Good Life

No Longer Hidden

Helen Restall uses her home office complete with custom walnut cabinets, blond maple surfaces and honey oak hardwood floors for her photography business.  Matthew and Helen Restall converted their Park Forest home's living room into a home office in 2007.  The office is designed for Helen's photography business as well as for use by their children.  CDT/Nabil K. Mark
Helen Restall uses her home office complete with custom walnut cabinets, blond maple surfaces and honey oak hardwood floors for her photography business. Matthew and Helen Restall converted their Park Forest home's living room into a home office in 2007. The office is designed for Helen's photography business as well as for use by their children. CDT/Nabil K. Mark

When Chris Fagan wanted a home office, he knew which direction to take.Up.Because his earth-berm house in Ferguson Township burrows into soil on three sides, he couldn’t easily build an addition four years ago. So the independent video producer and photographer constructed a detached, two-story square tower next to his garage.Rising 35 feet, it appears austere, like a bunker. But there’s nothing drab about the open interior. Fagan’s entrance lounge, ground-floor studio and airy office, reached by a metal spiral staircase, reward the eyes, doubling as a funky gallery showcasing his love of science fiction and art.His futuristic sculpture, inspired by TV test patterns, and psychedelic photos of Nikita Krushchev and a cosmonaut adorn the atrium walls. Vintage arcade games, a life-size Mr. Spock cutout and other Star Trek memorabilia, plate-sized Pokemon character faces and a small army of toy robots add playful touches to the sleek maple and black leather furnishings — a contemporary clubhouse for a creative spirit.“I guess it’s an extension of a childhood where you collect toys,” Fagan says. “You keep yourself surrounded by your comfort items, and it makes work seem less like work.”Home offices have typically been humdrum afterthoughts, squirreled away in basements or in the corner of a spare bedroom, nothing more exciting than a desk and filing cabinet or two. But that’s changing these days as more homeowners design distinctive rooms for managing their businesses and lives.“People are looking for a combination of comfort and beauty, because they’re going to be spending a lot of time in these home offices,” says Alicia Wetmiller, a State College interior designer.Popular choices include skylights, recessed lighting, hardwood floors, custom cabinets and shelving, and artwork, says Sherry Dershimer, a State College interior designer. The common thread: What once were hidden, utilitarian nooks have become personalized gems.“It used to be a space you didn’t show anybody,” Dershimer says. “Now, it’s a feature. ... You’re not ashamed for people to see your office.

Helen Restall’s office in her Park Forest home couldn’t be more prominent — open to the foyer, its brick-red walls and hardwood floor mere feet from the front door.Originally the living room, it had been a carpeted makeshift office with two unmatched desks before its transformation three years ago as Restall launched her photography business. Today, she meets clients at a wood laminate peninsula counter with red rolling stools. The mobility comes in handy: She can swivel to a desk behind her, consult her computer or find a file and quickly pivot back.Restall also appreciates her ample storage — three walls of dark, wooden cabinets and shelves, including slots below the counter especially for poster tubes.“A major thing I wanted was organization,” she says. “I’m not organized by nature, so I saw I needed a space that would help me start out organized.”Across the room stands a trio of wheeled stools, each before a computer on a counter bathed by a bank of small, recessed lights. Restall’s three daughters, ages 14, 11 and 7, use these — even while their mother works. She likes being with them, wheeling over to visit for a break, as much as retouching photos or checking orders in solitude, sunlight flowing through three windows onto her framed photos.“When I’m here by myself, it’s peaceful,” she says. “It’s a nice combination of having my own space within the larger space for my family.”

Every time Jennifer Shields goes to work, her diligence is rewarded.Atop her mountainside home, Shields’ penthouse office sits, four stories high and about 600 feet above Pine Grove Mills and the rest of Happy Valley. Three glass walls look out onto a flat roof, offering a stunning, and often irresistible, vista of floating hawks, passing airplanes, dense cloud banks and distant ridges. At night, the lights spread for miles.“Seriously, you can find yourself sitting here, staring off into space,” Shields says.But she doesn’t climb the metal stairs of her contemporary home, first grabbing the day’s paperwork from shelves on the landing between floors, just to drink in the view.At a simple birch desk, she manages the rental properties she and her husband own. These days, she also ties up the loose ends from the sale of his auto dealership. The decor is minimalist — custom maple flooring, blank white walls, black filing cabinet and recliner. A globe and antique Victorian sofa with claw feet lend a bit of dash, but otherwise, the office is sparse.“I like less clutter,” she says.The room, the only one on the fourth floor, was going to store furniture for an intended rooftop deck. But Shields, tired of working in her bedroom, liked the idea of a lofty retreat. She keeps a wooden table set of Chinese checkers and other games for when her 4-year-old son keeps her company. Mostly, though, she’s by herself, apart from household noise and distractions, literally above it all.“It’s away from everything, and I can come up and concentrate on my work,” she says.

Amidst a triangle in her Harris Township home office, Liz Jones shifts smoothly between the right and left sides of her brain.At a cherry desk, Jones the family accountant oversees rental properties and runs two businesses. One turn, and Jones the former record company executive sits before her computer station, helping arrange the affairs of her progressive rock band, Trixie Neptune.And, if suddenly inspired to play, Jones the musician can turn yet again to an electric piano. “When I get back into my accounting mode, I can swivel back,” she says.As a bonus, there’s the panoramic view provided by a home clinging to the base of Mount Nittany. Her office opens to the living room, which overlooks the valley stretching to Tussey Mountain.French doors on one wall lead outside to more beauty. “We have a pond, and in the springtime, I could hear all the frogs chirping,” Jones says.The office accommodates another role: Jones the mother of three children, ages 15, 13 and 9. It adjoins a play room, and the center of the house isn’t far away, so she can quickly switch gears if necessary.Without a place to organize the facets of her life, she says, “I could not operate.”“The thing I enjoy most about my office, it’s exactly how I live. It totally reflects who I am.”

As befitting a sci-fi fan, Fagan’s office feels like the bridge of a spaceship.It’s bright, lit in the day by three sides of windows and a central round skylight. Below that hangs a circular, metal truss with colored spotlights trained on Fagan’s artwork, and two flat monitors for showing cable news and music videos.Metal railings at the stairwell, cable lighting and Fagan’s pod of computers, editing equipment and a glowing wall phone complete the sense one’s embarking on an interstellar voyage.“It’s positive,” he says. “I used to work in a basement area. It was so dark and depressing.”There’s much about his tower he enjoys — warm floors from radiant heat, the spotlights’ night-club effect, the rooftop sun deck where his German shepherd roams, coming and going through a dog door.Sometimes, he desires human company, colleagues to cheer him up on bad days. Then he’ll visit one of his clients, the local Better Kids Care office. But mostly, working solo in his pop-culture palace suits him best — especially under pressure.“The nice thing about working in a home office, you can lose your temper and yell at your computer and not bother anyone.”

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