More and more people are working from their homes, both as self-employed small business people and as employees. There are a lot of advantages to working at home–including the fact that the dress code is generally more casual–but there are also a number of important things you'll need to consider before setting up a home office. The most basic consideration is local zoning ordinances. If your home business consists of no more than a desk and a computer in a back bedroom, chances are no one will even know you're operating. But if, for example, your office is open to the public (say you're a chiropractor or a notary public) or you keep inventory on site, then your business affects your neighbors and is likely to be regulated.

No matter what your business, always check with your local zoning board to find out where you stand before investing a lot of time and money in your office. In this document you will find information about:




FIG. 1 - Common architectural symbols used to draw a floor plan.

FIG. 2 - A parallel layout is a good design for someone who regularly sees clients. The "client" portion of the office is separated from the work area, while file cabinets and shelves are close at hand.

FIG. 3 - An L-shaped layout is a good design for someone who spends most of their time working at the computer. A temporary layout table can be set up in the center of the room when needed.

FIG. 4 - A straight line layout trades storage and convenience for the ability to fit a conference table into the room.


  • Once you've determined that you'll be working at home, the next step is to find some office space. Professional office designers do it like this: first add up the sizes of all the furniture, equipment, and storage you'll need, then design the space around it. Unfortunately, you'll probably be limited to a few choices, so you'll have to make them work no matter what size they are.

  • Keep in mind that privacy–or a lack of it– can make or break a home business. Don't underestimate your needs. If you are constantly being interrupted by family members because you are accessible, it'll be hard to give your work the necessary concentration. If you have children, you probably know how futile it is to expect them to be quiet, too. Privacy is one of the most important considerations in choosing office space in your home.

  • A second important consideration may be access. If clients will come to your office, you'll need to have an office that is accessible without walking through the entire house–or you'll have to clean up every time you expect a client. If you can't find office space where there is a door nearby, you may want to consider adding a room.

  • If accessibility is not a major issue, there are a lot of spaces in the average home that can be turned into office space. You may be able to divide your office into two or more spaces. For example, you may have a niche under a stairway you can use for a desk and a phone only. But just behind that niche might be a closet into which you can put a file cabinet, copy machine, and office books and supplies. It's not as handy as having everything at your fingertips, but it may work. Here are some more ideas on finding space for an office.

  • Adding Space–Building a room for an office is not really "finding" space–it's "making" space. The advantage is you can design the size and layout you want. The disadvantage is its cost. You're probably looking for a way to have a home office within your existing building. But don't overlook the obvious but more expensive route of adding on. Possibly the room you add on as an office can become a bedroom or family room if you sell your house. You may get all your investment back, if the new room is appropriate, and have a nice office space all the years you used it.

  • Guest Bedroom–Taking a wall or two from a room that might be used 10 or 12 nights of the year for guests is not unreasonable. You can build bookcases and/or other office storage up and around the bed. Or get a Murphy bed which folds up into the wall. Then the few nights the room is used for guests, push your office stuff away, and drop the bed down.

  • Maybe you can buy a hide-a-bed type couch for another room in the house for infrequent guests, and make that guest bedroom into a full-time office.

  • Basement–If you have a basement, this may be where you'll find the most available space. There may be some disadvantages, such as client accessibility, a lack of natural light, or dampness. But the advantage of abundant space might outweigh all the disadvantages.

  • Attic–The disadvantage of taking over the attic is that there may be no insulation, heat, electricity, air conditioning, etc. The advantage is that an attic can be a large, quiet space–and also bright and cheerful, if you install skylights or roof windows.

  • Attached Garage–The layout here is often favorable, especially if your business involves having clients in. A garage will have easy and private access. It has quite a bit of room and can be finished off fairly easily. The big space left by the overhead door is a wonderful opportunity to design in some nice windows and/or door into your office. A big disadvantage is you lose your garage. Of course, if your home business does well, you can build a bigger one next year.

  • Hallway–Hallways with niches or extra space are opportunities for small office spaces, although they may be just enough to get by.

  • Closets–Closets are usually in short supply, so taking one over for an office space may not be a popular idea in your household. But possibly the closet contents can be moved to a basement area, attic area, or someplace that is good enough for storage but not good enough for office space.

  • Sharing Space–A wall or two in the family room, living room, a bedroom, or some other room may be appropriate. Possibly some office functions can be in one space and others in a second or third space.

  • Many of these spaces depend on how much privacy you need to work, but be imaginative as you look over all the possibilities. There may be more office space possibilities in your house than you think.

  • Electricity–Don't underestimate the amount of electrical power you'll need in your office. Your needs will depend on how much electrical equipment you'll be using, of course, but chances are you'll want a 20-amp circuit. Preferably, that circuit should be dedicated to your office alone, so you won't have to worry about someone in the house turning on a hair dryer or toaster at the same time you're making copies and printing documents.




FIG. 5 - A computer desk with a built-in printer stand provides excellent storage and stability for your computer and peripherals.

FIG. 6 - A Ballans chair is designed to ease stress on your back by keeping your weight on your knees.

FIG. 7 - Standard file cabinets (top) take up less wall space than lateral file cabinets (below), but require more clear space in front in order to open them fully.


  • Have a licensed electrician look over your system if your electrical needs will be significant–especially if you think you may need a circuit dedicated to your office. There are a number of technical issues that have to be resolved, and you don't want to overload your electrical system.

  • Telephone–Wiring a telephone jack is not difficult. Many homes built after the '70s were wired with two-line capability, even though you may have only one number. To check, remove the cover plate from one of your wall jacks. If you see four wires (usually red, green, yellow, and black), you have two-line capability. All you need to do is call the phone company and ask for a second number.

