Office by day, home by night: rooms that lead double lives

HOW do you cut the clutter when you work out of your home? Or at least how can you camouflage it? Some people have the luxury of extra rooms for home offices, where they can close the door when their workday is finished. Others have spare closets that they can outfit as offices or organized work storage. These too can be closed off when not in use.

But most workers at home struggle against high odds to find places to put things and to keep things halfway tidy.

Barbara Schirmeister, a New York designer and colorist, decided to use a drapery wall in her one-room apartment to hide away her workaday materials when working hours were over. With generously full draw draperies, she can convert her designer's workroom back into a living room in less than a minute. Color charts and fabric swatches disappear behind the drapery wall, a simple and relatively inexpensive disguise in a room with double-duty function.

When designer Jack Lenor Larsen works at home, he sits at one of two modern, rectangular all-purpose tables, which he also uses for dining and buffet serving. He simply slides open the end of a whole floor-to-ceiling storage wall. Phone, typewriter, supplies, and paper materials are all concealed in the wall and moved a few inches onto the table when they are needed.

Many people who work at home use handsome folding screens to hide a work area. Others use slatted blinds or roll-down matchstick blinds to drop down over workplace alcoves or counter-and-shelf arrangements. Bins and decorated boxes help others tuck away their work materials.

Baskets of many sizes are a boon because they can be used not only to conceal but also to sort and store. Interior designers Kevin Mayo and Ralph De Lucci use a whole series of rectangular wicker baskets, neatly arranged on recessed shelves, to hold carpet samples, fabric swatches, and other items needed in their work. The handsome baskets are functional, and they bring a decorative, highly tailored look to work storage.

Designer Friederike Kemp chose a massive French 18th-century armoire to house all the components of her at-home office. She had the great antique armoire lighted, equipped with a telephone, and custom-fitted with various compartments and pullout shelves to provide desk and typewriter surfaces. When she is working with wallpapers and fabrics, she pulls up a big trunklike basket next to the stool on which she sits so she can dip freely into her samples.

The work-at-home walnut armoire with its rich, mellow patina sits in her large bedroom, the brightest and sunniest room in the large Park Avenue apartment where she lives with her husband and children.

Designer Patricia Gaylor took one room and cleverly divided it to make a place for eating and entertaining, a family media center, and an office. A pedestal table and swivel chairs on casters are used for dining, games, and at-home paper work. A built-in storage unit beneath the window holds a typewriter and lamp. It continues at right angles out into the room to serve as a low divider separating the media area from work and dining space.

Most people who work at home ''need some kind of separation - either psychological or physical - of business from home,'' says Virginia Carry in her book ''Double Duty Decorating'' (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, $17.95). Dining rooms, she says, are usually underused and are therefore perfect candidates for combination offices. Most living rooms can also accommodate offices without compromising the decor.

''By concentrating the social seating in a living room at one end, making it more manageable and intimate in the process, you can open the other end for business,'' she writes. ''Social spaces can be used for informal conferences and meetings. Lighting should reinforce the division between the two areas. One switch should control the illumination in the office area, and another switch should cover the rest of the room. Thus, a lighted social area can be surrounded by a darkened workspace that is invisible at night.''

Another approach to separating office space from leisure space, the author suggests, is to butt the back of the sofa to the front of the desk. In a living room, a large table or a flat desk is less obtrusive, she thinks, than other styles of office furniture. But, she implores, make sure that whatever is on top of the desk after the workday is over is more on the order of art than clutter.

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