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Jef Hancock : Working from home

Shaping the live/work environment to suit your needs

Henry Ford started from a garage that had to be partially dismantled in order to get the first car on the road. Apple Computers also started from a garage, in a suburb! Even my Grandmother started a successful business, building electronics assemblies out of her living room and a shed in the driveway. While some of us associate live/work with the hip downtown "artist lofts" in cool cities, other people embrace the culture through less glamorous, more traditional ways.

Working from home is the best, isn’t it? More time for our families and projects. We eat better, feel a connection with our community. Right? Not necessarily. Sometimes bringing work into the home can be a huge distraction from living. Alternatively, home can become too distracting to get work done. Sometimes we need a little separation between the two – an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach. Here are some ways to separate work and “home” in different dual-purpose environments.

Studio-apartment Scenario

When working out of a studio apartment, you may want to consider some sort of partition. A folding changing screen is inexpensive and provides a visual boundary between living and working spaces. A large piece of furniture, such as a dresser or entertainment center, can also be used as a divider. Try decorating your workspace differently from your living space. Varying colours and lighting helps a lot.

Don’t work on your laptop in bed! Not only is it horrible for your posture, but it negates any effort to separate work from your resting place.

Having clients or colleagues over and maintaining a level of professionalism can be difficult in a small apartment. Starting with the bed. If you can't swing a Murphy bed that folds up out of sight, consider laying a neutral toned blanket over the made bed, then throwing every pillow in the house on it, long-ways (not at the headboard end like usual). When done right, the bed will look more like a couch or lounge. Definitely have other seating available, even fold-up chairs.

To block line-of-sight to the studio kitchen, a folding screen is, again, an easy solution. Hang a large curtain rod in front of the cabinets and sink/stove area, and close the curtains when clients are over. In the bathroom, keep a tasteful shower curtain drawn over the shower and make sure the room is clean and free of personal clutter. Adding decor elements and colour can make the bathroom feel more professional, and less apartment-like.

Townhouse or Suburban Home Scenario

Ideally, you'll want your home office or shop to be in a separate room, behind a door that closes. A spare room, garage, or basement is adequate – just get some light down there so you don't feel like you work in a cave. Believe me, it can work at first, but will eventually drive you mad! Preferably, have a separate entry from the rest of the living area. If not, choose a room near the entrance to your home, not too far from the bathroom. Your client or visitor doesn’t need a tour through your personal space.

Just because you can conduct conference calls in your pajamas doesn't mean you should. When you are going to "your office" you should dress and act the part. You may even want (or need) to set specific office or shop hours, and hours you are “at home". This can be difficult, but also essential to maintaining a healthy life/work balance.

Industrial Building Scenario

Industrial buildings offer you a chance to design and build "outside the box" because you’re not constrained by typical residential building shapes, dimensions or materials. If the space is open, you may want to block certain lines of sight and help shape the space. Try to keep business and living areas segregated. There's nothing unprofessional about having a kitchen in a work space, but beds are a different matter. They should be out of sight, not just for visitors but for yourself. Showers can be hidden a variety of ways, like in a closet or behind a large mirror in the bathroom, even outside in a garden patio.

One final thought about your live/work space. Regardless of whether it’s a loft, a warehouse or a bungalow, always remember to get out, socialize and play. Nobody should spend all their time in the same place!

Jef HancockCo-founder of design company Parker Barrow, Jef offers design tips and unique home decor ideas that showcase his "evil genius" style. Read more