My Office Conundrum

on July 7, 2011 in Work at Home Parents, Working From Home
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I just got finished laying engineering hardwood in the foyer and living room and there’s only one room left –my office/dining room/library. The front room of my house is having an identity crisis and frankly, it’s stressing me out.

As a mom who works at home part of the time, I need to have my office in the middle of the madness. This means I can hear everything when I need to hear it – especially at night when little boys have bad dreams while mom’s working. I like to be on the ground floor of our two-story house so that I can monitor the dogs, the kitchen and the doors. This preference rules out any rooms upstairs including a spare room that is being used as my husband’s office for now and soon a guest room when he moves into the “man cave” to be closer to his aquarium.

I only have a few spots to pick from downstairs that can handle my two monitors, my laptop stand and my writer sprawl and be appropriate. I picked what seemed like the best – the dining room. After all, we never actually ate in here. I sold the dining room furniture, which was in mint condition since it was never used, and set up a cheap six foot folding table to hold the computer, monitors and laptop until I could come up with a better solution.

That moment is finally upon me. Only, I’m having second thoughts about what I want to do.

My original plan was to put in two stock kitchen cabinets and two shorter bathroom stack-of-drawers as the base for a built-in desk and bookshelf system. My desk would be on the lower section, flanked by three drawers on either side. Against the wall on either side of those would be big three foot cabinets that would become the base for very large bookshelves (that I’ll build next summer) to hold my massive teacher book collection and all my supplies and files.

I have no doubt that I could do this well enough to be nicely presentable, but my concern now is that a large built in office in the dining room might be something I regret later since I can’t take it with me and the next owners (in twenty years) might want a grand dining room rather than a library/dining room combo unit. I have to decide soon because the cabinets need to be installed before the flooring goes in.

Writers at home, especially those with young children who need to be all ears all the time, where do you work? Am I crazy for building an awesome library and office in my dining room? Help!

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Rebecca is a full-time everything. She teaches English and reading to her much loved, if challenging, high school students during the day and is a freelance education writer in the evenings. With almost ten years in the classroom and advanced degrees in business and information science, Rebecca specializes in materials that inform, educate and entertain. Rebecca indulges herself by pretending to have spare time and writing about the ups and downs of being a freelancing mama whenever she gets a chance.

12 Comments

  1. Diana Dart July 7, 2011 Reply

    Nope, you are not crazy. Sometimes I LONG for that type of set up. Right now it’s all about spreading things across the couch, living room floor and kitchen table, only to pile them up again when the other people in my home want/need that space (the nerve of them).

    I say do it. Do it for your business, your quality of work, and your sanity. Who knows what your house will look like in 20 years anyway? You may have ripped the whole dining room/library combo out by then, only to work comfortably in a hover pod in the back garden.

  2. Jennifer Mattern July 7, 2011 Reply

    [For those who might have a similar situation but don't plan to stay put for 20 years....] If you think there’s a chance you’ll move in the foreseeable future, I’d avoid the more permanent changeover.

    I’m currently in the market for a house. My guy and I have two major requirements — there must be room for my office and there must be room for a separate library. That said, sacrificing a formal dining room to create that space is a major no-no for us on the buyer side. And it’s ruled out several houses. We’re in the minority wanting an office. To many that dining room would be much more important.

    I’ve also looked at homes with offices of many types — some with built-ins and others without. While the built-ins look nice in photos, they’re far from ideal for me as a buyer. The more permanent fixtures that worked well for the old owner may not hold the types of things I need them to. Some look too cramped. Some are set up where my back would have to be to the door (blame it on bad feng shui if you want, but I hate that and find it very unnerving). They take away my options short of majorly overhauling a room. And if someone is already moving their business, chances are they need to get back to work with an easy move — not spend time ripping out cabinetry.

    So those are my thoughts from a homebuyer’s perspective. But if you intend to stay there for the foreseeable future (really be there 20 years), do whatever you want. If you couldn’t come up with an equally comfortable setup with modular pieces or standalone furniture that you could take with you down the road, then go for the more permanent options. And really, how many pieces would last that long anyway?

    I’d say think about how you treat other rooms too. Do you like to set things up once and leave them as-is? Then permanent fixtures might be great. Are you the type who gets bored once in a while and likes to rearrange things? Then something a bit more mobile might be better for the flexibility.

  3. Michael Kwan July 7, 2011 Reply

    I’d be hesitant about any kind of permanent fixture or built-in for converting the dining room into an office, but as Jennifer points out, staying for 20+ years might make that worthwhile. Even so, I’d be more inclined to just get more conventional furniture and use the dining room as an office. Bookshelves, desk, etc. I don’t know how “open” your dining room is to the rest of your house. If it is a truly separate room, great. If not, setting up some appropriate wall dividers (the folding type are good) might be an option.

    I used to work out of the dining room, but found it far too distracting and it was difficult to separate work time from family time. I don’t have kids, so I guess that puts me in an entirely different situation, but I much prefer my current setup with a spare bedroom as my dedicated office.

