of today's most popular home trends is the addition of expanded, often
lavish, outdoor spaces.
by Deborah R.
Huso, Contributing Writer
today’s most popular home trends is the addition of expanded, often
lavish, outdoor spaces.
courtesy of TREX.
Anyone who has
visited a home show or parade of homes recently knows that one of the
biggest trends in new construction is expanded, sometimes even decadent,
outdoor living space. But you don’t have to build a new house to enjoy
additional, comfortable living areas outside. Steve Leigh with Backyard
Creations in Virginia Beach says that a lot of people are taking advantage
of low interest rates on home equity loans and improving their current
residences to create new looks, more space, and bigger style. Among the more
popular home improvements are sunrooms and decks.
“People are definitely moving living spaces outside
more than they used to,” notes Tommy Bryant with Turtle Rock Construction,
also in Virginia Beach. Bryant specializes in decks and has seen increasing
interest among his customers in synthetic materials as homeowners seek to
spend less time and money on maintenance and more time enjoying the new
outdoor features of their homes worry-free.
Boundless options for year-round outdoor living
Low-maintenance has become the watchword of the
building and remodeling industry. “The new thing is vinyl,” says Tom
Scruggs with Clear Visions Glass in Fredericksburg. “Vinyl windows,
siding, fences, decking. Everything is vinyl.” And that includes sunrooms.
courtesy of Clear Visions Glass.
Clear Visions offers more than 35 styles of
pre-fabricated vinyl sunrooms for homeowners who want to take in a spacious
view, cozy wood line, or a sunset over water, without the interference of
insects or weather. And pre-fabricated sunrooms make for a quick and
relatively easy home addition. “From the time you order the sunroom until
it’s installed and ready to enjoy is about eight to 10 weeks,” says
Scruggs. “They actually only take about three days to install.” Scruggs
says if a homeowner has an existing deck, often a sunroom can be placed
right on top of it without too much upgrade of the deck structure.
“Today sunrooms can provide year-round comfort,”
says Steve Champion with American Window Company in Virginia Beach. “We
put in heat and air conditioning, extending existing ductwork to the new
rooms,” he says. Most sunroom contractors also install double-pane glass
windows with argon gas and low emissivity. That makes for windows that have
four times the insulating capacity of single-pane windows, the traditional
choice for porch enclosures that are not constructed for year-round use.
Matt LeBlanc with Better Living Patios and Sunrooms in Chesapeake says
homeowners should consider a sunroom the way they consider replacement
windows and should look for windows that have a good insulating capacity.
courtesy of TREX.
Though vinyl has quickly overtaken the aluminum sunroom
market, it’s not the only option. American Window Company offers its
customers sunrooms in both vinyl and mahogany in a variety of architectural
styles designed to fit in with the home’s current look. The advantage of mahogany is that customers can stain it any
color they want, whereas vinyl sunrooms typically only come in white or tan.
But vinyl is the better option, says Clear Visions’ Scruggs, for customers
who want minimal maintenance and good insulating capacities.
“The most important thing after high-quality
windows,” says LeBlanc, “is not to mix elements. Don’t mix an aluminum
frame with vinyl windows. They will fade differently, and in a few years it
won’t look good anymore.”
Many companies, including American Window, also provide
stick-built sunrooms, which Champion considers the best option for
homeowners willing to wait out construction. LeBlanc agrees, noting,
“People want something that blends into the rest of the house. With
stick-built custom sunrooms you can do that and use a foundation that
matches the rest of the home.”
If you’re considering a sunroom for your home, the
price tag will be in the $25,000 to $35,000 range, whether you buy a
pre-fabricated room or
have it stick-built. Scruggs says in the current real estate market,
an investment in a sunroom will pay for itself in one to two years in terms
of adding to the home’s value.
To Maintain or Not to Maintain: Deck Options
Continue to Expand
It wasn’t that long ago that building a deck meant
using treated lumber or an expensive hardwood like cedar or redwood. And
regardless of the choice, homeowners still had to contend with regular
maintenance in order to keep the wood weatherproof and looking like new. But
thanks to new synthetic decking materials, options have expanded. Today
homeowners can have a virtually maintenance-free, long-lasting deck without
a hefty price tag.
Tommy Bryant with Turtle Rock Construction says 50
percent of his business now is in synthetic decking. The new EPA-initiated
use of ACQ to treat lumber has resulted in an increase in cost for treated
lumber decks, making them more comparable in price to composite decks.
“The big advantage in having a deck made of synthetic materials,” says
Bryant, “is the low maintenance. All you have to do is clean it.”
Among the more popular synthetic deck materials is Trex®,
which is a mixture of recycled plastic and waste wood fiber ground into
sawdust. “It’s the best of both worlds,” says Trex® public relations
officer Maureen Murray. “Plastic protects the wood, and wood gives the
deck a natural look.”
