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Published: Tuesday, 5/11/2004

Home offices growing in importance, designer says in Toledo

When an insurance company executive in the early 1990s suggested to architect Neal Zimmerman that he design a home office, he thought he was being asked to submit a plan for an office building.

"In those days, when you said 'home office,' you thought of the headquarters of a company," said Mr. Zimmerman. "But my friend meant an office in someone's home."

Although the concept of telecommuting was in its infancy, the architect from West Hartford, Conn., took the idea and ran with it. Now, with more than 24 million Americans working out of their houses, a number that increases each day, Mr. Zimmerman has found a ready audience for his message.

"All good home offices have three basic elements in common: balance, organization, and personal spirit," Mr. Zimmerman said in an interview before his appearance last night at the monthly meeting of the Toledo chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He has more than 25 years' experience designing corporate, commercial, and residential workspaces.

A home office should be designed to have "an environment that pleases you and inspires you to do your best work, not just to suffer work," he said.

The homeowner needs to determine what kind of equipment and storage space are needed, whether visitors will be coming, and what location in the house is best, particularly if the business is to have another employee, he advised.

If the budget allows, a designer could be hired, he said.

A committed do-it-yourselfer can build a home office for less than $1,000, but a professionally designed one could cost $100,000, said the author of Home Workspace Idea Book and Home Office Design.

The biggest thing to remember, Mr. Zimmerman said, is to choose a spot that works.

"If it's too small or doesn't get enough heat or electricity, or you're at loggerheads with your family because of the way in which you work, it's going to be a recipe for disaster," he explained.

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