  4. Corey Freeman | Writing Whale July 8, 2011 Reply

    I’m actually a student freelancer (yay college!) so my setup HAS to be movable. As far as handling documents goes, I opt for a 80% online setup and my paper stuff is in cheep file/magazine holders from Wal-Mart. For me, the most important items in an office are my desk and a comfortable chair.

    I’m actually wondering what kinds of things you use your office for. I’m at the beginning stages of my freelance writing career, and as I move forward I’m curious about the day-to-day things you deal with that require an office.

  5. Kristie Lorette July 8, 2011 Reply

    How long do you intend on living in the home? Where is the dining room in relation to the other rooms in the house? It is a completely separate room or more like a nook off the kitchen?

    Some of those cabinets (because I just redid my kitchen) are definitely usable for desk systems and if strategically placed could even be turned into the office setup you need for now and an office/pantry/storage system for future owners. This would work in the nook I have in my kitchen, but my dining room is separate and in the middle of the house and open to the living room, so in a situation like that, it would not work.

    In my previous home my parents lived in, there was also a desk system in the kitchen, which is common in some layouts.

  6. Kristie Lorette July 8, 2011 Reply

    Hey Corey:

    Having an office makes it more real for some people, plus it draws that dividing line between your personal and business space when you are working from home. I keep normal business hours, so I get up every morning, get ready for work, grab my copy of coffee and head into my office. I work just like I would at an outside company, only leaving for bathroom breaks, to eat lunch and stuff like that. When the day is done, I shut down my computer, close the blinds and shut the door. Then, it’s home time.

  7. Rebecca July 8, 2011 Reply

    Working in the dining room would not work for me. I need my ‘own’ sacred space.

    How long do you plan to own your home? You may want to forgo using permanent fixtures because most home buyers want a formal dining room for entertainment. When you sell your home, your realtor will (should) tell you to change the space back to a formal dining room. Or, take a hit on the resale value of your home when you sell it.

  8. Carol Tice July 8, 2011 Reply

    Take the upstairs office space. I work up there with the door shut. I used to be constantly paranoid my kids would be crying and I wouldn’t hear them…but I discovered they come up and look for me anyway…if I’m asleep they come hit me on the head! After years of worry I realized I wasn’t missing anything. And I need the isolation to concentrate.

    I say lock the doors downstairs and get the writing space you need.

  9. Rebecca Garland July 8, 2011 Reply

    Hi all!

    The dining room is totally separate from all other rooms – it’s not an open concept home. The dining room is also very large – there is room for a desk and built-in bookcases against one wall and then still have a formal eating area. If we sell, which we’re not for the foreseeable future, I’d simply convert the desk to a buffet area and install a wine rack in the area where my feet would normally go. I also have a separate breakfast room.

    That being said, I’m still toying with what I want to do, and I appreciate the feedback here. I’m thinking more of a library than a full office anyhow – I would just have my desk there, too. Decisions, decisions…

  10. Lindsey Rainwater July 8, 2011 Reply

    Well, while I don’t have kids running around (yet) I would like to say you aren’t crazy. My husband and I are still very young and renting, and while we aren’t putting in anything permanent, our office is in the dining room.

    Being a 100+ year old house, that means it is the hub of the whole place. We have no good place for entertaining, and people think we’re nuts, but that’s ok.

    My main thing is that right now we’re at that point where we don’t have “days off.” We work whenever we need to (which is all the time) and breakfast and lunch are eaten at the computers. Right now our business is our life, so there is no need for lines to be drawn.

    I’m one of those people who blurs the lines between work and personal life anyway, since I do what I love – which is writing. So I’m ok with the office in the dining room. The office being the centerpiece of the house doesn’t bother me.

    Personally, I think the office in the dining room sounds awesome IF you can convert the desk into a buffet area and wine rack. If that is the room you are comfortable in and you have a plan for that theoretical day someday in the future when you might move – I say go for it.

    When you work at home and love you home, comfort comes over house value. Or maybe I’m just crazy. ; )

  11. Prerna July 9, 2011 Reply

    Rebecca, I hear you! We are in an apartment and I really need a separate space for my writing work but this apartment is only a temp place for us, since we would be moving to our “own” place after 2 years or so. So, I can’t make permanent changes since this is a rented apartment, I need to make a few changes so that I can work in peace and still keep an eye on the home and my toddler. While our dining table, along with a separate office desk, is my workspace, I can’t wait to move into our own place which does have a separate study. Like Carol, I need to have “isolation to concentrate”

  12. Allena July 11, 2011 Reply

    Sorry, slightly off topic, but I do want to recommend that many writers/editors think about the “library table” solution for the sprawl. I have a high top “dining” table – a perfect square – and it’s been great for all that laying out galleys and etc that comes with freelancing. I got a very simple black one so that it doesn’t look like a dining table.

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