It’s a bit of a perfect storm. The sluggish economy and the arrival of increasingly high-tech ways to stay in the loop have more people working from home. Recent numbers from the Census Bureau cited in a Georgia Public Policy Foundation report show that slightly more than 5 percent of the metro area works from home. What is less measurable is the number who spend evenings and weekends catching up on business from the comfort of their permanent address.
But just having a laptop and a wireless connection does not a home office make. There are considerations from natural light to floor outlets that many buyers of new homes take into account when deciding where they’re going to set up shop. Builders are working with more customers who want not just a place to work, but a flexible space that can double as a bedroom or homework corner if need be. That’s the case with David Weekley Homes, the Houston-based company with communities in the northern arc. Two developments, Rockford Commons in Marietta and the Preserve at Hickory Flat in Canton, both feature floor plans with areas that can easily be transformed into a home office.
“We don’t have a standard ‘study,’ but we have flex space built in so people can customize rooms to meet their family’s needs,” said David Gernatt, division president for Weekley Homes in Atlanta. “For example, a bonus room could be an office or a media room, a playroom, a theater, even a bedroom and bath if needed. But we’re also seeing more buyers turning the formal living room into a flex space as a study, library or office.”
Turning the “company-only” areas into the home office is part of an overall trend Gernatt calls “disappearing redundancy” - the elimination of separate areas that serve the same purpose.
“It used to be that houses had dual dining areas,” he said. “There was a big breakfast room and a formal dining room. Now, people will enlarge the informal dining area so it can be either formal or informal. Then they’ll use the formal dining area for a study. In fact, it’s now marked that way on our floor plans, and about 80 percent of our buyers are choosing to use it as a study.”
Buyers also have the choice to set off the home office with French doors or to leave it open as part of an extended living area, said Gernatt. “The empty-nesters or retirees usually like an open area that doesn’t compartmentalize the study, while younger buyers like to close it off and have the privacy.”
At Windsong Properties in Woodstock, Dallas and Powder Springs, floor plans are drawn with a home office that buyers can opt to make a third bedroom.
“But since our buyers are active adults, a study is a much more effective use of space,” said Marketing Manager Carrie Roeger. “They definitely want that designated space. In fact, we have one plan in Powder Springs and Dallas with a separate area that is very popular for an office because it’s away from the main living space, and it has French doors that open to the courtyard. It’s a flexible space that could be a mother-in-law suite or a man-cave, but it’s usually where people want their home office.”
Having a home office space is important for buyers at West Village in Smyrna, where Monte Hewett homes is building 115 townhouses and 72 single-family homes priced from $269,900. Designs there incorporate a “tech desk” - a built-in workspace that can be part of flex space adjacent to the family room.
“It’s a desk with cabinets that go up eight feet above for files and two file drawers on either side of a desktop,” said Terry Fogarty, a Hewett associate broker. “It can open, with no walls at all, of if a buyer prefers more privacy, we can enclose it with a wall and door and it can be an office. It’s great because then they don’t have to worry about having a desk. But our homes also have other flex spaces that could be an office. The good thing about the tech desk is that it’s usually convenient to the kitchen and the family room.”
Owners of existing homes may have to get a bit more creative when it comes to carving out a home work space. But it’s not difficult, said Wally Lewis, vice president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry’s Atlanta chapter and owner of Neighbors Home Remodeling in Roswell.
“With technology the way it is today, it’s really changed the face of how a residence needs to be wired,” he said. “With a wireless router, there isn’t the need for wires, outlets and cables, so you can be anywhere in the house.”
Interior designer Rick Anthony Bonner has worked on many home office projects in existing homes, and has worked out of his 15-year-old colonial in Roswell for seven years.
“Working at home is different from working in an office,” he said. “Most of the time, the biggest challenge is figuring out what it will look like when you’re not working. When you’ve got an office that is in a den or off the foyer, you’re always seeing it. So the question becomes, how do you hide things?”
No matter where the office is located, Bonner prefers built-ins that house electronics and files but don’t look like standard office furniture. “I do a lot with doors that open and retract; that way, the big messy desk can be covered. And now with everything wireless, you can print, scan and do so much with equipment that’s hidden in a closet.”
But today’s contemporary home offices can also be very simple, without massive pieces of furniture or cabinetry, Bonner noted.
“With laptops, iPhones, iPads and wireless printers, you can convert spaces that never would have been an office into one without needing a specific piece of furniture,” he said. “I have one client who works from her master bedroom and added 30 feet of beautiful cabinetry. When it’s closed, it looks like a closet, and you’d never know it’s an office. But open the doors and you can pull up a chair and go to work.”
With technology making every space a potential work area, Bonner suggests that homeowners use the place where they’re most comfortable.
“Don’t work in a dungeon; take advantage of the whole house, whether it’s an extension of the kitchen or a corner of the family room.
Gernatt also points out that areas with windows and natural light often make the best working spot.
“Think of the office where you work: Everybody wants the corner office with the windows, not the one in the middle that feels like a cave,” he said.
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