A fluffy little Yorkshire terrier curls up on a handsome antique oriental rug in front of a blazing fire. On the other side of the room, her master sits behind a desk working with a sheaf of papers. The scene could be taken from a '40s movie depicting an English lord in his library, but it's actually Washington lawyer Robert Losch, hard at work in his handsomely restored law offices on New Hampshire Avenue near Dupont Circle.
Not everyone has a working fireplace in his office, but all over the city people are beginning to view their offices for what they are -- second homes -- and they are beginning to furnish those work places accordingly. If, like many Washingtonians, you spend upwards of 60 hours a week in your office, doesn't it make sense to make it comfortable?
Losch and his partner Jacques DePuy purchased a run-down Beaux Arts townhouse several years ago. The two worked with architect Sibley Jenning III, pulling up the shag carpets and removing the bronze radiator paint to restore this once elegant 1910 house that has served as everything from embassy to school.
Faux limestone walls in the lobby carry the feeling of the exterior to the inside. The dining room, drawing room and kitchen have all been restored and furnished with pieces appropriate to the period of the house and function of the room. Upstairs, Losch's office is in the house's former library. His wife's office is in the one-time boudoir, and DePuy's occupies the master bedroom. Filing cabinets, the bane of most offices, are tucked neatly behind closet doors.
The precision of the Losch-DePuy offices is not to be seen in another of the city's more unusual "antique" offices, the spacious workplace of Dr. Wilton Dillon, head of the Smithsonian Institution's office of seminars and symposia.
Located in the South Tower of the famous "Castle Building," Dillon's quarters are cluttered with furnishings from the nation's attic. "There's really nothing in here that is museum quality -- just 19th-century pieces that seem to have found their way up here," says the enthusiatic occupant.
At one time the Castle Building served as the home of the museum as well as the private residence of the first Smithsonian secretary (Smithsonian terminology for chief executive of the institution). The office of the current secretary, S. Dillon Ripley, is in his predecessor's bedroom.
Wilton Dillon's workplace was the secretary's "other office, his hideaway," says Dillon. From that vantage point the secretary could stand and observe both the Washington Monument and the Capitol. Dillon "homesteaded" the office back in 1971 and has been adding to its clutter since.
Besides Dillon, the office holds an assistant and a receptionist and serves as a meeting room for seminars. Other users have ranged from the late Margaret Mead, who used it as her Washington base, to a group of students who lived and slept there last summer while observing and feeding the peregrine falcons atop the Smithsonian's towers. In fact, the office is such a hub of activity that Dillon is now trying to raise private funds to restore the attic above the room's 20-foot ceilings to make a hideaway from his hideaway so that he can get some work done.
Few people associated with the government seldom have the luxury or character of such grand offices. Reagan administration appointees even have been asked not to buy new furniture. The General Services Administration provides guidelines for the amount of square footage workers of different levels should have -- 60 square feet for a GS-1 to GS-6, 75 square feet for a GS-9, 225 square feet for a GS-14 and so on. Signs of stepping up are provided by credenzas and sofas -- in most agencies you get those only when you get the GS-15 rank.
Luxury is on the downside in the private sector as well -- with downtown office space running $18 to $35 a square foot and executives feeling the pinch. Jim Greenwell of Greenwell Goetz Architects solved the problem of smaller executive offices by using glass walls. The individual offices of the John Akridge Development Company are about 12x15, spilling light into the corridor and giving a spacious, airy feeling. Each executive has a sofa and a desk of his own choice. The understated contemporary sofas work well with either period desks or more contemporary and popular table desks.
"There is a real trend towards the table desk in offices," says William Zeppenfeld, regional manager of Knoll International, a leading maker of fine office furniture. "The executive doesn't want an imposing desk -- and really, the amount of storage those old desks had isn't really necessary. A good credenza can hold current files and all the rest can be stored elsewhere."
A Knoll Lunario table (a mere $3,075) is the focal point of a tiny office designed by architect Steve Swaney for a local developer. The glass-topped round table with a pedestal base sits in the middle of a small room that is surrounded on three sides by a countertop. A visit to the office is like sitting around an elegant kitchen table with an old friend, a stark contrast to the neighboring office belonging to the developer's partner. This office, designed by Anthony Childs, seems to be a living room that just happens to have a desk in it. The L-shaped couch and coffee table dominate one corner. Louvered windows and soft recessed lighting and tastefully displayed works of art emphasize the residential atmosphere of the room.
Next time you're ushered into an office and asked to make yourself at home, you might just feel that way.