are preferred in larger kitchens. CAUTION: If you are forced to walk around an island to get from the sink to the refrigerator, frustration will soon set in – consider adding a second sink.

APPLIANCE CHANGES

In 2013 you are less likely to find a cook top in an island than in 2003 because ventilation for today’s professional style cooking appliances needs the shortest path with a minimum number of turns to move air efficiently. This is accomplished by placing the range on an outside wall if possible. Island hoods making a space feel less open (downdraft ventilation is an alternative) and fears of people sitting too close to sizzling or steaming food are other deterrents.

During the last decade the French door fridge has overtaken the market place, accounting for about 70% of fridge sales for primary kitchens according to Major Appliance Consultant, Brent Campbell at Sears. Pros are the attractive symmetrical look and shorter door swings intruding less into traffic paths. Cons include having to use two hands to open two doors before you can access some of the produce and meat bins, as well as either an open or shut door is always blocking immediate flow from the fridge interior to counter top landing space. Despite their space-saving benefits, combination microwave oven/vent hoods have lost favor because of their height, reduced ventilation capacity, inaccessibility to children and need to reach over hot burners and steaming pots to use it.

 

CABINETS

MORE DRAWERS.

We are less tolerant now of getting on our hands and knees to fish out items from our base cabinets! The bank of 3 drawers affectionately known as ‘pot drawers’ is being repeated throughout the kitchen. Astute buyers are quick to notice when a builder skimps on drawers and interpret it as a signal that shortcuts are being taken to save money. Full extension drawer hardware is preferred because it allows easy access to the entire contents of the drawer.

FEWER WALL CABINETS.

Reducing the amount of wall cabinets to double the window area or increase a feeling of openness is gaining in appeal as are soft-close hinges –no more door banging! Extending wall cabinets down to the counter top judiciously is in favor, often hiding counter top appliances. An ingenious vertical door lift hinge finally solves the unsatisfactory appliance garage door conundrum!

RECYCLING CENTERS.

Increased recycling is the way of the future. Look for easy to-grab removable containers in pull-out base cabinets because they need to be emptied frequently.

PULL-OUT CABINETS.

Full-height and base-height pull-out cabinets have become enormously popular because they tuck into narrow spaces and items in them are easily accessible.

A separate main floor laundry room shortens your trips to change loads and facilitates hearing the signal buzzers.

Daylight makes any activity more enjoyable. photo courtesy of Velux USA

 

LAUNDRY PREFERENCES

Having moved away from being the first thing you see when you step into your house from the garage, laundry rooms are being located where the bulk of soiled clothes are generated –close to the bedrooms. If you place the laundry on a second floor, consider it mandatory “insurance” to install a floor drain (not just a drip pan under the washer) for protection against the agony of water damage from a leaking hose or pipe! Since doing laundry can be noisy, buffer it with closets, hallways and bathrooms or soundproof the walls. A separate main floor laundry room shortens your trips to change loads and facilitates hearing the signal buzzers.

Adding a wet or dry clothes hanging rod is in demand as are fold-down ironing boards. A base pull-out cabinet beside the laundry team allows for comfortable access to detergent, etc. rather than reaching high up into a wall cabinet over the machines. Provide natural light wherever possible. Measure carefully if you want to place a folding counter above a pair of front-loading machines because it frequently turns out to be uncomfortably high. Time has shown that a front-load washer door must be left ajar for a few hours after use to dry out the rubber gasket and prevent smelly mold growth. Since the open door can be problematic if your laundry machines are placed inside a closet, consider an internal or external sliding door if wall space permits.

Art and high tech are equally represented in this fabulous shower. photo courtesy of Kohler

BATHROOM VOGUE

Freestanding soaker tubs, often sculptural in design are taking center stage in owner’s en suite bathrooms. Be sure to sit in the tub in the showroom before you buy –not all beautiful designs are comfortable. Climbing in and out of a taller tub is harder and grab bars more challenging to install when the tub is not close to walls. Corner tub placement is waning because it requires more floor space and the rear corner area is awkward to reach for cleaning.

 

Large showers with multiple jets, a rain shower head (in combination with a wall-mounted removable hand held shower), niche for bottles, and a built-in bench continue to dominate en suite design. A trend across the aging baby boomer market is a curbless shower paired with a linear drain. Doorless showers are popular and can reduce cleaning chores but a significant number of users complain about chilly drafts even if they have heated floors and a heat lamp at the exit. Vanities that appear to be independent furniture pieces rather than built-in cabinets are very popular but they need a minimum of 3 inches clearance from the wall on each side or cleaning, painting and wallpapering in the narrow cavity is difficult. Wall hung ‘floating’ vanities frequently paired with vessel sinks predominate modern style rooms. Many vessel sink designs are best suited for low traffic powder rooms because of the splash factor.

