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Carving out space for a home office

A home office in Woodbury.

A home office in Woodbury. Photo Credit: Newsday / Craig Ruttle

Weary of layoffs and outsourcing affecting her departments during almost 10 years in banking, Robin Gruter began looking for employment outside of finance. She found a job with an insurance investment firm in Connecticut, working remotely - half her time in the basement of her North Bellmore home and half in the field on Long Island.

Like her, many Long Islanders are looking for resourceful ways to make a living. That is driving the need to find a space in their own homes where they can be productive.

Huntington designer Eileen Katherine Boyd calls 2010 "the year of invention" because she says she is seeing many formerly entrenched corporate employees who have "taken their talents and are re-creating themselves."

At the same time, the proliferation of wireless technology such as laptops and high-speed Internet connections that allow you to log into servers remotely make it so much easier to set up an office. This is inducing wider acceptance of telecommuting by firms and employees. People like the flexibility it offers them - even if they only do it one or two days a week.

"It definitely opens up a whole new world," says Marlaina Teich of Marlaina Teich Designs, which has offices in Woodbury, Merrick and Manhattan. It offers "the flexibility to be part of your family's life. You can almost have it all."

Because people are more frequently working from home and for longer hours, they are looking to carve out a space in their homes to be productive, whether it's for a career or work unrelated to an outside job - like managing a household.

Today a place to work from home is a necessity, not a luxury, says Margreet Cevasco, owner of Margreet Cevasco Design in Sea Cliff.

In the past, homeowners were more likely to have a desk in the kitchen or family room. Today, they are looking for a separate space to get away from it all, she says. "In a dedicated space, they find it easier to be more organized and be more productive."

Designers say homeowners are taking their office space more seriously with the knowledge they need to accomplish more - like speaking over the phone with relative quiet, storing papers or files without clutter and accommodating hardware like computers, monitors, routers and printers.

But while they may be serious, those setting up a home office are not looking for sterile and rigid - they are looking at fresh, nontraditional furniture and accessories that can inspire and enrich without breaking the bank. Here are some of their clever, money-saving design tricks.

 

DESK WITH A VIEW

Place a desk near a window with a view, suggests Boyd, the Huntington designer. Even if it is in an open area, it can be a place to come to pen a letter, store stationery and daydream a little. And because it is a dedicated to a particular task, you can leave the materials out and come back to it later without disturbing it.

 

 

IN THE GARAGE

Garages can provide an ideal space - separate, yet close, says Sea Cliff designer Cevasco, whose office is in a detached garage. "It has natural light from exterior French doors, yet it feels like an extension of my home," she says. And rather than have clients traipse through your kitchen, the exterior entry is more inviting and professional.

 

 

IN THE DINING ROOM

Many dining rooms sit vacant most of the year, says owner of Eileen Kathryn Boyd Interiors. "Why not convert it to a dining room/library?" she asks. Or, if the room's big enough, how about adding a closet and tucking the technology away when it's time to eat?

 

 

IN A CLOSET

Speaking of closets, one in an old laundry room can be converted into a place to work, too, Boyd adds. Especially if the user is running a household rather than a business, she suggests a space near the hub of activities, and a laundry area might fit the bill. To add whimsy, it can be wallpapered inside; after hours, it can be shuttered with sets of double doors or cordoned off with attractive draperies.

 

 

IN THE BASEMENT OR BEDROOM

Most agree these are the most popular spaces people choose. Make sure you have a window or door to the outside, many designers recommend, or at least a transparent door to the interior. Seeing nature often has a calming and inspiring effect, says Teich, and even the ability to see the household activities makes you feel part of them.

 

 

TRY BUILT-INS

A permanent desk and some shelves can designate a comfortable area in an unused open space. And adding a mini kitchen area with a coffee pot, drinks and snacks can inspire you to stay and work, not wander off to fill your cravings, says Teich.

 

 

MOVE A WALL

Rather than moving, try reorganizing your space, says Stephanie Nigro, owner of Stephanie Nigro Designs, originally from Long Island and now in Florida. Often homeowners don't sufficiently analyze what they have. Yet just blowing out a wall or moving a door may allow them to stay put, and it saves them a bundle in the long run: "They don't have to take on a bigger home, relocation costs and more taxes."

 

 

OFFICE IN AN ARMOIRE

It's not a new idea, admits Cevasco, but with all the old entertainment armoires out there that don't fit the new flat screen TVs, these are perfect to convert, she says. They come ready-made with shelves and cutouts for wires for your electronic devices, and they hide office equipment and clutter when it's time to relax.

 

 

GET CREATIVE

By connecting two bookcase bases from Pottery Barn with a wide board from Home Depot to hold storage baskets, North Bellmore resident Robin Gruter has eliminated office furniture, which tends to be expensive.

 

 

PERSONALIZE

 

Cover your desk with a topper - like wallpaper or leather, and finish with glass or even use a thin slab of stone, says Boyd. Or you can easily slipcover a standard one-drawer desk with a fabric skirt or suede, leather or a damask you love - and instantly hide the clutter. "It's stylish, it's pretty, it works and can be changed," she says. She also recommends buying a simple bookcase from Ikea or West Elm Furniture. "Back them with wallpaper and you've got yourself a look."

 

BRIGHT IDEAS

Lighting is really important, says Boyd. Start with overhead lighting such as recessed lights or a hanging fixture. She notes that you want the room to be clear and bright for a meeting. Then, on the desk, place a very strong task light, possibly on an arm or an adjustable arc, to throw crisp directional light directly on the work at hand. Finally, place a lamp on a dimmer to give the room a warm inviting glow.

 

 

WHAT QUALIFIES AS A TAX WRITE-OFF?

 

A home office may benefit you taxwise. But just working from home on Fridays, for instance, probably won't qualify. "They must be required by their employer to work from home or be independently self-employed" to claim a deduction, says Greg Ehrlich, a Commack accountant.

As long as you qualify in that way, the deductions you're entitled to are wide open. Any cost that's part of the home expenses - utilities, including heat, water, light, cable, dedicated telephone line, alarm, lawn service and depreciation expense - will qualify, he says.

To make the deduction clear-cut, try to have as dedicated a space as possible, he says.

That's because the amount of the deduction is determined by a prorated percentage of your home - for example, one-eighth the expenses of an eight-room house can be deducted, or if your office equipment sprawls across several rooms, you can use a percentage of square footage. "Use whichever way is best for you," he says, "but use common sense. The IRS knows no one uses a third of their home as an office."

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