  • If you use a fax machine–and most of the businesses you'll deal with will expect you to have one–you may want a third line. You can buy a combination phone/fax, but you won't be able to receive voice and fax calls simultaneously.

  • Heating/AC/Ventilation–You'll have to be comfortable in your office to work efficiently. Fans and portable heaters can transform an undesirable space into a good one, but keep in mind that electric heat draws a lot of power, and may affect electrical service to the area.

  • Lighting–Proper lighting is one of the most important elements of any office. Light is measured in lumens, and visually demanding tasks require at least 2,500 lumens in the room.

  • You'll want to pay attention to two kinds of lighting. Ambient lighting covers the entire area, while task lighting is directed to a specific area. How much you'll need depends on the task, but generally, the more visually demanding the task, the more lighting you'll need.

  • You'll also need to decide whether you want incandescent or fluorescent lighting in the office. Fluorescent light is more energy efficient than incandescent light, and the bulbs last longer. Fluorescent fixtures are also non-directional, so they tend to flood the area more evenly. Incandescent light, on the other hand, is warmer, and can be directed and controlled more easily.

    The following table lists the output in lumens of various size incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs:

    Incandescent Light:
    Watts Lumens
    60 870
    75 1,190
    100 1,750
    50/100/150 580/1,670/2,250
    Fluorescent Light:
    Watts Lumens
    20 820
    40 2,150

  • Once you've determined where your office will be, the next step is planning the layout to make the most efficient use of space. Measure the space and draw a scale sketch on a piece of graph paper. Write in all dimensions, including the locations of electrical switches and outlets, heating ducts, any plumbing fixtures, doors, windows, etc.

  • If you use graph paper with a heavier line every four squares, you can make each square equal 3", so the heavier lines represent one foot.

  • Next, make cutouts of your office equipment and furniture to scale. Standard sizes of office furniture are listed below.

  • Lay out the room until it's roughly the way you want it, then double check your layout. Use props such as your kitchen chairs and a card table or boxes to see if there's enough room behind chairs when pulled out, or whether you'll have access to the copier.

  • If you use a computer, you'll want to place it so the screen doesn't face a window, to avoid glare. Also, make sure an electrical outlet is nearby, and that your placement puts the printer and other peripherals close enough to be plugged into the CPU.

  • It's better to make changes now–even to the point of finding a new space–than after your office furniture is bought and is all in place.

  • Desk–Your desk is the heart of your workspace. Be sure it's big enough to accommodate your needs–one thing you'll find is that no matter how much work space you have, you could always use more. If your budget is limited, you can create a good-sized desk by setting a flush interior door on a couple of two-drawer file cabinets. Typical sizes of desks are:

    Office desk: 30" deep, 60" long, 29" high

    Secretary's desk: 30" deep, 48" long, 29" high, with L-shaped wing 20" wide, 42" long, 27" high

    Credenza: 20" deep, 60" long, 29" high

    2/6 flush door: 30" deep, 80" long

  • Computer Desk–If you use a computer, definitely consider a dedicated computer desk or computer table. Most computers can't take much shaking, and computer tables are specially designed for stability. Also, the height of a computer table can be adjusted; if you spend a lot of time at the keyboard, you'll need it to be lower than standard desk height. They are commonly 30" deep and 48" or 60" long.

  • Computer desks often include a built-in, adjustable keyboard shelf, a monitor stand, a printer stand, and storage designed for diskettes and software manuals. Like computer tables, they are built for stability. A computer hutch is typically about 28" deep and 54" long. An L-shaped computer workstation typically consists of a desk about 28" deep and 50" long, with a wing about 12" deep and 42" long (Fig. 5).

  • The standard rule of thumb is that your computer monitor should be a full arm's length away from your face to avoid eye strain and to keep you away from the radiation emitted by color monitors. Make sure your computer desk or table is deep enough to allow you to work without being nose-to-nose with your monitor.

  • Chair–If you spend a fair amount of time sitting at your desk, by all means treat yourself to a comfortable chair. A couple hundred dollars may seem like a lot, but when you figure how much time you spend in the chair, it's pennies per hour. If you aren't comfortable, your work will suffer.

  • If you have back problems (or don't want to have them), you may want to consider a Ballans chair (Fig. 6). A Ballans chair is designed to keep most of the weight on your knees, while keeping your back straight.

  • File Cabinets–You can never have too much storage space, so plan for plenty of file cabinets (Fig. 7). Vertical file cabinets are available in two-, three-, or four-drawer configurations. Two-drawer cabinets are the same height as a standard desk, so you can use them to extend your workspace. Lateral file cabinets save depth, but take up more wall space.

  • Consider using legal-size file cabinets even if you don't work with legal documents. Many envelopes, magazines, and presentation materials are slightly longer than 11", and they won't fit easily in a letter-size file cabinet. Typical file cabinet sizes are: Letter-size: 15" wide, 18" or 26" deep

    Legal-size: 18-1/4" wide, 22" or 26" deep

    Lateral: 36" wide, 19" deep

  • Copier–A copier can be placed on its own stand, or sit on a desktop or file cabinet. If you do any desktop publishing, consider a model that allows you to enlarge and reduce in 1% increments. You can also buy a copier with a "photo" mode that will provide excellent copy quality on artwork. If you only make an occasional copy for your records, you may be able to get by temporarily with a fax machine that has a copy mode.

  • Storage–You'll almost certainly need bookshelves and other storage space. If you're using a bedroom as an office, you can easily convert the closet into storage by removing the existing shelf and closet rod, then filling the space with shelves.

Steel Tape Measure Graph Paper
Pencil Architect's Scale
Straightedge Heavy Paper

Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Information in this document has been furnished by the National Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and safety. Neither NRHA, any contributor nor the retailer can be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in this document.