They may sell diverse products, but large global brands like Nike, Google, Apple, and Disney share a few common attributes. Obviously, these once-small companies are now extremely profitable, each worth more than $25 billion. Likewise, each founder had to possess a dogged passion for the brand he was building and the product he was creating.

working from home

Photos by Rachel Coward.

  1. Wild blue yonder Calming hues and soothing colors like these cool bluish-gray walls are trending in home offices. Or incorporate blue with an accent pillow, chairs, or artwork.
  2. Simple and uncluttered A few simple, hand-picked vintage advertisements picked up in a flea market in the owner’s hometown of Lyon, France, adorn the walls.
  3. Accents with a cause These accent pillows are made of recycled sari material purchased from a charity that sells products made by marginalized women.
  4. Kick back The owner of this space is a fan of power naps and reclined reading, so he opted for a couch that doubles as a bed for overnight guests.

However, perhaps one of the most interesting similarities is that all these companies were founded and initially operated out of someone’s home — even Amazon got its start here on the Eastside, in Jeff Bezos’ Bellevue garage.

The latter common thread isn’t as rare as one may think. Close to 70 percent of entrepreneurs start and subsequently run (for however brief a time) their bootstrap businesses in their homes, according to a 2013 study by Small Business Trends. Dining room tables become conference tables, kitchen counters become packaging and shipping spaces, and employees — when there are any —work from laptops wherever space can be found.

Today, private companies and even government agencies are sending more and more of their employees home with laptops and monitors. A 2015 Gallup poll shows that 37 percent of employees telecommute at least a few days a week, up from 30 percent a decade prior. Such telecommuting not only cuts down on pollution, but reduces the office space square-footage required to sustain the workforce.

working from home

  1. Look Up A light gray ceiling bounces light from the window throughout the room, while the exaggerated crown molding adds texture to the space.
  2. Organized Chaos Everything on Hisel’s shelves has a place, yet she makes sure to keep things from looking too symmetrical. Some books lie on their sides, while others stand up. Accent pieces have a seemingly random placement on the shelves, which helps the eye flow through the overall display.
  3. Drop the anchor first Hisel’s mantra is, “Start with storage and organization, and layer pretty things on top.” Build your space around the storage solutions, even before the desk, and let the rest fall into place around it.
  4. Two for one If you’re investing in custom cabinetry, you can have the cabinetmaker dip pre-existing furniture, like this desk, in the same color so that everything matches perfectly.

Due to the telecommuters and the bootstrap businesses, Tatiana Hisel, principal designer for Tatka Home, and her fellow interior designers are seeing an upward trend of clients asking for high-end home office space designs.

“You don’t have to be a psychic to understand that the whole trend with home offices is only going to grow,” Hisel said. “In that same vein, it is extremely important to shift people away from that mentality of IKEA and do-it-yourself, because you want to have a seriously well-functioning space (that will last).”

Armed with this data and her own design savvy, Hisel chose her home office as the first room in her new builder-grade condo in Redmond to redesign.

When it comes to actually functioning within a work-from-home space, work-life balance plays a large role. Proximity to a sink full of dirty dishes, a barking dog, a chatty toddler, or a well-stocked refrigerator becomes unavoidable occupational hazards. This is a universal truth for Port Orchard resident Tim Vack, general manager of Modern-Shed, who uses his experience as a work-from-home dad in his day job selling small prefabricated structures — which incidentally make excellent office spaces.

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  1. Pops of color This room was designed with cool hues, yet Hisel brings in color with a bouquet of vibrant pink flowers and the colorful canvas wall art made by her teenage daughter.
  2. Layered Lighting In addition to natural light, Hisel recommends adding task lighting with a weighted counter balance, mood lighting, and perimeter lighting.
  3. Sentimental value counts When you spend hours at your desk, a good ergonomic chair is key — but don’t discard pieces that have personal significance. Hisel explains she sacrificed comfort for sentimental value in her own space. “My father passed away several years ago, and this was his chair. While it is adequate comfort-wise, I would have preferred to have maybe (a piece) that has much more lumbar support.”

