For most of us -- whether artist or writer, family bookkeeper or seamstress -- finding a place to work at home means reserving a corner of the den or family room for a desk or an easel or putting the sewing machine on the dining room table. What we dream of is a special seperate space where checks and bills could always be found, where that dress you cut out three years ago would just wait for you to return to it with all its pattern pieces intact.
Even in a town of workaholics, few of us are willing to give up whole rooms to a work area, especially in city houses where space is at a premium, unless of course we sork at home exclusively. Anyone who has ever created a personal workplace at home learns quickly that in shaping that place, design is only one of the problems to be addressed. One has to look closely at both work habits and style of living and, usually, face the fact that finding a space means being flexible about traditional spaces within the home.
The people pictured here have unique requirements for their home workplaces -- a drafting table, a loom, a darkroom. Yet each has solved problems in ways that demonstrate the importance of creativity and practicality in shaping their own space.
"I'm a firm believer in working at home," says graphic artist Jim Hellmuth, who has spent all of the last six years doing just that. "I could not work the way I do and keep the hours I do if I didn't work at home -- I wouldn't have any family life."
Not long ago Hellmuth was offerred a highly paid job as a creative director for a major advertising firm. While the job and the salary were tempting, the artist tried to convince his furture employers to let him work at home, as always. "I tried to get them to install a video hook-up with the office, but they just wouldn't buy it," Hellmuth says, smiling and pointing to the place he envisioned a video screen set up in his studio.
The artist opted for a way of living and working that continues to be a bit unorthodox. While some artists squirrel themselves away in an attic or basement, out of the mainstream of activity so they can create, Hellmuth remains in the thick of things, having converted the living room of his Chevy Chase, D.C., home into his studio. His five children and their friends race in and out as he sits at a glass-topped Plexiglas-based table he designed years ago for his first home studio. "The table used to be twice this size, when I had a partner, but when we split up, we just divided the table in half and it still works well," says Hellmuth, who muses over the fact that Plexiglas designer Jeffrey Bigelow, who made the table for Hellmuth and his partner, now manufacturers one that is disarmingly similar.
Rather than the customary credenza behind his airy desk, Hellmuth has a span of oak neatly supported by blue milk cartons. The wall behind the desk is littered with notes, images of an East Indian guru he and his wife follow, and swatches of work done for his two major clients, a locally based furniture manufacturer, Rudd International, and Phil's Photo, a typesetting firm sepcializing in a wide array of typefaces.
"I think more and more people are going to opt for working at home in the future," says Hellmuth, bouncing his 10-month-old son on his lap as he chats with a visitor perched in a comforatble bentwood rocker. "The atmosphere is so much more pleasant," the artist says, waving his hand at a large array of plants and big blue fireplace. "And there's no commuter hassle." In fact, Hellmuth literally rolls out of bed into his office from the bedroom across the hall in what was the old dining room. The room, which looks like a simple sitting room with a few soft cushions scattered about, is filled with small throw rugs and a few pieces of furniture. Hellmuth and his wife practice Kriya yoga and long ago did away with traditional beds, preferring to sleep on the floor.
To stay in touch with clients, Hellmuth spends a lot of time on the phone, has an answering service when he's not in or otherwise engaged and uses a messanger service to deliver work to clients. For big jobs he occasionally hires someone to help him out, but, by and large, remains content to be a loner, out of the mainstream of the traditional Washington workday world -- at home with his work and his family.
Fiber artist Linda Hendrick's studio allows for her dual role as an artist and mother with a special corner set aside in her spacious studio for Play-doh and other under-six creative projects for her children, ages 5 and 3.
The artist served as her own general contractor when she and her husband built their 3,052-square-foot home in Germantown, Md., designed by Reston architect Peter Hotz. "I decided that finallly I would have a studio big enough and ligh enough for all my projects, and for teaching," says Hendricks of her 24'-by-21' studio.
In their last home in Virginia, Hendricks carved out a space for her wool and looms between the kitchen and the living room. Here, she opted for a place apart -- so that when the children were at school or busy playing, she could work undisturbed and leave projects iin vairous stages without fear of a flying frisbee or yesterday's peanut butter and jelly sandwich being left on the loom.
The catherdral-ceilinged studio has plenty of available light in the clerestory windows, plus a set of fluorescent tube lights spanning the full length of teh ceiling. Entrance to the studio is through a laundry room off the master bedroom. Eventually, Hendricks plans to put in an outside stairway for separate access for students. Right now, she has lots of room for any number of prjects, but, with two children and a teaching job, not a lot of time to spend in her studio.
One need not bulid a custom -- desinged home to find work space as luxurious as Linda Hendricks designed for herself Photographer Claudia Smigrod and her attorney husband Peter Dingman managed to carve out and add 392 square feet to their 712-square-foot Farlington Village one-bedroom apartment. What was a one-floor, uncomplicated apartment has been transfomred into an unusual duplex, complete with a photographer's dream (8' by 13') darkroom -- all for $4,000 and a lot of elbow grease and patience.
As is the case in many of the development's second-floor aparatments, the couple was rovided a tiny pop-up access panel to the attic where the hot water heater and the air conditioning ducts were hidden. From the exterior, they could see a charming dormer window -- a clue to their ability to create a workspace, guest loft and darkroom in what might have otherwise been a dark and dreary attic.
