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Ask the EP Experts

Marilyn Zelinsky
Need some practical solutions to your home office design dilemmas? Ask Marilyn, author of Practical Home Office Solutions and New Workplaces for New Workstyles, for some advice.

 EP Home Office Design Q&As

Q.We have a 10 x 9 foot room in which to fit both myself and my fiancé. We both use computers along with 2 printers. We currently have a large desk, a computer table plus another smaller desk, and an oak, two-drawer file cabinet. At the far end of the room is a window in the middle of the wall, measuring 5 x 5 feet.
We would like to be able to utilize this space more effectively. I was thinking along the lines of wall units. We would like to be able to hide away the computer and related electronic equipment.
We're working with a standard 8 foot ceiling. Any help along these lines would be appreciated. Also, cost is always important. We don't want to go into debt over this!
Thank you,
Cynthia Morris
A. Dear Cynthia,
You and your fiancé are so lucky to have a good size dedicated room for a home office. There are lots of opportunities for you to maximize your far wall with the window. And, the beauty of it is that you can do it with ready-to-assemble or modular units for well under $500, all the while gaining valuable storage space.
From the description of what you have in your home office already, it sounds as if you are in dire need of additional filing and storage space. It's the number one problem in most home offices today! Lack of storage. You have a prime opportunity to give yourself a wall of storage for both you and your fiancé.
Here are some ideas:
  • Online furniture stores have a dizzying array of ideas. Here's an ideal and affordable solution from The site sells the Sauder Library With Doors for $139.99 each. They are handsome units with three shelves and a bottom storage area with doors. Buy two and flank each side of the window with a unit--one for you and one for your fiancé! Here are the specs: each unit is 71 and 1/4-inches high which is ideal for your 8-foot high ceilings, 29 and 3/4 wide which fits in well either side of the window and 13-inches deep which doesn't cut into valuable floor space. There are wire management grommets so you can indeed place a computer on the bottom open shelf. If you're interested, go to and do a search with words "wall unit" and the Sauder Library should show up. Most likely, the unit will be in the store nearest you so you can see it for yourself. If you're interested in other sites with great home office furniture styles, see, and and have design consultants you can ask advice from via email and phone. If you find a piece you like, take advantage, lots of these sites have great discounts for first time buyers and shipping is free for a limited time no matter how large the furniture! And, they'll set it up for you, too. Take advantage now!
  • You're safe using modular storage cubes for a wall like yours. There are lots of options. Also on site is a modular storage idea that is more modern than the more traditional-looking Sauder Library. The Fellowes Neat Ideas storage cubes are 14-inch square cubes, each cube holds 50 pounds. Buy a pack of four cubes for about $25.00. You can put perhaps 8 cubes on each side of the window for maximum storage. If you're interested, the item number on the site is FEL46414.
  • If custom is more of what you had in mind, there are ways to go about it without breaking the bank. Find a California Closets (1-888-336-9709 for a free, in-house design consult), Closets By Design (1-800-BY-DESIGN), or any other closet organizer (you can find them in local papers, sometimes they have little kiosks in a local mall or look them up in the yellow pages). They'll come to your house, measure, design and install a perfectly sized storage unit for your wall around your window and in your budget range. Or you can see if there's a Techline store (1-800-356-8400) or consultant in your neck of the woods. They are pros in designing offices for the budget-wise, and would be happy to do a storage unit for a wall. Or, call on a carpenter though they are awfully busy these days and it's hard to find a good one that has time for a small project.
  • See if there's a Container Store in your area. For locations, see their Web site at or call 800-733-3532. Or, call to see if there's an Ikea near you at or 1-800-434-IKEA. Each store typically has an in-store room planner that can help you figure out a solution to your wall, and you aren't bound to buy products there if you don't find anything you like. They have great, affordable solutions, too.
Good Luck! I envy the amount of great storage space you're destined to add to your home office!
Best regards,