 

TIP. Wood lovers take note – tiles that truly look remarkably like wood are now available.

Five Developments in Major Appliances

According to Brent Campbell, Major Appliance Consultant with Sears

 

1. Direct drive clothes washers are replacing belt driven models because they drastically reduce vibration during the spin cycle –invaluable when laundry is located on a wood framed floor.

2. Front-loading washers are increasing in capacity from 4 cubic feet to 6 and dryers from 7 cubic feet to 9, resulting in fewer loads which save time and energy.

3. A few years ago LG introduced an impressive low-profile freestanding range that looks like a slide-in but without the expensive disadvantages – now other manufacturers are following suit.

4. The demand for counter depth refrigerators has enabled them to come DOWN in price and UP in selection.

5. Dishwasher tubs are taller (allowing for bulkier items) and sound insulation continues to improve –much appreciated in today’s open kitchens. I just had to ask Brent the big stainless steel question –has it run its course? Is it on the way out? He swept his hand around the showroom asking me what I saw. I saw a handful of white appliances in the far back corner –everything else was stainless steel.

 

Case closed. No matter that it is challenging to keep clean –the beauty still outweighs the extra maintenance for the majority of people. Where your budget allows, cabinet door panel-ready dishwashers and refrigerators are an attractive alternative.

Creating a Woman-Centric Home Office

Creating a Woman-Centric Home Office

Creating A Woman-Centric Home Office

According to WorkAtHomeInfo.org the are are 38 million home-based businesses in the United States today, depending on who’s doing the counting . Telework Research Center estimates another 20 to 30 million Americans currently work from home at least one day a week. Add to those statistics the millions of us who bring work home from the office to finish at night or on the weekends and it’s easy to understand the increasing interest in home offices.

We talked to a number of ladies who at least occasionally work from home and they shared wonderful insights and real world advice on creating an inspiring, productive home office.

TAILOR THE SPACE TO YOUR SITUATION AND NEEDS

The type of work you will do from home is one of the first considerations. Ruth, a corporate recruiter, needs quiet privacy. Cindy, a seamstress whose specialty is repairing flags, needs a large open space for folding those 50-foot flags.

Take into consideration how often you will use this space (daily, twice a week, etc.) and whether it is your primary work space or simply supplements a traditional office elsewhere. Christy is an office manager who found a flex/computer room at home is fine for finishing accounting duties and other paperwork.

Also, how long at one time would you be using that space? The “occasionally bring a couple hours worth of work home from the office to finish it” need for office amenities is quite different from someone who will be using the home office for several hours at a stretch. Sheri, who was running a graphic arts business out of her basement lamented the lack of natural light. “It threw off my body’s bio-rhythms. Without windows I would totally lose track of time.”

LAYOUT

LOCATION As alluded to in the sidebar “What about other people?,” your privacy needs and whether or not you expect others in your home office help identify the best location for this space. When frequently meeting with colleagues and clients, a highly public location, such as a home office accessed from the entry foyer is often desirable. Conversely, many individuals who tend to work from home solo prefer a secluded location such as a rear corner in their home. Additionally, the question of a larger, open space vs. a more private space that can be closed off behind a door needs to be determined—often dictated by whether the office space will be kept clean and presentable all the time. If the flexibility of an open space is appealing, consider a divider such as bookcases or decorative panels to provide some privacy.

ACCESS

Location needs to be determined in tandem with access for your home office. A home office accessed from the entry is convenient and benefits from the design character of the entry foyer. Some home offices offer such public access as well as private access, such as from an adjoining master suite. Home work spaces accessed via a hallway can be made more special by careful selection of the door, perhaps a full-lite glass door. Do you have larger items going into this space? You’ll want to design with double
doors in mind. Is frequent shipping and receiving a part of your home business? Consider a secure shipping vestibule where delivery persons can drop off items rather than leaving them on your front porch. Or, at least locate your office within a few steps of where the shipments and deliveries take place. Finally, some people attempt to achieve more separation for their home office by having a separate exterior entrance into the home office for visitors. If this is your desire, consider the impact of that door’s location on the overall look of the front of your home as seen from the street.

BATHROOM ACCOMMODATIONS

This might seem like a minor point, but is one that comes up in people’s regrets. Bev, who along with her husband runs a building company from their family home, didn’t plan for an extra bathroom to serve the home office. This resulted in construction personnel, clients and her kids all using the same bathroom. And what about you? If you’re going to build a 2-story home with your bedroom upstairs and a main floor home office, you’re probably not going to want to run upstairs every time you need to use the bathroom. 

