When I moved into a new home six years ago, I immediately staked out a small room next to the kitchen as my office. At first glance, it looked perfect: 120 square feet with a bright bay window and hard-wired Ethernet.
What I didn’t consider was everybody else’s needs. When kids got home from school, they stormed the kitchen and moved on to pillow-fighting in the adjacent family room. The noise level was so high that it became a topic of discussion during conference calls. I worked out of the town library for six months while we refinished the attic into an office.
A lot of people have been adjusting over the last couple of years as rooms were refashioned into makeshift workspaces. With many of us likely working out of our homes at least part-time for the long-term, setting up an office has become serious business that requires thought and money.
Remote work is reshaping the office products industry. Statista says sales of home office furnishings have increased “massively” since the pandemic began, with office chair sales up more than 75%. A recent survey by the National Association of Home Builders found that 63% of buyers include a home office in their list of requirements. USA Today reported that sellers of backyard sheds saw up to a 400% increase in inquiries last summer, as outbuildings became attractive workspaces.
The furniture industry has had to pivot as volume sales to businesses plummeted in 2020 in favor of designs that fit individual buyers’ tastes. “People are figuring out that temporary solutions aren’t going to work,” said Dave Adams, vice president of marketing at BDI, a maker of home office furniture that is both stylish and functional.
BDI has added new models to adapt to tight spaces and workers’ need for multi-function products. They include a side table that doubles as a laptop desk, a workstation that turns into a buffet at night, and a coffee table with a lift top that rises to the perfect height for computer work.
The company’s Serif tables have been especially popular. Their pneumatic column adjusts with the touch of a finger and the pedestal is set to the side so laptop users don’t have to straddle it while working. When not needed, it slides comfortably into a corner. The Cloud 9 coffee table has been another hot seller, with a porcelain top that conceals a storage compartment sized for a laptop.
BDI has sweat the details to meet home officer workers’ expectations. For example, the Cloud 9’s tabletop can be raised from 16 inches to 24 inches and extend 12.5 inches laterally toward the user. “This offers the ideal height and angle for creating a work surface,” Adams said. The hydraulic pistons were adapted from the automobile industry.
New business models emerge
Businesses have been launched and business models changed to address locked-down workers. OFIS Furniture buys unneeded high-end furniture from corporate offices and sells it to other businesses. When the pandemic hit the company pivoted to consumer sales and pulled in $1.5 million last year servicing home-based workers. IMovR, a maker of standing desks, adapted its designs so that some of its products can be assembled by less mechanically inclined customers in less than eight minutes. Manufacturers also have reported a surge of interest in multifunction furniture and sustainable materials that harmonize better with home décor.
When designing a permanent home office space, Adams said you should consider both functional needs and aesthetics. Avoid workspaces in the middle of traffic patterns or areas frequented by kids. Look for furniture components that fit together and maximize space by sliding under each other. “Most people don’t need just a stand-alone desk; they also need a mobile pedestal or a storage cabinet,” he said.
Wire management is both a style and a safety issue. Mount power strips on the back of or underneath desks to minimize the risk of tripping or cable cuts. “Your desk can hide a multitude of sins,” he said. “Let the back panel do the work.”
Screens should be kept roughly an arm’s length away to reduce eye fatigue. Remember that the ideal height for a desk is 29.5 inches and don’t underestimate the importance of the office chair. “You want a task chair, not an old kitchen chair,” Adams said. “Look for mobility, adjustability, breathability, lumbar support, and arm support.” If you’re worried about becoming a desk potato, consider a height-adjustable desk that adapts to both sitting and standing height.
How much does all this cost? A good quality desk, credenza, and mobile file pedestal will run between $2,000 and $5,000, Adams estimated. “A lot of it comes down to personal taste,” he said. “You can spend from $200 to $4,000 on a desk alone.” Business furniture seller Standard Office Systems estimates $240 at the low end and $2,500 and up for fancier gear. If you’re inclined to self-assembly, furniture from IKEA or Wayfair can save you a few bucks.
Sound-dampening acoustic panels and noise-canceling headphones can help minimize distractions in loud places. I wish I had known that six years ago.
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