“Trex® was the pioneer for creating an alternative
for standard wood decks,” she adds. “It comes in a variety of colors, so
you don’t have to paint it.” In 2004, Trex® introduced a wood-grain
look for its decking materials, and in 2005, the company introduced decking
that emulates the look of tropical hardwoods. Murray says alternative wood
products like Trex® presently represent about 13 percent of the total
“With our product, there’s a lot more design
freedom,” she explains. “You can mix different colors into sunburst or
herringbone patterns or create round or curved decks.”
Bryant is a big fan of Trex®. “Maintenance expenses
are cut in half, if not more,” he says. And Trex® comes with a 25-year
warranty. Murray notes that Trex® decks in the Florida Everglades have
stood up to 13 years of harsh, wet climate so far.
Homeowners should keep in mind, however, that synthetic
decks still require a treated lumber frame. Ed Sherrill, owner of Decks,
Inc., in Charlottesville, says he doesn’t build a lot of synthetic decks.
He uses Trex® on occasion, but says some alternative wood decking products
will buckle if not installed properly, and synthetic railings can be
dangerous if not installed according to instructions. “I think
pressure-treated decks are fine,” he says. “They’re time-tested and
proven. If you stain it every other year, it will look good for a long
Sherrill believes the market for pressure-treated pine
decks will remain strong. “For people who think about economy, safety, and
aesthetics, the only thing that really does that is wood,” he says.
In the end, it may just be a matter of taste, cost, and
the homeowner’s willingness to maintain the deck. Regardless of what
material you use to build your new deck, make sure to do your homework, both
on the product you use and the contractor you select to build it.
Deborah Huso is a freelance writer
who resides in Bath County. She covers the history, culture, recreation, and
people of the southern Appalachians for publications like Preservation
Magazine, Blue Ridge Country, Virginia Living, and Military Officer.
Choosing the Right Decking Material
These days, use of technology can dominate that home
office planning process. In many ways, the home office has become a media
center, says Office Depot’s divisional merchandise manager for furniture
and accessories, Kirby Salgado. Traditional office products and high-speed
Internet technologies work side by side.
One person who blended the high-tech and the homey is
Dallas-based Lisa Kanarek, home office expert, founder of HomeOfficeLife and
author of Home Office Solutions: Creating a Space that Works for You
(Rockport Publishers) and Organizing Your Home Business (Socrates Media).
Kanarek designed her own home office with French doors
and windows looking out into the back yard, a window seat, and white oak
furniture. The office provides quiet working space and yet can be used as
overflow space when she and her husband entertain. Her home wired with a
high-speed Internet DSL connection, she can work anywhere in the house —
even on the patio overlooking the family swimming pool.
Even though she doesn’t always work in her office,
Kanarek says it’s still important to have a designated place for work
items and files.
Dr. James Davis has turned his whole house into what he
calls “an Internet café.”
A researcher with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for
Astrophysics, Davis has an office at the Center, as well as a room in his
home designated as the office. But usually (and especially when visiting
colleagues stay at his house), the family room and living spaces become
“the office.” He and his wife and visitors each work at laptop
computers, using a wireless router connected to the cable that comes in
through the basement.
The secret to your home office success is to take ideas
from experts like Davis and Kanarek, but make an office that fits your style
Once you’ve created a plan, here are some ways to get
Designing the space
The exciting part about creating a home office is not
having to follow the rigid, one-size-fits-all rules of the corporation, says
interior designer Christopher Lowell, who hosts the Discovery Home
Channel’s Christopher Lowell Show and Wall to Wall. “Make a home office
a reflection of who you are,” says Lowell.
Lowell says that to decide on the look of your office
or work area, analyze how you’ve arranged the rest of your house. “Seven
Layers of Design,” detailed in his book of the same title, will work in
the home office:
1. paint and
furniture (especially a comfortable
non-upholstered furniture (your desk),
7. plants and
Lowell recommends choosing a design theme for the
office. That will eliminate a lot of choices and you’ll be guided by what
fits the theme and what doesn’t.
The main goal should be creating an inspiring
atmosphere, says Lowell.
Not sure what colors to use in your office? Go to your
closet and take out all your black and white clothing. What colors remain?
That’s a clue as to whether you prefer warm or cool shades.
Paint your walls with rich deep color. It can be
calming. And don’t paint your ceiling white, but rather a medium shade of
the room’s main color. When in doubt about paint color, go darker.
Beautiful and functional office furniture and
accessories is a growing trend in office design. Fashionable accessories in
bamboo, wicker, tin/metal, leather and suede add texture and interest to a
Window treatments add luxury. Place mirrors at opposite
ends of the room, and they will stubble the light. Sales representative Joan
Wright of Perry Park, Ky., notes that a mirror also serves as a reminder to
smile while doing business on the phone.
