House Work

By Hannah Wallace September 30, 2006

When Dorothy first clicked the heels of her ruby-red slippers and wistfully uttered, "There's no place like home," little did anyone realize her sentiment would become the mantra of millions of Americans who would abandon sterile corporate environs to set up workspaces at home. What makes a home office work? We interviewed a local architect, an interior designer and a real estate agent to discover how they created personalized yet practical workspaces.


Interior designer Jo Ann A. Parker left noise and clutter behind for an inspirational home office.

As a successful designer and owner of Interiors by Decorating Den since 1994, Jo Ann A. Parker recently left an office in Lakewood Ranch where the walls were so thin she could hear the mortgage broker in the next office do deals around the world in four languages. "I just couldn't concentrate," she says.

Parker moved her business to her home in Palm Aire's Golf Pointe, converting her expansive master bedroom and its adjoining suite into an office for her and an assistant.

Separating personal and business life:

"The hardest thing for me is shutting down, so I located the office at one end of the house," says Parker. "I completely shut down at noon on Friday and all weekend. I don't even think about work. I have a solid door that blocks the view of the office and a separate phone line so I don't hear the phone ring. When I finish working at the end of the day, I simply close the doors and disconnect."

The Look:

"My house is rowdy with lots of color and animal prints, but my work space is clean and neutral. I don't want a lot of things hitting me when I design," she says. Parker used an antique white executive desk, credenza and hutch with cherry work surfaces to give the office a Country French feeling.


"I'm a neat freak and my last office had an industrial look with shelves on the wall to hold samples. Now I use a closet for the storage of thousands of samples. There's no clutter," Parker says. "I need open space and tranquility to be creative."


"It has to be large so I can keep my drawing materials on it," she notes. Other must-have desk accessories: her calculator and her big black-and-white Humane Society cat, Miss Belle. "She's almost always on my desk," says Parker. "Everyone loves her."


"I don't have a computer," Parker says. "It would slow me down. My office manager Pat Lozier has a computer on her desk."

Importance of the outdoors:

"While I'm working I can gaze at the lake behind the house, which gives me a sense of serenity that allows me to think and function," she says.

Best part of a home office:

For Parker, it's the "peaceful environment, private bathroom," "ice tea with ice any time of day," and a beautiful view.


Architect Rick Fawley's functional, flexible space.

Rick Fawley and his partner Mike Bryant of Fawley Bryant Architects have designed government, commercial and residential projects in Sarasota and Manatee counties since 1994 and have an office on Manatee Avenue. Fawley also has an office in Durango, Colo., where he designs everything from fire stations to $5-million spec homes and a 200-unit townhome complex. But Fawley works at home every day as well, even at 2 a.m. when the muse strikes him; and the transformed master bedroom suite in his 57-year-old ranch-style home on Riverview Boulevard in Bradenton functions as an office and as sleeping quarters for his nine grandchildren when they visit.

Separating personal and business life:

Fawley's five kids are grown so he doesn't have a lot of noise or distraction at home. He works best in inspirational spurts and never needs to barricade himself in the office. French doors are enough of a barrier, and he keeps them open when his wife is in the kitchen so they can carry on a conversation. He keeps his air conditioning fan on auto to provide white noise or occasionally listens to instrumental music on satellite radio to block out the TV. He uses two different cell phones in the office-one for his Colorado office and one for his Bradenton office-so his home number is free from business calls.

The Look:

"The office has to be one of the nicest rooms in the house so you want to be there. It can't feel like a dungeon," he says. Fawley blended modern and traditional furnishings and painted the room a pale, serene green. The office receives plenty of natural light from four windows and faces the street so Fawley feels connected to neighborhood life.

The Furnishings:

The office holds a contemporary white-and-chrome desk, high-tech, Swiss-designed Haller wall unit with file drawers and shelves filled with books and family photographs. An 1880s-era armoire conceals a printer and other computer components. An Oriental rug, live plants and original artwork add warmth, and track lighting provides adequate illumination above the desk. A sleeper sofa ensures that the space can switch from office to guest room.


"High-speed connectivity is the most important feature," he says. "Our files are huge." Fawley uses a wireless laptop with a VPN connection so he can download files directly from his office server and can work day or night.

Best part of a home office:

Flexibility. "I don't have an eight-to-five mentality so I work according to my own schedule," he explains. "I can stand up, lie on the floor and stretch, do sit-ups, walk around the block or soak in the hot tub to clear my head."


Realtor Donna Neff's home office is her retreat.

In real estate sales in Sarasota for nearly 20 years, Donna Neff of Sarasota Realty Properties knows what it's like to find a space that feels perfect. Instead of operating her "boutique" home-finding service from the company office, she converted a bedroom that overlooks a 30-acre wetland preserve in Turtle Rock. Neff credits Lea Jackson of Lea Jackson Interior Design with designing her home office.

Keeping personal and business life separate:

"I located the office in a far corner of the house for privacy and silence, but I don't lock myself out of my home. I like to step outside in the garden or living room for a break," Neff says. Best investments: a set of cordless earphones for her husband Ed when he's watching TV in the main part of the house and an intercom system that pipes in relaxing music and helps block out distractions from home life. Ed, who also works with Donna in real estate, has an office in another wing of the home.

The Look:

Neff's office feels like a sanctuary, which she says is a must: "I have to want to be in this room." She chose butterscotch-colored walls, white trim and hardwood floors. Her desk and matching Copenhagen wall unit are in a light oak finish. A fringed, off-white loveseat and wicker trunk sit beneath the bay window that overlooks the lake. French doors open to the family room and a sliding glass door provides access to the lanai and landscaped gardens. Her world travels have shaped her life, and she incorporated mementos, such a full-sized zebra skin and a beer basket she found in South Africa, into her office d├ęcor.

On her desk:

Neff has a hands-free, cordless speaker phone "so I can talk when I'm writing a contract or taking notes. I can walk around the room, look in a file, look at the MLS on my laptop while I'm on the phone."

A desk lamp that a friend was giving to Goodwill 20 years ago before Neff fell in love with it.

Binoculars "so I can watch the herons and their babies in the's my one distraction," she admits.

A kaleidoscope. "It's been a stress reliever since I was three," she explains.

The importance of nature:

"My office overlooks the garden as well as the lake and preserve," Neff says. "I will often take a cup of tea out to the garden to rest and reflect a few moments and then return to my desk refreshed and renewed. In the past when I worked in an office I would take breaks and stimulate my thoughts by going outside and walking around the parking lot a few times. The garden is much more effective!"

How clients react:

"What better way is there for clients to get to know us and what we are about than to invite them into the warmth and hospitality of our home?" Neff asks. "My credibility would completely vanish if all this occurred at the kitchen table!"

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