One year after the state’s COVID-19 lockdown forced many employees to begin working from home, there may not be many houses in the area that don’t have some semblance of a home office. Whether it’s a card table and folding chair in the master bedroom, a cleared-off corner of the dining room table or a living room recliner where one can perch with a laptop, people have had to adapt their abode to get the job done.

Dedicating space for a home office can be a challenge in the bungalows and four-squares that make up much of the housing in neighborhoods served by the Villager. Those with a spare bedroom or a living room or family room that is large enough to set up shop are fortunate because home offices may be here to stay.

home improvement
Josh Oberheide has turned the attic of his Macalester-Groveland garage into a comfortable place to work from home. He is still in the process of finishing the space himself. Photo by Brad Stauffer

If you don’t have a spare room available, there may be places in the house where furniture can be rearranged to free up a corner. Small but serviceable work areas may be tucked under a staircase, in a dormer alcove or on a broad stairway landing. Freeing up a closet that is big enough for a file cabinet and placing a desk just outside the closet might present a workable solution. To gain a bit of privacy, consider walling off the area with a decorative screen or a cubicle panel.

Josh Oberheide started out with an office in the basement of his Macalester-Groveland home. A professional recruiter with young children at home, he needed a larger and quieter space, so he made plans to construct an office in a garage he had built several years ago. The garage has a steep roof with plenty of storage, as well as a large dormer to accommodate an 8-by-10-foot nook where he has placed his desk, files and a computer.

Most of Oberheide’s office furniture is “stuff” the family wasn’t using. His desk chair was a free alley find, and an armchair came from his wife’s grandparents’ home. Though “still a work in progress,” he said, the office is more than functional with insulated walls, electric heat and an internet connection.

When high school art teacher Taylor Champoux moved into her Macalester-Groveland home a year and a half ago, she turned one of the bedrooms into an art studio. Last March, when students transitioned from in-person to distance learning, she made a few adjustments so that she could teach from home.

When high school art teacher Taylor Champoux moved into her Macalester-Groveland home a year and a half ago, she turned one of the bedrooms into an art studio. Last March, when students transitioned from in-person to distance learning, she made a few adjustments so that she could teach from home.

Champoux created an office desk out of a slab of butcher block from Home Depot, supported by a set of drawers and a wooden trestle from Ikea that adds a bit of shelf space. In addition to a desk chair, she uses a comfortable armchair. She also has a mobile-phone holder that she positions over art projects she is demonstrating for students.

Champoux’s fiancé Alex Repucci works from home in one of the other bedrooms. His company is one of many that offer employees a small stipend to set up a home office, and he was able to use a computer monitor and other accessories from his regular office.

Bethany Gladhill and her husband Patrick Rhone own the consulting service Gladhill Rhone. They had remodeled the attic of their Summit-University home as an office before the COVID-19 pandemic. After the outbreak, when they found themselves spending more time at home, they did some tweaking and upgrading.

Gladhill used to spend a lot of time working at her clients’ offices. When her clients started working from home, she needed to reorganize her home office to make room for their files and paperwork.

Gladhill used to spend a lot of time working at her clients’ offices. When her clients started working from home, she needed to reorganize her home office to make room for their files and paperwork.

“I have a great home office,” Gladhill said. “There’s a desk next to the window, a big long credenza, and filing cabinets for storage across from it. And then a big comfy chair and ottoman. I spend about half my time at the desk and half in the big chair. I can settle in with my laptop, papers spread on the ottoman, and a cat or two next to me.”

Zoom sessions, used for everything from staff meetings and classes to webinars and employee interviews, have become a mainstay for local businesses. What is visible in the background of a Zoom call can be important. A painting, sculpture or shelves filled with books that reflect the interests, tastes or organizational savvy of the office worker might impress associates. Online apps are also available to create the illusion of the Como Conservatory, the city skyline or even Machu Picchu in the background.

Champoux, whose studio-office has two windows letting in natural light, has hung nicely framed art on one wall. Woven roller shades and a desk with a neat stack of books in the corner serve as the backdrop for Oberheide’s interactive meetings.

Gladhill is still searching for that perfect background. She used to hang a decorative scarf on the wall behind her, but “people kept thinking I was in bed,” she said.

— Janet Lunder Hanafin

Reap the full benefits of working from home

Are you thinking about creat­ing or upgrading a home office? Consider the following suggestions:

• Choose a dedicated space, even if it is just the corner of a room. Think of it as “the office.” Wall it off with a folding screen or a cubicle wall panel.

• Figure out what works best for you. If you do your best work in an easy chair, make room for that. Your work space needs to meet your work style.

• If you will be spending time in a desk chair, Doug Mintz, owner of Cubicles Plus Office Furnishings on Jefferson Avenue, advises starting with a good ergonomic chair and building around that.

• You may not need a bona fide desk, but make sure your work surface is sturdy and well-supported. A kitchen counter remnant placed on top of a file cabinet and a short bookcase should do the trick.

• Make sure you have adequate light.

• Storage is likely to be a priority, so decide what you need to have close at hand, such as files, references, desk supplies. Do you need a file cabinet and printer within arm’s reach, or could they be somewhere else?

• If you will be spending time on Zoom or Facetime calls, you may want to invest in a ring light to illuminate your face. Having a light behind you can turn you into a talking silhouette. Mintz recommends a green screen to create a custom background. Another useful gizmo is a phone holder. It will help keep you in focus and keep your arm from getting tired.

— Janet Lunder Hanafin

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