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June 22, 2020

The Evolution of the Home Office

The transformation of the home office has been a fascinating journey. Over the years, this transformation has been influenced by technology, dual-income families, home-schooling, and pandemics. As we look forward to our post-pandemic lifestyle, I thought a look back at the evolution of the home office could provide some perspective.

The Show Den

Ah, the show den. Do you remember this? It featured double doors off the foyer, a great big, sturdy mahogany desk, green accent wall with a wallpaper boarder with hunting scenes and a tufted brown leather couch. Our last home office had the green wall, but the wallpaper boarder was golf themed and lacked the leather couch. This was a “must-have” feature in every move-up home back in the eighties.

Initially, the only technology in the room was a telephone and perhaps a television. I don’t know if any work was ever really done in the room. The most frequent use of the room may have been watching the TV from the leather coach. While not exactly working, it was a quiet space in the home where one could watch sports without being bothered.

And of course, super high-end homes had “many leather-bound books and smelled of rich mahogany”.

The glamour came to a screeching halt with the advent of the personal home computer. You couldn’t place the PC on the desk because guests would see the back of the computer complete with cable and power cords. Not exactly a power statement. We now had to include the credenza behind the desk to hide the ugly back of the computer.

The Messy Den

No, I’m not talking about my own home office (but I could be -😉)! The messy den was full-sized home office minus its prominent location and double doors. This was an actual working den – at least that was the idea. If the footprint of the house was wide enough, the messy den might be located on the rear of the home affording the worker views to the back yard and any view amenity.

The Menu Desk & Crafting Table

This was a desk in the kitchen complete with bookshelves filled with cookbooks. The idea was that this was where menus were created and recipes were discovered, but ended up as a place for kids to do their homework. The technology might include the home phone (eventually a cordless phone) and answer machine. You bet I rocked this feature back in its hay-day.

A close cousin to the menu desk was the crafting table in the laundry room. But wow – if that doesn’t send the wrong message: “Hey, while you’re paying bills, can you iron my shirt?”

The Home Management Center

This idea was born out of the convenience of the laptop and the need for working couples to pay bills, send emails, check Facebook posts all while keeping an eye on the family. Or perhaps this is where the kids might do their homework under mom or dad’s watchful eyes. They were often in the middle of the house and were completely open to the adjacent rooms. I don’t know how popular this concept was because it had its drawbacks. No acoustical privacy. If you really had serious work to do, it would be hard to concentrate. And forget a Zoom meeting.

The Study Hall

Houses designed to appeal to families needed a place for kids to do their homework. The idea was to create a space where parents could see that homework was being done and not other nefarious activities. Often these were on the second floor of the home. Let’s face it, there were just too many distractions in the kid’s bedrooms hence the onset homework amnesia.

His Her Office Combo

Enter the dual-income family. No longer is one office for him and a menu desk for her acceptable. In an effort not to offend anyone, a variety of solutions were showcased including the partner desk. They looked good in the model but where totally impractical. One solution with clever built-ins put the workstation in opposite corners of the room. Now each could have their own space, files, and home computer. That was fine until someone got on the phone. At least with a cell phone, one could walk out of the room to talk so your partner could work.

Along Comes a pandemic

Suddenly, everyone was working or home schooling from home! In the Patterson household, we convinced my daughter and her boyfriend to escape from New York City and work from our home. At one time, we had three architects and my husband all trying to conduct business. We quickly ran out of acoustically separate spaces and my husband worked on his surface from the back porch. Fortunately, the weather was nice. (Our New Yorker stayed five weeks in case you’re wondering)

The Home Office of the Future

As most of us have figured out how to work from home, many will want to continue even after it is safe to go back to the office. Now the challenge for home-builders and designers is to determine the best way to accommodate this new working trend. Of course, a spare bedroom can always serve as a home office, but how many home offices will you need? As most families today are dual income, we need to create spaces for at least two individuals. But do we really need two 12’ by 12’ offices? Can today’s buyer afford to sacrifice that much square footage to office space? As we discovered during a pandemic, we primarily need space to work on our laptop, surface or pad, and peace and quiet!

I love what we have started doing for one of our clients. Each home has a dedicated pocket office. They average about 50 sq. ft. in size, all with a window and all with the option for a door – let’s hear it for acoustical privacy! You can get a glass door so you can still feel connected to the rest of the family or a solid door so no one sees how messy you are. At that square footage, we can afford two pocket offices in the home – perhaps at opposite sides of the home or one up and one down.

Where do you think the home office is headed? What challenges have you faced working from home? Please email me your thoughts.

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This post was written by Housing Design Matters