Cottage industry

Colin and Justin discuss the whys and wherefores of creating a home office. Planned carefully, they counsel, business can indeed be brisk.

by Colin and Justin

Across a busy professional trajectory, we’ve grown accustomed to carrying our office, tortoise style, on our backs. Thanks to laptops and iPhones, we can deliver design plans, product specifics and the written word to anyone who plays a role in our global adventure.

Much of our operational ease can be explained by “telecommuting,” a buzz phrase that describes the way in which we (and toilers the world over) run our business. Coined in 1973 by engineer and rocket scientist Jack Nilles, telecommuting describes how output can be optimized if work goes to the worker rather than the worker going to work.

On the road as we perpetually are, we’ve laid down our virtual quills – momentarily – to engage in a conference call, and we’ve a Skype and a Zoom meeting ahead. Our global position, you see, is no longer an issue when business matters require a discussion with colleagues far, far away.

But take it from us: we love getting back to our home office, and we imagine you do too. Whether you need a dedicated study, or a quiet nook in which to write letters, each requires planning, though separating home from office life needn’t be difficult: high-backed shelving, for example, will arrest eye lines, as will screens, floor rugs and large plants employed to delineate function.

Carefully considered finishing details will proffer a professional veneer at every turn. Remember: as you video chat – or broker that deal by Skype – your caller will almost certainly be sizing up your backdrop, so set the scene to ensure you don’t disappoint. Every good sales pitch, after all, deserves a lovely stage upon which to play, so make an effort to get it right.

But, of course, a good home office isn’t just about how everything looks: it should work well too. To this end, functionality and ergonomics are crucial. Ensure your desk chair is comfy (don’t skimp – Staples has many affordable options), or choose a medium height dining chair to promote comfy work sessions. Net gain, after all, is what you’re chasing, not neck strain. So, think twice, buy once.

Don’t, however, fret about cash: ample results can be achieved using items with humble origins. Classic kitchen tables and bentwood chairs – from second-hand stores such as The Haliburton Thrift Warehouse – make great starting points.

Locate your desk to take advantage of views and remember to rest your eyes every half-hour or so by looking at the horizon for a few moments. Don’t ask us to explain the science part (your optometrist can fill you in), but it’s universally accepted the  procedure helps eye muscles de-stress.

Task lighting, courtesy of auspiciously positioned overhead pots – or a good Anglepoise – will avoid shadows over your paperwork. Place table lamps to the left of your workstation if right-handed, and to the right if left-handed. Where colour is concerned, neutral palettes set the scene, whereas brighter hues add levity. Buy tester pots (don’t select from a one-inch blob on a fan chart), paint a large patch and live with it for a while before taking the plunge.

As is the case with any office, in an urban or rural setting, consider organisation. If commandeering a visible corner of your home or cottage as a workspace, opt for trunks and attractive chests rather than traditional metal filing cabinets. Put simply, it’s all about scene setting.

To create a good impression (for whomever you’re chatting with via video call) banish everything you don’t need. While you’re at it, archive past papers and store current bumph in an orderly fashion. Get things off the floor and use wall surfaces for storage to max up your room’s function. We suggest finding a balance between open and closed storage – open for anything you’re happy to see, and closed for associated paraphernalia you’d rather position on a more discreet basis.

A mix of Double D (Display and Discrete) storage tempts order and function. Choose shelving with easy-slide drawers into which clutter and files can be secreted, and stack books in neat piles with interesting objects floating on top to distract from an obvious office aesthetic.

To support Canadian retailers, one of our first ports of call is Casalife ( where inventory is well constructed, sensibly priced and Cottage Country deliverable. If budget is tight, try Structube ( for sturdy desks. From our experience, optimal surface height lies between 27 to 30 inches (for those in the 5’7” to 5’11” range) but tailor your choice up or down (by an inch or two) to suit. When in store, try before you buy, and, if purchasing online, study the tech specs and returns policy before ordering.

Followed carefully, the foregoing should help steer your homework space towards optimal output, with increased productivity and enhanced worker morale the resultant benefits. Just think: you might never need to pull another sick day. And doesn’t that sound like the perfect model for successful business? Yes indeed, read it and reap.

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