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  1. Room with a view Windows in a workspace provide breeze on a warm day and natural light to reduce eye strain.
  2. Outdoor meeting space The homeowner added a small bar table and stools to the attached deck. It’s a great spot to escape the computer and enjoy a cold drink on a warm day, and makes an ideal meeting location.
working from home

This prefabricated structure by local company Modern-Shed is detached from the main home structure, yet close to the amenities of home for breaks. Surrounding trees produce fresh oxygen, which reduces stress and increases productivity.

Modern-Shed is a local company without roots, so it isn’t based in any one city. Instead, its employees work from home, just like its clients. Its insulated structures, which start around $14,000, and range in size from 8×10 feet to 12×22 feet, can be placed in a backyard with a relatively small footprint and may be used for anything from a home gym to an art studio. Yet, Vack estimates more than half of his clients use their structures for home offices.

This small physical separation between office and family restores a lot of work-life balance that is lost when working from home, according to Vack.

“If you had to (watch your kids) for an hour or take the kid to the doctor, it is much easier,” he said. “Also, it becomes much easier to separate yourself physically from all of the distractions, like the refrigerator, having people over, doing laundry, doing other household chores — like when you walk in the living room and the kids’ toys are out, so you pick them up instead of going back to work.”

Pierre Grand has a large backyard at his Bellevue home, yet most of the land is laden with rocks and trees resting on a steep incline. Moreover, Grand had been looking to expand his existing house to make room for a respite home office.

Instead, Grand found Modern-Shed, cut back a few trees on the hill, and built his own private oasis with a stunning view of downtown Bellevue.

“I love it,” Grand said of the seclusion his Modern-Shed provides. “Taking a glance outside or taking a few steps on the deck helps to recharge and break the work routine … it is wonderful for creative assignments and problem solving.”

In placing his Modern-Shed among the trees, Grand has inadvertently stumbled upon one of the first tenets of interior design for the home office. As it happens, many interior designers, such as trend analyst Carly Gonia from The Mine, a Kirkland-based online design marketplace formerly known as ATG Stores, strongly suggests filling a home office with plants.

“In our busy — especially tech-obsessed — lives, there has been a big climb in wanting this juxtaposition of nature in our everyday routines,” Gonia said. “Contact with nature is sought after, as research has proved its positive impact on health, productivity, and reconnection.”

Small Spaces, Big Design

We talked to Hayley Francis, the trend and design manager at The Mine — a Kirkland-based online design marketplace — about how to make the most of tiny spaces. 

Q: You work with fabulous office products all day. How does that inspire your own home office?

A: Working at The Mine inspires me every day to try different interior design projects in my home using the products I’m always drooling over. And, that’s not to mention my dire need for a home office — it was the perfect excuse for a completely updated design.

Q: What kind of space are you working with?

A: I turned my storage room into an office and dressing room.

Q: So you’re essentially cutting your space in half by allotting half the room to a dressing area; what can you do to make this room feel bigger?

A: Working within small spaces, I often suggest considering white paint, as it allows the room to feel much more open, bright, and therefore larger.

Q: Speaking of bright spaces, does natural light play a role?

A: Similar to white paint, natural light (as well as mirrors) is always a nice way to make a space feel larger. For my office redesign, which also functions as a closet/changing room, I used fogged window film on all the windows to allow me to always have the blinds up, even when changing, as when they are down the room feels half the size. Plus, this allows enough light to feed the plants in the room and keep them lively.

Q: How can you have a productive space while still maintaining a homey feel?

A: I paired a hanging chair I’ve wanted from The Mine for years with a vintage pillow, draping sheepskin along with a simple white desk I already had. The hanging chair serves as a great focal piece and makes the workspace feel more like home, which gives me a calming feeling.

Q: What other little accents can you add?

A: I topped it all off with greenery to make the space feel fresh, and a sculpture of a pointing finger that inspires me to have more a-ha moments, and to do my best work while I’m in the space.

Q: Any other thoughts about working with small spaces?

A: Even though you may be working with a small space, you can still take risks. Everyone told me the space was too small to have a hanging chair, but I did my research and scaled the room, and as long as my desk wasn’t too long, the hanging chair fit comfortably. Now it’s my favorite piece in the room, so I’m glad I did my homework and didn’t listen to everyone. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut.