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Home-office furniture: Functional, stylish

The laptop replaces the bulky monitor

By Diane Goldsmith

Knight Ridder Newspapers

Laptops now surpass desktops as the number-one personal computer sold to consumers, the Consumer Electronics Association says. The mobility they represent is influencing home-office furnishings, too.

"Time was when everything was about computer cabinetry -- all kinds of gymnastics to accommodate big monitors," says architect Richard Buchanan. "Now, we're finding home offices tend to be very lovely sitting-room spaces where people can pull out a laptop and go to work."

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Don't have a sitting room? Stow the office in a dining room, living room, guest room, bedroom, under a staircase -- anywhere you can fit one of those svelte new writing desks that have become all the rage.

And instead of metal file cabinets, consider more stylish storage options. Or camouflage everything in an armoire.

Let's start with a writing desk dripping with celebrity chic. Thomasville's Correspondent's Desk from the Ernest Hemingway Collection features a handsome leather top complemented by hardwood solids, laurel burl veneers and solid brass hardware. (Due in Thomasville stores in March 2005.)

Looking for storage that can go public? The lift-top organizer chest from the Liz Claiborne Home collection has relaxed European country styling that would be at home in almost any room.

Some of Century's home-office storage resembles bachelor chests. And in the Turkey Hill collection of Martha Stewart Signature Furniture with Bernhardt, a file chest placed at the foot of a bed could double for a blanket chest. "We're doing very well with it," Bernhardt spokeswoman Heather Bloom says. "It shows that people are doing a lot more work in their bedrooms."

If you prefer a chest that would be comfortable in a foyer or hall, there's the library chest from Stanley's Wainwright collection. It's a two-drawer file cabinet with a pull-out work surface.

"Many new homes have home offices off the foyer," says Kelly Cain, Stanley's vice president and product manager. "It's more of a public area of the home," so the company has been putting more design emphasis on such pieces.

The urge for more style is also evident in ready-to-assemble home-office furnishings, which make up the majority of OfficeMax's assortment.

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There, customers are "trading up for desks and furniture to complement the rest of the home," says Gayle McCormick, senior catalog manager for furniture. They're leaning toward pieces with solid wood and veneers rather than metal, glass or laminate, and writing desks rather than corner setups for a desktop computer.

Ikea, meanwhile, is doing good business with its Alve corner workstation armoire, says Work Ikea manager Pia Buenaventura. Also popular, she says, is the height-adjustable Jerker table, to which you can attach shelves and baskets that fit into holes on posts, to make the most of limited space.

A product that impressed home-office expert Lisa Kanarek when she did a six-week consumer test of home-office furniture for Consumers Digest earlier this year was Hooker's European Renaissance Ultimate Computer Cabinet. She liked the space and versatility of this case-goods piece, which includes two nice-size pull-out shelves for a keyboard, a movable halogen task light, a built-in surge protector and a corkboard back panel.

Need a task chair? "You can find one with ergonomic features for under $150 at Office Depot," Kanarek says. At higher prices, look for better fabric and more features that will make the chair further conform to your needs.

"Is there enough padding for you? People put a pillow behind their back," she says. "You shouldn't have to do that."

Among high-performance chairs, Kanarek likes Steelcase's Leap chair and Knoll's Life chair.

"Someone familiar with the Herman Miller line who likes the Aeron but finds it out of reach budget-wise might want to consider the Mirra," she says. The newer chair starts at $520 and comes in more colors, "which is important for home office ... you can personalize."

Product details

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To get more information on products, and in some cases to find local dealers, check out their Web sites

Steelcase's Leap chair, $799 and up; find dealers at www.steelcase.com.

Knoll's Life chair, $660 and up; find dealers at www.knoll.com.

Herman Miller's Mirra chair, $520 and up; find dealers at www.hmhome.com.

Thomasville's Correspondent's Desk and Chair in the Ernest Hemingway Collection, $3,285 for desk, $1,245 for the chair; available at Thomasville stores and galleries in March, www.thomasville.com.

Organizer chest from the Liz Claiborne Home collection from Lexington Home Brands, $1,792; find dealers at www.lexington.com.

Library chest in Stanley's Wainwright(collection, $1,195; find dealers at www.stanleyfurniture.com.

Century's home-office storage chests, about $2,485; find dealers at www.centuryfurniture.com.

File chest from Turkey Hill collection of Martha Stewart Signature Furniture with Bernhardt, $750; find dealers at http://www.bernhardt.com.

Hooker's European Renaissance Ultimate Computer Cabinet, $2,800, find dealers at www.hookerfurniture.com.

Ikea's Alve corner workstation armoire, $349; Jerker computer desk, $89, shelves $30 each, and baskets that fit into holes on the posts, three for $10; www.ikea-usa.com.

Contact Michael Shannon at Michael Shannon Designs, 215-717-1094 or mshannonmichaelshannondesigns.com.

Lisa Kanarek's Web site is www.homeofficelife.com.

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