A room of their own
By Stacee Sledge
Whatcom Magazine, February 2008

Home offices offer options for productive privacy...or impromptu naps

One of the best things about a home office is just that: It’s at home. No straining to be heard over a colleague’s booming baritone, coffee made just the way you like it, and no boss peering over your shoulder. But these three Whatcom County homeowners found more than simple solitude, creating efficient, tailor-made spaces that work just right for pursuits ranging from photography and paying bills to psychotherapy.

Rhythm and coherence
“This home is a product of 20 years of saving and planning,” says Laurie Stein, 61, looking around the space she shares with her husband, Henry Stein.

“I commuted 90 miles round-trip for nearly 30 years,” she continues. “And in all that time, my head was here, working on this room and that room.”

Working closely with Terry Brown and Andrew Krzysiek of Zervas Group Architects, and Schramer Construction, the couple made their long-held dream a reality. The nearly 2,000-square foot house north of Agate Bay is a blend of Frank Lloyd Wright style infused with minimalist yet warm Japanese touches.

Originally from the East Coast, the couple lived in San Francisco before moving to Whatcom County in 2003. Their previous homes were rentals; one hope for the first home was a custom-made office where Henry, 75 and a semi-retired psychotherapist, could run the Alfred Adler Institutes of San Francisco and Northwestern Washington.

A retired English teacher, Laurie often joins Henry in the 220-square-foot office to edit his writing. But her favorite work spot is tucked in the outside corner of the kitchen, framed by large window panes. She wanted just a small desk for herself with a lovely view, and uses the desk for bill-paying and correspondence.

A bookshelf fills one office wall, while a built-in, L-shaped desk lines two other planes. The fourth wall houses a large closet with sliding doors that hide file cabinets and supplies, as well as a cozy, oversized window seat that functions as a bed for the couple’s cats — and often for the couple themselves.

“At some point in the day, I’m ready for a nap,” says Henry. “I can take a nap with both kitties and Laurie. And when you think you hear UPS come up, you can just look right out the window to check.”

Henry is on the phone much of the time, providing distance learning for Adler scholars. “From 7 until noon, I’m sitting here with a headset,” he says. “Then I do editing, writing and publishing.” He recently finished editing 12 volumes of the collected works of Alfred Adler.

The room’s basic design was Henry’s, because he knew how we wanted it to flow. “I have one computer I use for being on the phone, a different computer for Internet and editing, and a Mac. I can just spin around to each one.”

According to architect Brown, one of the typical problems of home design is whether the office should be private or part of the household activities. “Henry and Laurie wanted the office close to the front entry so clients could reach it without being led through private areas of the house,” he says. “Our solution was to tuck the office behind the fireplace, a subtle shift creating some visual privacy, while allowing access to the great room.” A sliding door with frosted glass can provide additional privacy.

“All the design elements unite to achieve what the Steins wanted,” Andrew Krzysiek adds. “An efficiently multi-functional yet aesthetically appealing work environment.”

The room functions because it dovetails with Henry’s work style. In fact, the entire home works for the couple because they thought through every possible detail, and worked with an architect who could interpret their needs into the design.

“There’s a rhythm and coherence throughout the house,” says Laurie. “If you’re lucky enough to find the right architect for you, he creates a work of art.”

Room for everything
For Bill and Peggy Warner, a trio of home offices in their Lynden town home sure beats sharing. With a variety of jobs and projects keeping this couple busy, it’s necessary to maintain sanity-saving separate spaces.

Bill, 63, is an information technology specialist at Western Washington University, while Peggy, 58, works for Western’s College of Business and Economics. From 8 to 5, Monday through Friday, that’s where you’ll find them. Any other time? They’re ensconced in their private work spaces.

Bill might be preparing for a class he teaches at Mount Baker Project Management Institute. Or conducting one of several 10-week online courses through City University, which take him to Europe and China for week-long in-class teaching stints.

A professional photographer, Peggy has also taught at Whatcom Community College and Bellingham Technical College. “My love is to be creative in Photoshop,” she says, “I’ll take multiple photos and converge them into a design.” Peg is also the secretary for the Board of Cascade Christian Services and secretary of the couple’s condo association, two roles that often require time in her home office chair.

