In today’s mobile work environment, home offices are becoming increasingly common. Like traditional offices, the home office must be versatile and easily adaptable to the changing needs of its occupants. The home office stands in stark contrast to traditional office environments, however, in that it is part of your home and thus must meet different expectations for style and beauty.
Unfortunately, home office lighting is often overlooked or at least given low priority as work starts to pile up. As backs ache, more attention is typically given to the right desk and chair but eye strain-induced headaches may go on for years before something is done. Before you settle in to a daily work routine, give your office lighting some thought. Lighting directly affects comfort and performance and properly managing light levels in the room will reduce fatigue and stress on your eyes.
Typical Home Office Lighting
Most home offices are illuminated by 1) whatever overhead light was in the room previously and 2) a single desk lamp. This is not ideal. It’s not even comfortable. So why do most home offices end up this way? The answer is simply “Because that’s the way my old office was illuminated so it must be ideal.” Really? Do you think your old office environment was ideally configured for optimum lighting? More likely, it was illuminated in the least expensive way possible; fluorescent overhead fixtures and a cheap incandescent desk lamp.
Office work is eye-intensive. It requires quality light. Proper lighting is perhaps the most critical element in home office design but it remains one of the most overlooked while being one of the least expensive to fix.
How to Light your Office
Lighting is broadly classified in one of three functional categories:general lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting. General lighting provides an equal distribution of light across an area (think overhead fixtures). Task lighting helps perform specific functions or task. Accent lighting is used to highlight, showcase or soften contrast in specific areas. Although most spaces benefit from a balance of the three types of lighting, the home office will be largely focused on task lighting. If, however, your home office is used for meeting with clients, you will need more general and accent lighting to create a comfortable space (see below.)
Anyone that reads at their desk should have a desk lamp that uses a quality bulb. Choosing a desk lamp is a topic in itself, but, at a minimum, look for a lamp with a counterweighted support system and a halogen bulb light source.
Home offices (and offices in general) often suffer from an overabundance of general illumination. This causes more harm than good. All too often, overhead fixtures in offices are fluorescent…which produces harsh, flickering light that causes squinting and eye strain when trying to view detailed subject matter such as documents. Do not use fluorescent lighting in your home office. Also common, home offices will have one or more high-wattage overhead fixtures that shine directly into the eyes of anyone in the room. After a few hours, this will also contribute to eye strain.
For anyone that works for long hours at a computer, controlling general illumination, task lighting and glare cast onto the monitor surface is critical. As little light as possible should actually reach the monitor screen surface. Also, if you use a glass-front monitor, take care not to have brightly lighted art or walls behind your desk (in the reflective path of the monitor) as this is a primary source of glare. Ideally, accent lighting can be used to provide gentle, reflective light from behind the screen to minimize the sharp contrast and reduce eye strain. Table lamps and windows can be effective in this capacity as well.
Home offices may still make use overhead lighting without necessarily over doing it with general illumination. Consider the use of track lighting to spot light other task areas (printers, fax machines etc.) as well as art on the walls while preventing direct glare at the primary desk. As always, all overhead lights should be put on dimmers.
Special Circumstances (The Closet Office)
Fairly recently, many apartments, condos and new town homes include a small, dedicated space (about the size of a walk-in closet) as a home office. Typically, this is a windowless room and it usually includes cabinets so that it might be used in another capacity. Consider under cabinet lighting as an additional lighting source in these rooms as shadows will invariably be cast on the work surface from any overhead light source.
Meeting with Clients
Successful client meetings should be as comfortable as is practical in a work environment. Lighting should be gentle yet functional. Pendants over a small table and two chairs or possibly a freestanding floor lamp will help define a ‘meeting place’ within the home office where you can sit at length and casually discuss client needs etc.
Once you stop taking cues from the designer of your previous corporate office, lighting is a straight forward matter. Time spent designing an office lighting plan will be quickly paid back in time saved by increased productivity and reduced fatigue.