MAKING YOUR HOME OFFICE WORK

Having worked through the issues already discussed, it’s time to start designing your office space! Start with your actual work space. How much space do you need? Is the type of work pretty consistent or should this space be fairly flexible for easy re-configuration as needs arise? And what type of furniture do you want? While some women we spoke with described a traditional desk setup, more often we heard requests for work surfaces that were counters or tables, not desks. The seating you will primarily use is one of the most important considerations. If you will typically be seated in front of a computer or at a desk/workstation, posture and ergonomics are critical to reduce fatigue, increase comfort and productivity. Be sure to look for chairs that tilt, swivel and move easily on the flooring. Additionally, many people working from home are looking for another, more comfortable chair in their home office. Two such seating options address task-oriented work as well as fostering out-of-the-box creativity.

Often an afterthought, consider the seating position and whether you would be facing others as they walk by or enter this space, or whether your back would be turned to them. Most of us feel uncomfortable when others see us but we’re not aware of them. If the only option for a functional workspace requires having your back exposed, think about placing a mirror directly in front of your workspace to observe what’s going on behind you.

LIGHTING

A nearly universal desire with regard to home offices is lots of natural light. Exposure to natural light has numerous health benefits, both physical and mental. Importantly, natural light has been shown to improve concentration, reduce eyestrain and fatigue, and generally improve mood. For some who work from home, natural light must be accompanied by operable windows for fresh air and calming breezes and nature sounds. Another camp requests multiple high transom windows only, providing the desired sunlight but avoiding the distraction of movement outside. When increasing windows simply is not an option, consider adding skylights to the home office space. Control over lighting makes a big difference.

For natural light, that usually means easy-operating window shades or blinds. For added lighting, dimmers and individual on/off controls for the various lighting fixtures is welcome. Try to avoid lighting directly overhead computer screens as that can cause glare problems. Similarly, bright sunlight can wash out computer screens, another factor in deciding the best workspace design.

Generally, people prefer lighting fixtures other than fluorescent tubes. When planning for lighting, combine general illumination (i.e., ceiling fixtures) with direct task lighting and indirect/accent lighting such as recessed lights and wall sconces. Care should be taken in choosing light bulbs and their “color temperature.” Incandescent, compact fluorescent, halogen and LED lights vary in color temperature, ranging from blue and green hues to more reddish and yellow shades. Many of today’s light bulb manufacturers offer color temperature choices across the different types of bulbs which you can try to match.

STORAGE

One of the most obvious evidences of a well-designed home office is adequate storage. After addressing the first question—how much storage is needed?—the follow-up question is open storage or discrete storage? Open storage, such as cubbies and shelving units, provides for quick scanning to locate what you’re looking for. Based on what you choose to have on display, it can also speak volumes about you to others who come to visit you. If wall shelving is your preference, be sure to note the weight which the shelves are designed to hold. A dramatic alternative to traditional wall shelves are glass shelving products that appear to “float” without visible brackets and hardware. Discrete storage includes all types of closets, cabinets, files, etc.. Perhaps the most obvious benefit is visual—the reduction of clutter and a streamlined, organized appearance of the home office. Flexibility comes into play with storage, as several ladies identified a desire for easily reconfigurable storage systems such as stacking units and storage cabinets on casters. If storage is to be permanent, such as cabinetry or furniture, pre-plan amenities such as pull-out drawers and other built-ins.

The opportunity of a storage area closed off by a door, curtains or even sliding walls from the rest of your home office allows you to keep everything from client files to paper clips to your fax machine out of public view. As well, such discrete storage areas do not necessarily have to be kept as tidy as the more public areas of your home office. Planning for waste is essential and practical. Avoid future regrets by deciding now the wastebasket size and placement (a pull out wastebasket drawer is wonderful!), and how to incorporate a recycling center.

ORGANIZATION

A close cousin to storage is organization. Visual scheduling and organization of concurrent projects came up often in our discussions, with typical solutions identified as large, write-on wall calendars and large “idea walls” which were usually envisioned as long bulletin boards or magnetic boards for temporarily adhering items to the wall (does your home office offer such wall space?) Write-on white boards were also frequently mentioned.

Large work surfaces were similarly important for organizing multiple projects in progress. Not having to stash everything else away when a conflicting deadline demands immediate attention is golden. Finally, determine where the items you need most frequently will be kept. Organizer accessories for everything from staplers and paper clips to pens and Post-It notes are one way to keep things organized. The bottom line—clutter sucks energy out of you. You won’t be happy (or productive) in a cluttered home office!

COMMUNICATION NEEDS

While the proliferation of cell phones makes having a separate land line for your home business optional, it’s probably wise to at least drop a phone jack into the future home office space. And if you have a separate fax machine from your office phone, might as well make that 2 phone jacks being installed. Importantly, the location of those jacks can in large part minimize visible phone wires, so care should be exercised in having those jacks placed exactly where you want them.

Computers have become an indispensable communication tool, and though many people are enjoying wireless connectivity between computers, to the internet and to the printer/ scanner, currently the speed and reliability of wireless networks does not yet rival the traditional “hardwired” approach. At the time a home is being built, pulling data cabling into your future home office area represents a very minor expense which makes it a good investment.

Also, folks working from home often talk about the need for a TV/DVD player in the home office. From watching training videos to monitoring news headlines and the weather, plan for where a TV would work well. If others may be joining you in your home office gathered around that TV, its location becomes even more critical. Electrical outlets and cable TV jacks properly located will again minimize visible wiring.

Taking a woman-centric approach to home office design means designing the environment for all of our senses. Compared with men, women’s senses are generally more acute than men’s, with women taking in much more than the guys via sensory appeals.

The materials you select, such as flooring, wall textures and furnishings all contribute to the overall look you achieve.

TOUCH AND FEEL

Certain products practically beg to be touched. Natural stone counters or work surfaces…interesting hardware…soft-closing doors…all are enhanced via their feel. Heavy, solid doors have a sense of heft that translates into security, permanence and success. Quality carpeting with a thick pad exudes a sense of luxury and comfort, while tile or wood flooring suggest traditional sophistication. Almost too obvious, the heating and cooling of your home office space is an issue of touch as well. If there are multiple electronic gadgets running, you may well produce excess heat which could make your office uncomfortably warm in the summer, though the rest of the home is cool. Be sure to discuss this aspect with your builder and heating/air conditioning contractor.

TASTE

Though perhaps the least important when it comes to designing your home office, many telecommuters wish for a mini fridge and/or bottled water dispenser in their home office for themselves and their guests. Individuals who prefer their caffeine hot desire a coffee station or at least hot water for tea. Yes, the kitchen may only be steps away, but that trek to the kitchen may interrupt a critical line of thought you are working with. So, reflect on your beverage preferences, factor in refreshments for visitors and talk about this issue with your builder (and possibly the plumber!)

SOUNDS

This is an interesting paradox—people are either striving to achieve serenity by minimizing noises that may be audible in the home office, or, people seek to add sounds to their home office to actually aid concentration or create a more calming or invigorating work area.

Many things can be done to help soundproof a home office space. A major aspect is the flooring choice. Carpet and pad absorbs a lot of sound, but noises typically bounce off of hard flooring such as ceramic, woods, laminates and concrete. If you opt for hard surface floors, think about large area rugs to help control sound levels. Solid core doors, as opposed to less expensive hollow core doors, help keep other household noises out. Locating the home office away from frequently used areas of the home or loud areas such as a media room is important. And if peace and quiet is at the top of your list, talk to your builder about different soundproofing measures from insulating the walls to using quieter drywall products.

On the other hand, adding background music can have a similar effect, in that you’re not as likely to hear other extraneous noises. We also heard several requests for natural sounds, whether that be operable windows opened for Mother Nature’s serenade or wind chimes.

SCENTS

This one is pretty straightforward. Fresh air and proper circulation help eliminate odors. An air cleaner makes a big difference for smoking environments or if your particular business deals with a product that has its own distinct smell. In addition, lots of women add fragrance to the home office environment. Essential oils, fragrant candles and potpourri can help create a pleasing aroma. A word of caution—as you become used to your home office setting, you may be tempted to add higher levels of fragrance. Don’t, as it will overpower visitors!

VISUAL

This is limited only by your imagination. The materials you select, such as flooring, wall textures and furnishings all contribute to the overall look you achieve. Because they serve as the backdrop to most everything else, your walls (and ceiling—the “5th wall”) and the paint or wall paper chosen have a major impact on the visual story told by your home office.

First impressions are strategically important if you will have clients and co-workers in your home office. As you approach the office area, what do you see? (Note, studies show women have greater peripheral vision than men!) Upon entering your home office, what is the main focal point? The decorations, the furnishings, the materials and surfaces and colors, unique pieces—what do you want them to say about you? Finally, what about you? What in your home office space would inspire you? Is it family photos or memorabilia? A waterfall? Artwork? These are “must-haves” in your new home office!

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