As working from home becomes the norm, business leaders are asking architects and designers to elevate their home offices.

HELEN HAWKES talks to the experts about blending personality with professional style.

ONCE RESERVED FOR captains of industry, the home office has become an essential element of a prestige property — a practical take on the parents’ retreat. As the Melbourne-based architect Ed Glenn explains: “The phrase ‘home office’ conjures up ideas of a room far more sterile and functional than what high-end clients now desire.” The principal of Powell & Glenn in South Yarra, Glenn says his clients are seeking to add value to their property by incorporating an architecturally designed home office with a custom workspace.“ Studies are no longer the leftover space that people find a use for; they are an important part of a briefing document,” he says. “In most instances, people are choosing to prioritise the quality of the room and outlook, and want to create a more convivial relationship with the rest of the house.”

Demand has increased with Covid-19 restrictions, but Glenn says the momentum pre-dates the pandemic. “Even before lockdowns or restrictions, people who had worked hard and had good fortune in business were wanting to increase the amount of time they devoted to their family or children,” he says. “Many businesspeople found they enjoyed working from home and wanted somewhere spacious and comfortable with the technology they need.”

Business meets pleasure 

A well-designed study reflects both the business and the individual, says Blainey North, the managing director of the eponymous architecture and interior design studio, who has created home offices for prestige residences around the world. As she puts it: “The study has become as important as the clothes one wears in communicating who we are to the world.” 

In the home office of the Los Angeles-based furniture designer Alexandra von Furstenberg, an Eames office chair and Philippe Starck floor lamp contribute to a vibrant, creative working space. An easel is used to display an issue of Interview magazine signed by Andy Warhol. 

The New York study of the novelist Jay McInerney and the publishing heiress Anne Hearst features a colour photograph by Elliott Erwitt overlooking a Jansen desk. A day bed upholstered in linen adds an element of cosiness. 

The interior designer Sally-Anne Walton worked with Powell &Glenn to breathe life into the Melbourne home office of an investor. Walton installed a striking Chester Moon sofa by Paola Navone, which contrasts with walls daubed in a moody royal blue.

“The style is suited to the masculinity of the room, while the late19th-century desk, from Miguel Meirelles Antiques in Melbourne, is extremely elegant,” says Walton. “A study always has to have a grounding point — even one good antique will make a room.”

Once used as a formal lounge, with windows facing east and north, the room boasted an original fireplace, a stained-glass window, maid call buttons and lofty panelled ceilings, all of which have been retained. Powell & Glenn remodelled the existing openings and designed joinery to present as standalone bespoke furniture pieces.

Additional finishings and furnishings include an Anna Charlesworth light fitting and a work by the Australian landscape artist Peter Watts, which seems to have been painted with this very space in mind. These blend with the client’s own special finds, including an Italian drinks trolley, a French lamp, postmodern coffee table and vintage record player. Framed Royal Air Force silk scarves, which belonged to the client’s grandfather, who flew Spitfires, are a sentimental addition that provide a talking point.

Your best light

“I love a room with some sort of private courtyard,” says Glenn, “or a terrace that opens up onto a landscaped garden, or an ocean view, where it is possible to take a phone call, or a mental break.” Referred to as blue space or green space, an ocean view or a perfectly manicured garden also offers an ideal backdrop for Zoom meetings. Failing that, a designer may create an eye-catching background using customised and professionally styled bookshelves. “Colour is important when considering a background for video conferencing,” explains North, who also recommends fabric panels, wallpaper and drapery. “Not only do they add visual interest,” she says, “they play an important part in the acoustic qualities of a home study.”

Other essentials, according to Glenn, include an impressive and functional desk, customised joinery to house books, printers and other technology, a designer lounge suite, and some sort of drinks/bar component. For a compact space, Walton recommends Molteni&C’s505 modular system, an impressive-looking unit that can house paperwork, multimedia and even a desk.“ 

Artwork and warm, dramatic lighting are also necessary to elevate a room,” says Glenn. If you plan to install a television, and it won’t be disguised by joinery, consider a model that can be used to feature artworks on rotation. 

“Great lighting is a must,” agrees North, who recommends placing a desk lamp in front of your face “to show expression and remove a few frown lines on the screen” as well as installing “a few strategically placed wall sconces to create mood and interest. I particularly like lighting bookshelves for dramatic effect.”

Those who work with sensitive data, or simply want to up the ante, may consider hidden spaces. “Invisible doors in bookshelves and veiled compartments in desks are [among] the great pleasures to design,” says North, who has even created a secret garden disguised by walls. 

Essentials include an impressive desk, customised joinery to house books, and some sort of drinks/bar component.

Family values

It’s important to consider the role the study will play in your home, Glenn says. “Do you see it as part of family life, or somewhere you can conduct business without family life being interrupted?”

A well-appointed study not only enhances the value of a home, it offers immediate lifestyle benefits. “Many clients are now spending a substantial amount of time in this new space,” says Glenn, “especially when it doubles as a library, den or a drawing room, where you may invite friends after dinner, and even a place where one of the children may play or work without creating absolute chaos.”