I would like to turn a spare bedroom that is used rarely for guests into an office. Do you know of any designs that have a pull down bed (Murphy Bed) for the occasional guest, but can be put away when not used to make room for a work station?
Thank you for your time,
Mike and Dianne Dyer
Laguna Niguel, CA
A. Dear Mike and Dianne,
More than half of all homeowners with home offices use a spare bedroom, so you are not alone. The challenge is in fitting everything into one room!
You've hit on a good idea: the Murphy bed. I've located one place in California that may be able to help you out: Room Maker Wallbeds & Cabinets, 949-588-1585, in Lake Forest, CA. There are other Murphy Bed companies, but most of them are located in New York or in Florida. However, The Murphy Bed Company may be able to lead you to a dealer closer to your
home. Call them at 800-845-2337. You can see some types of murphy beds/home offices at their Web site: and order directly off the Web at:
Another idea is to contact a furniture company called Sligh. They sell furniture all over the country. Their specialty is in helping home office users fit home office furniture into rooms such as spare guest bedrooms. They once had a product that was a desk with a bed inside of it! It was quite clever, but has been discontinued. However, they do have some new models that might fit your style. Their phone number is 616-392-7101. Ask for a dealer of Sligh Furniture in your area.
The easiest thing to do, however, is to buy an open up sofa for a guest bedroom/home office. That way, you can fit a sofa and a desk/chair into the space. When you are working in the home office, you will have a lovely executive-style couch on which to sit and work or read. This option may take up the least amount of space, believe it or not, because a Murphy Bed requires a whole wall, plus, the bed is housed in a deep cabinet.
If you are intent on getting a Murphy bed, the best thing to do is find someone who can come out to your home and measure whether or not one will fit into the room.
Good luck!
Q. I have questions about receiving clients at my home. We are presently renting our home, and it is not in the condition we would like it to be.
Do you have any suggestions or resources that can help me make a shabby basement into an inviting office for my clients to visit? Remember we are it needs to be inexpensive.
Second, is it okay if the office space/basement is also a den area, or should I separate the two? Do you suggest I make these office arrangements before my clientele grows? At this time it is beginning to trickle, and I am faithfully expecting the trickle to flow freely soon.
"The Write Way Business Services" -- Business writing services, Sales, Grant writing, Child Care Center consulting, and "Mother Knows Best" -- temporary employment agency
A. Dear Tia,
Congratulations on a busy, growing business! Keep up your enthusiasm, and don't let a dreary basement drag you down! Here are some solutions for you.
I know of a couple who work at home together and used to meet clients in parking lots rather than invite them to their home office! Their solution was to renovate half of their basement, but let me warn you -- it's a long and time-consuming process which costs lots of money. So if I were you, I wouldn't renovate any room in a rental apartment. You don't always have to meet your clients in your home. There are lots of inexpensive, professional options:
  • If you feel comfortable, and you feel you have the type of clients that would feel just as comfortable -- why not meet in your dining room or living room?
  • Meet outside the home in the lobby of a local hotel. Lots of hotels today are set up for such meetings. Buy your client a cup of coffee in a most professional atmosphere. Or, go have "tea" there in the late afternoon. When I worked as an editor on a magazine, lots of home-based publicists took me to tea at a local hotel. It was comfortable, civilized and professional. I never thought twice about it, and always looked forward to doing it.
  • One home-based worker I know does this: he asks the local hotel manager if there is a meeting room free for one hour, and if there is, could he rent it. He's usually successful and the managers usually let him use the room for free if he buys a pot of coffee or such.
  • Find a Kinko's near you -- they have meeting rooms.
  • Your local library has conference rooms for free!
  • Find an "executive suite" (listed under office space rentals or "executive suites" in your phone book) -- they rent office space by the hour, and it may fit into your budget depending on where you live. It doesn't hurt to call for rates -- lots of home-based businesses use this type of office an hour at a time.
  • I don't know if you are renting in a condo area, but if you are, perhaps there's a meeting room your condo "rents" out to people that live in the area.
There are lots of options for you. Even if you owned your home and wanted to renovate your basement for clients, it's not always easy. If you absolutely want to use your basement and use it as a den as well, that's fine! There is furniture out there, if you want to invest, that can make a den look "officey" and look like an entertainment center as well. Again, this furniture is pricey -- but it may be more worthwhile to invest in furniture than to invest in renovating a rental basement. Go to your local furniture stores and ask for entertainment and home office furniture from Sligh Furniture.
To further answer your second question -- sure it's okay to use your den as a home office. But what do you use your den for? Do you have kids that will use the den when you need to work? If so, it may not be the best solution. If you can use the den when kids are at school and turn the den over to them after school, great. You will need to somehow "train" anyone who uses the den to keep their hands off of your home office equipment and papers. Every family has different ways of handling this. Some people put screens up around their workspace when they aren't using it which signals to others to stay away. Others have computer armoires that they close when they aren't working (again, an expensive solution). Others just verbally train family members to be considerate of that corner of the den where the home office is located. It can be done!
My best wishes to you for your ongoing success!


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