Lowell recommends finding one style of picture frame
that you like. The crown molding of the frame will add elegance. Four
wall-mounted frames across and four frames underneath with cherished photos
is one suggestion. It also keeps extra picture frames from cluttering the
Another clutter-busting idea comes from Idaho author
Don Aslett, who recommends mounting special souvenirs on the wall.
If you have only a small amount of money to spend on a
home office, focus on accessories, lighting and color, says Lowell. Track
lighting with halogen bulbs will cast pools of light into the room. A
matching pair of lamps on a desk can add character to an office.
Furnishing the office
The desk will generally be the office’s largest focal
point. Peruse the wide variety of desks sold at department and discount
stores, and office supply stores.
A full pedestal desk has a wide flat top and drawers on
both sides of the knee space. Workspace can be added to some desks with a
connecting unit to create an L-shaped desk. A U-shaped desk can be created
from three or four pieces, but this configuration generally does not work
well in small spaces.
Joan Wright made one of the desks in her home office
using two filing cabinets and a hollow veneer door that had a defect on one
side and cost about $15. If a door has a doorknob hole already drilled in,
combine a piece of plywood, epoxy glue and a small glass to create a pencil
holder. One of Wright’s later desks cost $2,000. The “door desk” and
expensive handmade desk worked just the same, says Wright, who has worked
for a number of major companies from home offices in Maine, Kentucky, and
Susan Shanbar and her sister, Marjorie Rubin, operate a
promotional products and apparel company, Plentyfull Presents, from home
offices that are about 60 miles apart on the outskirts of Boston. Shanbar
just upgraded from a personal computer to a laptop.
“I got rid of the tower ... and all the wires. ...
It’s wonderful,” she says, marveling at the extra desk space that
Because of laptops, writing desks have come back into
vogue in some home offices. Still, office furniture manufacturers are
building in grommets for cord and cable access.
“Furniture evolves as the technology evolves,”
observes Salgado from Office Depot’s Delray Beach, Fla. headquarters.
Another evolution has been in the aesthetics of office
furniture. People want a more residential look to office furniture in their
homes, both functional and beautiful. An example of this is the Christopher
Lowell Office Collection, sold exclusively at Office Depot. Lowell has
actually created four collections, each with a specific theme and color
palette: Town, City, Country (pictured on pg. 22) and Shore. At a glance it
looks like heirloom furniture, but it can be disassembled, just as the plain
utilitarian computer desks that proliferated in the 1980s with the
introduction of personal computers.
Denton recommends buying an L-shaped desk. This allows
you to work in one area, and have your current or forthcoming projects
within easy reach. An L-shaped desk can be created by buying modular units
to add to a desk.
Another desk option is a computer armoire or a credenza
with a hutch. With many furniture lines, matching pieces — credenzas,
bookcases, storage cabinets, lateral, and upright file pedestals — can be
bought to coordinate with a desk or at a later time.
If you already have a desk, but aren’t happy with
your office, consider rearranging the room. Sometimes making a U-shaped
arrangement of existing furniture or adding more bookcases will enable you
to use the space more efficiently. If your home office is in a corner of a
room and you want additional privacy, design some sort of physical
separation. A portable folding screen or a drapery between the desk and the
rest of the room are possible approaches, when space is limited.
A place for everything
The experts agree: Assign a place for specific items in
“If you have a place for an item, it takes five
seconds to find,” says Don Aslett, author of The Office Clutter Cure
(Adams Media). If you know the
general vicinity of an item, it may take five minutes to find. If the
information is in one of numerous piles, it can take hours.
Jim Davis, like most scientists he knows, tends to use
piles as a means of organization. One day, acting on an idea suggested to
him by an administrative assistant, Davis bought a literature organizer,
much like the kind you see in school offices, with three-inch-high slots for
81⁄2x11 pages. The unit he bought has about 20 slots that he labels
and uses to store papers for current projects. “That changed my life,”
he says. “Wow, where did you get that?” colleagues said, as if the
cubbyholes were some miraculous invention.
Georgetown, Ky., professional organizer Sue McMillin
suggests a formula to her clients: For every hour in the office, spend about
a minute organizing/putting things away. Thus after a 10-hour day, you need
to spend about 10 minutes of maintenance.
“You have to be even more professional than someone
in a corporate office,” says Kanarek, mentioning how even small things,
like unnecessary noise in the background, can create the wrong impression.
One time Kanarek had an appointment with a graphic
designer whose office was at the back of the house. The route to the office
did not look very business-like. She remembers asking herself, “Will my
work get mixed among the clutter and children’s toys?”
A successful home office flows from good choices of
design, furniture, technology and storage, and a multitude of factors.
Foremost, though, is the attitude that you bring to it.
“It all comes down to organization and work
ethics,” Wright says.
But also, ENJOY.
As Christopher Lowell says, “Give yourself permission
to enjoy the space.”
Paula Deimling, of Cincinnati, is a former editor of
Writer’s Market and writes on lifestyles and history topics for national
and regional publications.
Home Office Hints