Adaptable//Sustainable: Setting up a Shared Home Office

Part 8 in the series “Adaptable//Sustainable: DIY Home Adaptation//Remaking Your Space to Work for You.”
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One of the things I’m most passionate about in design and in my own reading and writing is sharing spaces and items. A great summary and update of the sharing movement, “The New Sharing Economy: A Study by Latitude in Collaboration with Shareable Magazine) can be found here (warning, it’s a PDF, but well worth opening), from the online magazine Shareable: Sharing by Design.
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DIY Home Adaptation has been about thinking of your space in a different way and utilizing it the way that works best for you, not just how the rooms are labeled on a floor plan. Simplifying your home to include only what you need can open up space and possibilities. This idea for setting up for sharing space fits in multiple categories under the Adaptable//Sustainable banner: casual cohousing, DIY home adaptation and grassroots retrofits.
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One room with so much possibility for sharing is a garage. Unless you live in place with very harsh winters, do your cars really need a bigger room than your bedroom? The area of a two car garage can be 25% of the average home.
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Along with ear plugs and headphones, one of the cheapest ways to “remodel” your house is to purchase a remote keyless entry, which you can do for under $50, to start your car from inside the house on a cold day. For under $200, you can purchase a storage shed for the backyard to hold outdoor and sports gear.
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A garage is an ideal place for a shared community office. It’s private and separated from the rest of the house, usually with its own entry. The ideal situation would be to have a powder room close by in the house. No one can agree on the temperature in an office anyway, so personal fans and space heaters can be used in lieu of central heat and air.
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Getting a garage in shape for an office will take some work, but not a full on remodel-some insulation in the walls, drywall and paint. Add sweat equity from those who will be sharing the office, and you can do it in a weekend (and as soon as a phone line can be hooked up).
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More and more people are working from home, and having a shared community office offers many of the advantages of working from home without many of the disadvantages, the main one (in my opinion) being isolation. Internet connection, phone lines (a business line can be a huge expense for small businesses), printers, scanner, fax machine and office supplies (ordering in bulk cheaply), and conference table can all be shared. Also, very small businesses can share an admin person that they may not otherwise be able to afford. The advantages of working from home are in tact: no commute (except a walk to the neighbor’s house), casual working environment, flexibility, saving money on commercial rent.
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As with most sharing solutions, there are many possibilities of how to handle the financial aspect. This could be a great way for the homeowner to earn some extra income from rent, and it would still be more affordable than standard office space for the other participants. A co-op could be formed among members, and one person could offer their garage as neighborhood storage for shared items such as tools, or as a neighborhood workshop.
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These ideas can of course be applied to other rooms besides the garage, the most ideal being a rarely-used formal living or dining space, usually ideally located at the front of the house by the entry way.
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Further Reading:
  • The Sharing Solution, by Janelle Orsi and Emily Doskow, both lawyers. This book gives practical advice on sharing everything from cars to houses.

Book Review Archive: Superbia!: 31 Ways to Create Sustainable Neighborhoods

Each Tuesday, I’m posting book reviews that I did in the past for D+A Studio’s blog. I’m doing this because, well, I love to read, and a good book will not be dated and will keep coming up when discussing current issues.  Click on the “Book Review” tab to see all reviews. 

Overall, this is a fun book, easy to read and pleasing to the eye. The authors bring up many great ideas-many I have heard, many new-about how to move the suburbs into the future.  Suburbs have been built based on a world with an endless supply of cheap, abundant oil where no ill effects are caused by car exhaust. I picture Frank Lloyd Wright cruising in an old car around Broadacre City (his vision of spread out houses on large yards). He thought it was perfect, and it might have been if cars had no exhaust, there were no negative externalities related to fuel, and the suburbs were not directly or indirectly linked to modern social ills such as isolation, obesity, sprawl, and personal financial over extension.

They say that the suburbs will probably be rebuilt by “constructive demolition” to make them more dense and efficient, like small towns, since they are not currently built to last. A great quote from Peter Calthorpe, a leader in the New Urbanist movement, sums up our current situation:

“The old suburban dream is increasingly out of sync with today’s culture. Our suburbs are designed around a stereotypical household that is no longer predominant. But we continue to build suburbs as if families were large and had only one breadwinner, as if jobs were all downtown, as if land and energy were endless, and as if another lane on the freeway could end congestion.” (The Next American Metropolis) 

Ideas to create “Superbia” include:

  • Converting one existing garage in the neighborhood for the “recycling coordinator.” One person opens up their garage to store give away items, distributes a list to neighbors (items available/needed), makes trips to the dumpster or has regular garage sales.
  • A community office (could be a converted garage or formal living area), could be next to a community daycare center
  • Use an elderly neighbor’s yard for a community garden or pea-patch: they have their yard taken care of, people living in apartments or who don’t have room can have access to a garden.

These are just a few of the 31 ideas, but I found that this book is much more than just the sum of its parts. Their experience and knowledge in the field of green building and community living shine through, making for an overall engaging read beyond just a list of ideas.

In closing, a goal of their book is that we need to “Start where we are, and do what we can.”


The authors are on the board of directors for the Sustainable Futures Society: Fostering Transitions to a Global, Sustainable Society.