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Using a Scale Model to Lay Out Your Office

It’s important to know how much actual space you have to work with before you jump into creating (or re-creating) your office. Keep in mind that you’re striving to create a comfortable work space with good traffic flow. Looking through catalogs and finding items you love is the easy part. If you don’t know how much room you’re working with, however, you could spend a lot of money on furniture that doesn’t work for you. Buying first and measuring later means your furniture might end up being too large or too small for the room. This is why it’s worth taking a little time to make a basic scale drawing of your room. The scale drawing gives you a great foundation from which to begin adding and moving office furniture. Using a scale-model floor plan and paper cutouts of furniture and equipment is the best way to try out different plans before you commit to one. Plus, you avoid hauling furniture around the room, trying various configurations until you get it right. Moving paper cutouts is a whole lot easier than moving furniture!

Measuring and Creating Scale Drawings

A scale model or scale drawing is a rendition of something large, reduced in size but proportionally accurate. To create a drawing of your office, measure the space using a tape measure. To get the most accurate measurements for your scale drawing, measure the entire length of each wall first, noting it on paper, and then measure across the room to double-check your numbers. After you have your measurements written down, use your graph paper and mathematically figure out how many squares you want to be equivalent to one foot. Choose this ratio based on the overall size of your graph paper and the drawing size you’ll need in order to sketch in furniture and equipment placement.

Let’s say your room is 20’ x 14’ and you are using graph paper with 1/4" squares. A scale of 1/2" (two squares) to a foot means that a 20-foot wall would convert to a 10-inch line on your paper. Using a scale of 1/2" to a foot gives you plenty of room to write and makes the drawing large enough to easily see each element. If your room is relatively small, go ahead and use a larger scale of 1" per foot. Even though you won’t need to write anything more than the names of each item and its dimensions, the larger you make your scale, the more room you’ll have to make these notes on the floor plan. After you’ve chosen your scale, be sure to note it somewhere on the paper so you can remember it later. For example, jot a note on the floor plan that says, "One inch = one foot."

Now that you’ve chosen your scale, draw the outline of your room using your graph paper and straight edge.

After you have drawn the lengths of the walls on your graph paper, measure and draw in the locations of the door openings and windows; also indicate on your drawing where the phone jacks and outlets are located. Remember to draw your window and door openings to scale so you can accurately see how everything fits together on paper. The scale drawing in Figure 3.4 shows a 14’ x 16’ office drawn on graph paper using two squares for each linear foot. The doors, windows, outlets, and jacks have been added to scale in this drawing.

Figure 3.4

Figure 3.4 This drawing shows the added elements of windows, doors, closet space, outlets (which are shown as a circle with two lines intersecting), and phone jacks (which are shown as triangles).

Now that you have your physical space outlined to scale on graph paper, you’re ready to move on to the next step, which is considering the furniture layout of your office.

Creating Furniture Cutouts

Now you’re ready to begin testing office arrangements using paper cutouts to represent your primary office furnishings. Cutting out scale models of your furniture gives you an easy way to rearrange the elements of the room without doing any hard work. The beauty of it is you don’t have to guess what it will look like or how much space you’ll have left over because your model is created to tell you those things by virtue of the fact that it is built to scale.

Make your paper cutouts by measuring your present furniture, converting that measurement to the scale you’ve chosen for your drawing, and then cutting its shape to that size out of a sticky note. To convert actual size furniture to a cutout, just refer to your scale. Using a scale of 1/2" equals 1’, a desk 5’ by 2’ would convert to a paper cutout of 2 1/2" by 1". Cut the model out of the sticky note, write the word desk on it and write the desk dimensions on the cutout as well. Be sure to use the sticky end of the note when cutting out your shape so it will stick to the graph.

When you place this two-dimensional scale model of your desk on your graph floor plan, you’ll see how it looks exactly in proportion to the size of the room. Converting real objects to scale paper cutouts is very simple using basic math skills and a ruler.

Repeat this process with each primary piece of furniture you have or want to place in your office. If you know you’ll be replacing a piece of furniture or you plan to buy a piece and don’t know its specific dimensions, cut out a scale model that approximates the size of the piece you plan to purchase.

Attention Visuals! This scale drawing exercise will be right up your alley. Take the time to do it, even though it takes a little while. With your strong visual leanings, the model will make it especially easy for you to imagine and plan your new space before you purchase new furniture or begin doing any heavy work.

Laying Out Your Furniture

Experiment on paper with different configurations for your furniture and you’ll undoubtedly begin seeing the difference between effective and ineffective furniture layouts. In this section, we’ll look at some sample layouts and discuss some of the pros and cons of each.

Here are some criteria of effective office layout:

  • The furnishings are in proportion to the size of the room.
  • There is plenty of room for walking between furniture. I recommend a minimum of 22" for traffic paths.
  • The primary office chair has plenty of room to swivel and roll forward and backward. A good rule of thumb is a minimum of 18" between the back of the chair and the wall.
  • Computer equipment, peripherals, and other machines are easily accessible from your seated position, without requiring you to reach or stretch.
  • All doors should be clear of obstructions.
  • You can walk straight into the room without running into anything or having to quickly turn to avoid a piece of furniture.
  • Traffic patterns between frequently used items are short and straight whenever possible.
  • Seating configuration creates comfortable conversation areas.

