In 2020, the definition of home was reinvented. All houses, townhouses, apartments, and condos quickly transitioned from traditional places of rest and relaxation to new, multifaceted living, working, and learning environments.
While some homeowners had the luxury of escaping to an existing dedicated home office space to complete their work, several transformed a bedroom into a makeshift office or resorted to working from their kitchen islands or tables.
Initially, newly remote workers thought the pandemic would resolve itself in a matter of months and were relatively content with their temporary office scenarios, but as the U.S. approaches the one-year mark and with many companies considering permanent remote work options, homeowners are focused on optimizing their home workspaces.
“Home offices are having a moment, and by moment we mean people are realizing just how unfunctional many of their current workspaces can be,” says Jeffrey Lake, vice president of architecture and design at Tri Pointe Homes. “As many employers are choosing to make remote work an option, today’s home buyers are looking for flex space that can be used as a home office, whether that’s private space with a door, an easily accessible home management center, or a loft that provides the right balance between work and home entertainment.”
Data from the follow-up America at Home Study, which was spearheaded by marketing expert Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki of tst ink, consumer strategist Belinda Sward of Strategic Solutions Alliance, and Nancy Keenan, president and CEO at Dahlin Group, showed 45% of all respondents in the second-wave survey said they were missing and willing to pay for a “better home office or studio” in their next home. Plus, it was even more important to younger buyers, with 58% of millennials and 51% of Gen Xers yearning for office space.
Small and Functional
For the modern-day home office or classroom, several architects and designers agree the rooms or spaces do not need to be large, especially if the homeowners are considering more than one work space.
Michael Woodley, president at Woodley Architectural Group, says unlike for-show studies his company has designed in the past, today’s offices need to be functional and can be designed in much smaller footprints.
“We believe that the whole dimensions of offices have changed because we use them so differently,” Woodley says. “Traditionally, we would think of an office at least 10-by-12 or 120 square feet. I’m thinking more like half for an office today, like 60 square feet.”
Keenan concurs and says her company has designed offices in underutilized spaces as small as 30 square feet.
“Although not a rule, I’d say at least 64 square feet, as long as there is ample light and the space doesn’t feel like an afterthought,” continues Keenan. “If it’s a dedicated home office, then 100 square feet or even far less can work. If it’s a flexible space, closer to 150 square feet so the room can function in multiple ways.”
As for location, it is still common, and sometimes beneficial, to have the office at the front of the floor plan near the main entrance to provide isolation, natural light, and the option to have future client interactions in the space. Others believe today’s workspaces can be nestled into various locations throughout a home, such as more central areas like kitchens, or tucked into lofts or under the stairs.
Billie Luzar, director of design at Thomas James Homes, reports her company is “diversifying” the office by creating designated spaces that are also central to the heart of the home.
“We still design for the front of the house office, but discovered people are still putting desks in their bedrooms, a sanctuary space,” continues Luzar. “As an alternative, we have provided designated tech spaces for a quiet phone call or back-to-back Zoom meetings. Our designated back office spaces are usually cabinet-based desks but still have their own natural light, room to get organized, and plenty of privacy when you need it.”
Details and Features
In response to the increased demand for work-from-home space, several production builders have rolled out new floor plans with dedicated home office packages. KB Home debuted its initial office concepts last summer, which included built-in workstations, large open shelving, and an upgraded electrical package with items such as ultra-fast USB charging outlets.
“Home buyers can further personalize this dedicated office by choosing from options available at KB Home design studios,” says Ken Gancarczyk, senior vice president of builder services and architecture at KB Home. “This includes technology solutions, enhanced soundproofing/insulation packages, tailored lighting, ceiling fans, window treatments, and a beverage center. For select floor plans and locations, buyers will also have the opportunity to add a half-bath and additional windows, as well as a separate outdoor entrance with a private patio.”
According to homeowner comments from the America at Home Study builder partner, Garman Homes, sound abatement, access to natural light, access to covered outdoor spaces for a change of scenery, and access to multiple charging ports and outlets at an easily accessible height were the top considerations mentioned by the company’s current homeowners.
Plus, with the rise of virtual calls and meetings, homeowners are consciously thinking of their home office’s internet connectivity, privacy, acoustics, and lighting to ensure a professional environment that displays well on screen.
“Now with Zoom calls, wall treatments are very important,” says Leslie Walker, design studio manager at Camelot Homes. “Everything from painted wainscoting and wallpaper to a gallery wall of art or decorated shelves, it’s all about the backdrop.”
Doors, whether solid, with glass panes, or full glass, provide needed privacy and also help close off the space from household noises. Carpet and area rugs can help with sound abatement, and design experts encourage builders to carefully plan lighting to prioritize natural light and layer artificial light, including can lights, decorative chandeliers, desk lamps, sconces, and library lights.
Storage solutions also are a most-requested feature for Thomas James Homes owners, according to Luzar. Closed cabinetry, opposed to the popular open shelving, is now trending to hide office supplies, printers, shredders, files, and day-to-day clutter.
“The need for separate spaces for work/school/video conferencing is here to stay, but the solution will be flexible spaces that serve a number of needs as they arise,” says Keenan. “The pandemic has taught us that space has to work harder and be able to be personalized for a homeowner’s needs. Providing areas in the home that can be used in many ways is key to a successful floor plan.”