They paid a contractor to carve away a 5' by 12' section of the living room ceiling near the dormer window. Then they reinforced the joists to support a new floor and began finishing off the space themselves.
"It was a nightmare," recalls Smigrod. "There was palster dust everywhere for months. We walled off the living room from the rest of the apartment with plastic sheets and just lived in the back of the apartment. We'd come home from work every night only to face more work -- it seemed endless."
The couple still has to build a ship's ladder to get from the first floor to the new second story; right now they are using an extension ladder. But the space the created is impressive. The room has character -- in part due to a decision to retain and expose roof joists as part of the design. "Not only does it add interest," Smigrod says, "but to move that one cross brace would have involved an incredible amount of work and expense." To further take advantage of the existing conditions and cut costs for plumbing, they built the darkroom with its big custom sink next to the hot water heater and the waste line, limiting the cost of additional plumbing. They made a closet out of the area housing the air conditioning unit and boxed in the ducts to create a partially raised platform or bench around the edge of the soon-to-be guest room. The only awkward feature is the need to step over that duct work in entering the darkroom, a small price to pay for an otherwise luxurious work space. To finish the space and solve the problem on the incredible heat (what attic isn't incredibly hot?), the couple invested in two brass and wood paddle fans. A final touch is a row of Mexican tiles handsomely inset at the meeting of the walls and ceiling.
Smigrod, who teachse at several area universities, recreates antique photo processes and interprets them in a contemporary context. She finds her creative work much easier now that she can devote time at home to her art. Her work is currently included in a show at the Kathaleen ewing Photography Gallery in Georgetown.
Someday she and her husband hope to purchase a single-family house, but for now she is more than happy to stay put. And for the investment of time and $4,000, Simigrod estimates that they have increased the market value of their apartment from its oritinal 1975 purchase price of $31,000 to something around $70,000. Not bad for a little vision, money and a lot of hard work.
Most home offices double as guest rooms or family rooms -- something IRS has a lot to say about these days. Controversial proposed regulations would only allow deductions for offices that produce an individual's primary income. The solution may be a room that instantly converts from office to bedroom and back again as the need arises.
Writer Shriley Rosenberg has converted the entire second floor of her Capital Hill home into offices for her editorial consulting business and, at a moment's notice, can create an instant guest room. Rosenberg has purchased office furniture that collapses with ease so tath one can reconvert the room into an extra bedroom.
Most homeowners look for a less radical solution than an office that folds away, however. A corner of sewing or doing the bills and writing letters is a more common problem. Washington is filled with office supply firms specializing in furniture as well as stationery and all the other accouterments of a place of business. Many sell used furniture as well as new items. If your taste runs to old-fashined but your budget won't survive either the antique shops or the period reproductions, try the Old Office Shop in Vienna, Va., or any one of the area's big flea markets and auction houses. There are a number of well-designed furnishings on the market, however, that are readily available, including:
A French metal file cabinet on coasters that is attractive enough and low enough to serve as an end table beside a convertible sofa -- available at Conran's for $197.
A sofa table -- a long tall table designed to rest behind a sofa that can double as a typeing table if you have the right desk chair -- available at any furniture store for around $100 up.
A comfortable desk chair on page 61 is called Babar and is available through architects and designers for around $500. Mary Douglas Drysdale finds them so comfortable she has used them as dining room chairs. With the right upholstery and an ottoman for your feet, a well-designed desk chair can also double as an extra lounge chair in a television room.
For those who enjoy drafting at home, Muth's carries a handsome drafting table called Lolly, which folds for storage and adjusts in height. It has the added advantages of folding up for storage. It is avaiable in white, yellow, black and orange for around $160.
For tools, pens, drafting supplies, many artists rely on what is called a taborette. The one picutred her runs around $229 at any office furnishing shops and can be used as an end table as well.
A seamstress, quilter, writer or student in need of an adjustable table lamp will find this spotlight, around $144 by Artimede, through architects and designers. CAPTION: Picture 1, Photographer Claudia Smigrod stands in the loft addition to her one-bedroom Fairlington Village apartment. Smigrod and her husband Peter Dingman carved out an 8' by 13' darkroom, a "white light" work space and a space for guests from previously unfinished attic space reachable only through a pop-up access panel. pThe addition added 392 square feet to the 712-square-foot apartment, all for $4,000 and a lot of work. The photographer-teacher finds creative work much easier now that she has a place to work at home. By Breston Littlehales; Picture 2, Graphic artist Jim Hellmuth likes the homey atmosphere of his studio, once the living room of his Chevy Chase, D.C., home. With five children and four bedrooms, Hellmuth says, "We've learned how to be efficient with both our living and work space -- we've had to be." By Brenton Littlehales; Pictures 3 and 4, Linda Hendricks, a fiber artist, rests on a table in the spacious studio built over the garage of her contemporary home in Germantown, Md. After years of borrowing space from kitchens, dining rooms and living rooms, the mother of two finally has a place big enough and light enough for her art projects and for teaching, and separate enought so she, and her projects, can remain undisturbed. By Bill Snead; Picture 5, The Babar chair, above, is one the most comfortable, albeit not inexpensive, of desk chairs. Designer Mary Drysdale likes the design so much she uses them as dining chairs. The Babar runs around $500, with variations in price depending on upholstery material and other options; Picture 6, This spare-looking desk lamp is perfect for seamstress, quilter, artist, writer or student. Made by artemide and available through designers and architects for $144, it puts the spotlight on your work.