Married for 13 years, the couple moved to Lynden from the Twin Cities in 2001. “We downsized from 2,500 square feet to 1,100 square feet,” says Peggy. “But when we got the teaching jobs, we had to have offices.” In 2004, they moved just a few doors down, back up to 2,500 square feet.

Bill’s favorite office is a spacious deck off the main floor living room. Weather permitting, he spreads out his wireless laptop, telephone and research materials on a sizable glass-covered table overlooking burbling Fishtrap Creek below. Forest blankets the stone’s throw space between home and water. “You can hear the salmon when they start running up the stream,” says Peggy.

Bill’s indoor office suite is on the home’s lower floor, also overlooking the creek and vegetation. Mirrored closet doors visually double the space. Down the hall, past a stuffed-to-capacity bookshelf, is a row of tall file cabinets. “I like the proximity to my files and books,” Bill says. “I can get at everything.”

The path to Peggy’s upper-floor office is lined with her framed photographs. Multiple upstairs closets store supplies and photography equipment. “It’s not luxurious or large, just a place where a lot of work goes on,” Peggy says of her perch.

Her favorite aspect of the space? “Having room for everything. I also appreciate having my privacy, so I can concentrate on what I’m doing.”

“Peg is more reflective, introspective and quiet, and I always have my wheels turning, talking on the phone,” says Bill. “We carpool most of the time and that 40-minute drive keeps the communication going. Because once we get home, she’s up to the third floor, and I’m down to the first floor.”

Partly outside
When Rowan Moore-Seifred, 44, uprooted in 1994 from Los Angeles and her job as art director for A&M Records, she purposely landed in a practically polar opposite place: a patch of land outside Everson. Rural life wasn’t completely foreign; she grew up in an agricultural area of British Columbia.

“People were starting to talk about telecommuting as a viable solution,” says the designer, who wanted to be wanted to be closer to family, “and I just thought, ‘It’ll work.’ And it has.”

Discipline teamed with a stellar work space has propelled Rowan’s company, Double M Ranch, to success. She creates everything from product packaging and marketing materials to websites and event posters. Whatcom County clients, such as Mallard Ice Cream and Bellingham Farmers Market pepper her portfolio, but she also works with national and international firms. A library of her book-cover designs lines a bookshelf in her office.

“I get up at 6:30 every morning, work until 8, go to the house and get my daughter up and to school, and then come back here and work.” Being her own boss means she’s always available for Pearl, 9 and has the flexibility to do what she wants during the day.

When she made the move 14 years ago from metro to pastoral, Rowan and her then-husband lived in a double-wide mobile home parked on the property before moving into what is now the main house, which originally served as her first husband’s studio. Today that colorful 900-square foot space is shared by Rowan, Pearl and second husband Mark Seifred, 45 (who primarily resides in Abbotsford, B.C., where he cares for his father).

In 1997, Rowan finished construction on a neighboring 16- by 24-foot building for her bright, airy, inspiring home office.

“I just built it,” she says. Friend and local builder Greg Chapman gave Rowan, who had designed floor plans and houses since she was a child, a few tips. “I got all the windows cheap and just built it around that.”

Positioned high in the sunshine-hued space, the windows serve two purposes: They keep direct sunlight off the computer monitors and also give wide glimpses up and out of trees and sky.

Rowan’s design work peeks out through the room, showcasing her clean, often retro-tinged style. The centerpiece of the room is a Vandercook letterpress, which Rowan uses to find design inspiration.

Above the letterpress, as much for function as aesthetics, hangs a long, squat wood piece dotted with cubbyholes. Unearthed at a Blaine junk store for a mere $20, it holds the fonts for the letterpress and serves as a shallow display shelf.

On nice days, Rowan flings open the doors at each end of the long room. “I like that feeling that I’m partly outside,” she says. “I get a big breeze blowing through, knocking all the papers off the desk.”

Stacee Sledge is a Bellingham freelance writer.

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