Figure 3.5 shows an office with an L-shaped desk, credenza, lateral file, small table, and two side chairs. In this illustration, the desk faces the large window.

Figure 3.5

Figure 3.5 Facing directly out a window is appealing at first glance, but sitting with your back to the door can be unsettling for many people.

Initially it might seem like a great idea to have the desk set up so you can look outside all day, as in the preceding example. That would be a wonderful way to increase the enjoyment of the space. Several flaws exist in this layout, however:

  • The position of the desk and chair puts your back to the door, which is a physically and psychologically weak position. When you can’t see the door, visitors can easily enter your room and startle you. This vulnerability can create a subtle, underlying uneasiness that affects your focus.
  • The guest chairs and small table inhibit an easy traffic flow upon entering the office.
  • The position of the guest chairs and small table make it virtually impossible to use both chairs.
  • The credenza in this position also creates a virtually unusable dead corner to its right, where clutter is likely to accumulate.
  • The lateral file is too close to the door. It inhibits movement as you enter the office.

Figure 3.6 shows the same office space as Figure 3.5, with all the same furnishings. This time the desk is facing the door, which is a better working position. Several things are still wrong with this layout:

  • The credenza and the lateral file are both behind the desk. This placement creates a very narrow walkway for anyone wanting to get to the desk and cramps the mobility of the office chair.
  • The lateral file drawers will be difficult to open all the way because the file cabinet is too close to the chair.
  • The guest chair is too close to the wall beside it, restricting movement.
  • The traffic flow in this office is impeded. Every path you follow leads to a dead end. The closed end of each traffic path is unsettling. Many people will often avoid a space rather than feel trapped with only one way out.
  • As you enter this room, you nearly walk into the guest chair to the right of the door. It is too close to the natural traffic pattern.
  • The room is unbalanced. It feels "heavy" on the right side of the room and there is nothing to meet your eye as you walk through the door.
  • The large empty space on the left is completely unused, making it a likely place for clutter to accumulate.
Figure 3.6

Figure 3.6 This layout is unbalanced with all the furniture on one side of the room, leaving little space for a comfortable traffic pattern.

In Figure 3.7, the same space is configured differently, with the desk facing the corner of the office and the other furniture spaced fairly evenly about the room.

Figure 3.7

Figure 3.7 See if you can find the five problems present in this office layout.

Although this layout is slightly better than in Figures 3.5 and 3.6, there are still flaws to be noted. See if you can identify the problems with this layout for yourself before looking at the list following the figure.

Here are the problems with this office organization:

  • The door swings and hits one of the guest chairs.
  • The lateral file and the credenza being at right angles to each other creates an odd "dead space" between them when the furniture is not being used.
  • The lateral file being positioned so close to the front of the credenza makes it difficult to open the credenza doors.
  • The position of the desk in relation to the lateral file and credenza forces you to walk in an awkward half-circle pattern to access either piece of furniture.
  • The window at your back will likely cause a sun glare on your computer monitor, regardless of where on the desk it is located.

Now that we’ve addressed a few ineffective ways to arrange your furniture, let’s look at the same space configured effectively, below in Figure 3.8.

Figure 3.8

Figure 3.8 This layout is the most effective, using the same furnishings as in the other figures.

Figure 3.8 illustrates how, using the same amount of floor space and the same furniture as shown in earlier examples, you can create an effective office layout. The reasons this plan works are as follows:

  • The desk is far enough away from the door to offer an unobstructed view of whoever comes into the office.
  • The desk is situated so you not only have a perfect view of the door, but you also have an easy view outdoors, which adds to your enjoyment of the space.
  • The lateral file and credenza are grouped side by side on the opposite wall, offering easy, direct access to both pieces. This configuration offers not only a consolidated footprint, but also a large flat work surface for storing Zone Two items or projects.
  • The small table and guest chairs are placed so they are out of the way, but still facilitate conversation. It is easy for guests to interact with the person behind the desk.
  • The furniture is arranged so there is space to walk comfortably between all the pieces without bumping your hips or knees. The room feels larger with this much free space between pieces.
  • There is plenty of space in front of the lateral file to allow the file drawers to open easily without hitting anything.
  • The front of the credenza is completely accessible, making it a good place to store Zone Two items.
  • The office chair has plenty of room to be pushed back and swivel around behind the desk and it is just a few steps to either the lateral file or the credenza.
  • The desk is positioned so even though it is in front of the window, the sun will never be over your shoulder, placing a glare on the screen.

The previous illustrations have shown you what a big difference furniture placement can make in a room. You can see how an office can feel cramped, small, and uncomfortable based completely on the furniture layout. On the other hand, you’ve also learned how that same office can feel spacious and comfortable simply by arranging the furnishings to create balance and logical traffic patterns.

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