Designing the space for taking your work home

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2011, 12:00am

Tempting as it might be to tap away on our laptops on the sitting room sofa, it's not a practice to be encouraged - at least not for extended periods.

For a start, it's an ergonomic no-no. Just about everything is wrong with this scenario, posture-wise. And if you want a short cut to hunched shoulders, back pain, wrist strain and more, this is surely it.

Second, all advice about working from home - even for those who need to do work at home before or after their day in the office - recommends setting aside a designated space. Among the most obvious reasons are minimised opportunities for interruptions or distractions, and a clear demarcation between work and private life.

As one blogger writes on, a website providing advice on productivity, 'the worst part is that I've ended up using the same small space to eat, work and relax in. And that's simply no good.'

Said blogger decided to move to a bigger apartment with a spare bedroom. But you don't have to. If space constraints are holding you back, it's time to think outside the square.

Monique McLintock, an interior designer based in Hong Kong (, says that just about every client tells her they would love to have a designated work space, but are resigned to accepting that their small apartment won't allow it. Even those who've scaled down to just an iPad prefer a demarcation zone. This does not have to be the case, she says.

'People don't realise that you can take space and use it for different purposes,' she says. 'You might be prepared to sacrifice a closet - a chair and work bench can easily be tucked in there. Or under the stairs - normally this is a dead area, yet it's a perfect space for building in bookshelves and a work station.'

In one project, McLintock turned a wardrobe into an office. 'I removed the inside carcass and replaced it with a desk, shelves and chair that can be stored under the desk. As you open the wardrobe sliding doors, a secret office is revealed.' The designer says the owners of the Robinson Road flat 'think it's fantastic - their work stays out of sight, out of mind, but open the doors and there's a full office in there'.

The cost of conversion was less than HK$3,000, and of that the most expensive part was the cabling.

Another client had a rooftop, which McLintock realised had the potential to be a fully self-contained work space, at minimal cost, and without detracting from the amenity of the outdoor entertainment area.

'I bought an outdoor plastic storage shed from Aloha Outdoors (805 Horizon Plaza, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2552 0036) for HK$9,000, and decked it out as an office,' she says. This was another cost-effective solution, and one McLintock recommends. 'People don't use rooftops as much as they think they're going to. It can be a private space. Go up, close the door, and you have more room for filing than you'd get indoors.'

For something more space age along the same lines, Belgian architectural firm dmvA designed the 'blob VB3', a transportable mobile office module made primarily of polyester. The interior structure of the egg-shaped 'blob' is a continuous, curved shelf unit. This provides storage space for books, office supplies and other equipment. It even has a snooze shelf where weary workers can stretch out and recharge with a power nap - and no one need ever know. Designer Rini van Beek says the design is a prototype that has been sold to an art foundation in Kemzeke, close to Antwerp (

For the home of another Hong Kong client, where there really was apparently 'no space' to be cribbed, McLintock employed a smoke-and-mirrors trick. 'A computer was concealed in a mirrored wall next to the kitchen island bench,' she says. 'There is a wooden table under the island that can be pulled out for extra work space.' When you look at the wall, it appears as a smoky grey mirror. But behind it, contractors scraped away a niche in the masonry where a thin computer screen could be installed. 'It looks like one piece of glass. When you turn on the screen, via a remote control button, it shows through the mirror,' McLintock says. 'Pull out a portable keyboard and all of a sudden you are working away.'

The owner of the Caine Road property is a real estate agent who does a lot of his work in the morning, so he finds it very convenient. The mirror cost HK$4,600. 'People think they have to fork out a fortune (for creative solutions), but really it is not much money,' she says.

Using kitchens to do double duty as work spaces is not a new idea, but to get it right you should be clever about it. Designer Clifton Leung ( achieved this in a Robinson Road project featuring a multi-functional kitchen countertop. To allow for the owner's hobby of flower arrangement, Leung made the counter long and wide, with divided shelves underneath providing the 'demarcation line'. On the kitchen side, this provided storage for cooking utensils, while facing the living room there is space for the flower- arranging kit, which is always on hand and easy to stow away. 'By turning the space into an open kitchen, which could be enclosed by a sliding glass across the counter-top, the small kitchen becomes a more airy and spacious working area visually,' Leung says.

More small office design inspiration is outlined in words and photos on, an online 'ideabook' described by CNN as 'the Wikipedia of exterior and interior design'. A clear favourite is the 'office in a closet' concept, which is featured in various ways.

As noted on the site: 'The best thing about turning a closet into an office is that when you don't feel like thinking about work, you can just shut the doors and hide it from view.' So isn't all that just peachy? Now you really can work around the clock at home. What a breakthrough!


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