FOR THOSE WITH enough self-discipline, working from home can be a dream come true. You can focus without interruption, office politics become a thing of the past, and setting your own work hours, meal times and coffee breaks means you can be most productive when inspiration (or a deadline) strikes. But you don't want work to take over your home. A living room that looks like an office hardly makes for harmonious home life - points underscored by American home-office designer Neal Zimmerman, author of Taunton's Home Workspace Idea Book. 'Whatever the work and whatever the space, I've learnt that successful workplaces share three basic features: they balance home life and work life; they're well-planned and organised; and they have a personal spirit about them that stimulates their owners to do their best work,' says Zimmerman, of Connecticut-based Neal Zimmerman and Associates AIA. However large - or small - the space you allocate to your home office, organisation is crucial. 'I've seen some successful home offices in closets, hallways, even corridors,' says Zimmerman. A tendency when working from home is to view every available surface, even the floor, as a dumping ground. In small spaces, this is a no-no. 'Get everything off the floor,' Zimmerman says. 'I often see home work spaces with books and papers piled up on the floor. In your work space, the only things on the floor should be a chair and a bin.' In small spaces, only objects used daily should be stored in the work area. The adage 'a place for everything, and everything in its place' holds true. Don't make the mistake of confusing work with life, Zimmerman says. 'It's important to make sure that your work area maintains an identity that's separate from the general living space. Even if you live alone, you need to separate work and life. 'People who first begin working at home often think they can do it on the kitchen table. This is a recipe for disaster.' If a corner of the bedroom is the only available space, demarcation lines must be drawn, especially if the room is shared. 'Partners must agree on no work in the bedroom after a certain hour in the evening and no sleep in the bedroom after a certain hour in the morning,' he says. And when you work at home, health and safety are your own concern. Create a healthy work environment - one that includes proper lighting and other ergonomic tools, such as an adjustable keyboard and suitable chair, he says. Hong Kong's JasonCaroline Design created an efficient home work space for financier David Chan. Designer Caroline Ma says she chose the room closest to the front door of Chan's two-bedroom apartment as the office and removed an interior door to create a more open plan. 'We provided computer outlets and a lot of shelves and cabinets were fitted, like in any study,' she says. Because Ma couldn't find the right desk for Chan, the company designed one and had it made. 'A writing desk would have been too small and, on the rare occasions when clients visited, it wouldn't have looked powerful enough.' Ma broke one of Zimmerman's golden rules and extended Chan's work space to the kitchen table because he seldom cooks or entertains at home. To compensate, she designed a counter in the kitchen, and for the living room she chose an adjustable coffee table, which Chan can elevate if he wants to eat in front of the TV. The conversion cost about $500,000, including equipment, furniture and construction work. 'My work space had to be efficient enough to do business, but at the same time I didn't want my living space to feel cramped,' says Chan. Choosing the right materials was the most important factor, he says. 'The design achieved what I had hoped for, especially when you consider what the room looked like initially - a small prison cell.' His favourite change is the open doorway to his office, which looks onto the much larger living room. 'Because I usually spend the whole day in the office, it's important I don't feel too cloistered in the small room,' he says. In hindsight, he says he would have limited natural light and added controlled lighting because he believes too much sunlight isn't conducive to a typical office environment. Ma says a solution would be to install a false ceiling to conceal lights, fluorescents and halogens, but this comes down to personal preference. Many clients prefer their offices to be more like home and that includes the lighting, she says. But how do you know if your home-office design is working well on the living and business front? 'One of the benefits of working at home is freedom,' Zimmerman says. 'You also have the opportunity to create a great home office - one that's functional, well organised and a place you enjoy being in. It should reflect those things that bring joy to your life - the things that you're working for to begin with. A home office should be more than just another place to suffer work.'