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Considering an office? Do your homework

| Saturday, April 5, 2014, 6:23 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Theresa Kaufman of Whitehall pets her 8-year-old beagle named Buddy while at her desk. Kaufman runs her business, Theresa Kaufman Events and PR out of her home.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Theresa Kaufman of Whitehall gives a chin scratch to her 8-year-old beagle named Buddy. Kaufman runs her business, Theresa Kaufman Events and PR out of her home.

Working at home seems as common as cooking eggs in a kitchen, but there is a bad yolk in the omelet.

Spending money to equip the work area doesn't pay off.

Designers and other professionals involved in use of household space believe technology and other demands have made home offices less attractive than they once were.

“More and more people do work at home,” says Matthew Brind'Amour, a residential designer from the Brighton Heights area of the North Side. “But instead of a designated area, they are combining areas.”

That makes investing in making one room a home office seem like a poor idea.

Remodeling Magazine does a yearly Cost vs. Value report that looks at the expected return for household projects.

For projects analyzed in 2013, the magazine says home office projects in the Middle Atlantic region will net 42 percent of the investment, or an average of $12,228 for $28,813 spent — the lowest of the projects studied.

In the Pittsburgh area, the project brings even less, 38.5 percent, even though they are better investments than backyard power generators (36.6 percent) or bathroom additions (38.8 percent). Home office projects return $10,775 for $27,995 work.

But this is at a time when people frequently work at home. Forbes Magazine reports that 30 million Americans say they work at home at least one day a week — and it estimates that number will jump 63 percent in the next five years.

A home office would seem almost necessary. Well, sort of.

Gerard Damiani, a South Side architect, says his Studio D'Arc is working on four projects, all of which have requested space suitable for work at home. But, he adds, only two of them want “defined” areas. The others are looking to combine work functions in other spaces.

“Use of space is all over the map,” he says. “Most people have some little area (instead of) a dedicated space.”

For some jobs, he says, designated work areas might be needed. His work, for instance, requires tables and areas where he can draw plans and diagrams.

But most work can be done in a smaller space, often on a laptop computer that can make a couch an office, he says.

Jennifer Stockdale from IKEA in Robinson says interest in furniture that could be used for office functions has not declined, but the type of pieces has changed.

Buyers are more interested in dormitory-like, smaller pieces that can fit into a room that is being used for other purposes.

“We do a lot of home visits, and the talk always is about space,” she says.

Such concerns aren't always the case. Theresa Sciullo Kaufman, who runs an eponymous events and public relations firm, says she needs an office in order “to be disciplined.”

When she formed her company eight years ago, she turned a room into her office where she can go during the day and act in a professional manner. She dresses up a little — no jammies and slippers — and intentionally cultivates a workday atmosphere.

“I close the door and shut things off,” she says. “It is me and my laptop and my phone and printer.”

That helps to separate her personal life from her professional life, she says.

“When I shut the door at 5 or 6, I'm done for the night,” Kaufman adds.

It is a fading attitude, says John DeSantis. The executive director of the Duquesne Light Home & Garden Show says designing and equipping rooms as offices once was an important bit of household use.

“In the mid-'80s, we had model rooms set up,” DeSantis says. “But now, people don't work in a room. They work on the couch with their laptop.”

Even when space for storage or filing is necessary, that function is “tucked away in a corner of a living room or the game room downstairs.”

Jay Armstrong is the owner of Computer House Calls, a Sewickley-based repair firm, and encounters work spaces in homes by the nature of his job. He says lighter equipment has pushed home offices into “little spaces in the bedroom or the basement,” but he thinks there could be an age demographic involved, too.

Older homeowners, once used to offices filled with typewriters and file cabinets, value that space. They might be willing to pay more money for a home that offers it.

But, he adds, younger buyers might not see the need for such an expense. Instead of spending money for a house with an extra room that could be used as an office, that buyer likely will consider a smaller house.

Family demands have made separate home offices less attractive, IKEA's Stockdale says.

“When you have a family with children, you want to be around them, even if you are doing some work at home,” she says.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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