Contributed by:
Kevin Parma

Home Office or Office Home?: Live/Work Spaces Define Personal Lifestyles

Many of us dream of the lives depicted in movies and television where people live and work in the same environment. The inspiration of this dream is frequently the places in which these characters reside. Characters with an independent attitude and a carefree lifestyle may be found living and working in renovated warehouses, factories, or long forgotten retail spaces. Additionally, these "off the grid" types usually embrace an equally creative lifestyle.

Within these mythical worlds, artists and architects match dilapidated brick and expansive glass with furniture costing more than most people's cars and display artwork which, in reality, would be on loan or reported stolen from a prestigious museum. The best part of this dream is that, when they do have to go to work, they are able to just roll into their equally eclectic-styled room next door.

These big screen examples appear often within prohibitively expensive locations or completely fictional settings, from Batman's Gotham mansion to Sanford and Son's salvage shop. Fortunately, these idyllic oases do exist. You just have to remake them.

How It Works (and Doesn't)

Take it from someone who has worked out of his home (a much less poetic version than described above); the dream is simple. Cut the morning commute, go to work in your pajamas, put your bunny slipper-covered feet up on the desk, and drink your coffee. What you need is just the smallest ounce of self-discipline to resist sleeping in a tiny bit longer and a good door to close so you can really separate the "work" from the "live" areas of your home.

I often tell people that I started my own firm to make my own hours, but I never envisioned that it would mean that I was on call all hours of the day (and night … and weekend). A live/work space allows for after-hours work to be more realistic and convenient. The ability to walk into another space and eat quickly makes it easier to break up long stretches of work. A local business with which I collaborate allows its employees to set their work hours around their personal schedules. They generally don't open until 10 a.m. and work late into the night without bothering the businesses on the other side of the demising wall.

I have also had more than one experience of sharing an office with a residential tenant in the back. Creative spaces are oftentimes forged by creative landlords. The tradeoff of having workers keep an eye on the tenant's house during the day is reciprocated by the tenant keeping an eye on the office after hours. We call this the "night shift."

But what about the cold calls and odd deliveries that show up at your "office" at all hours of the day? What about that client who really doesn't need to know where you live? What about answering the door in a towel after getting out of the shower anticipating a delivery only to find out it is a client? Think about deli owners in New York who live above their shops. How do you escape the smell? Many other small business owners I know who started out of their homes often say that these types of issues are some of the hardest struggles.

Learning the Live/Work Concept

I was fortunate to have worked with a pioneer in the Cedars area—Zad Roumaya of Change Chamber Development/Buzzworks—who was one of the first people to introduce me to the rehabbing of the decrepit old buildings left abandoned by companies that either faded or left for bigger, newer buildings. Like many creative people, he was looking for wide open space where he could get dirty and noisy without bothering or being distracted by his neighbors. He also needed a space that had a small office for his day job. Years later, after having hosted art shows, open studio tours and even a wedding—and fielding many questions about how to "find a place to live around here"—he decided to provide those options himself.

A Buzz Is Born

After many iterations and conceptualizations, the decision to develop a live/work solution was hatched. With favorable zoning and proximity to downtown, slogans such as "We don't need no stinking gasoline" became the battle cry of those looking for open, habitable space with the bare necessities and the ability to create. Our resulting design, known as Buzz Lofts, is an award-winning live/work condominium, noted for its proximity to downtown and to some of the best artists in the city. It is also complimented by other adaptive-reuse buildings in the neighborhood which have flexible spaces that serve a multitude of uses.

This experience led me to my own experiment. My wife and I decided to repurpose a former day labor office building in the Cedars and create our own live/work space. While life got in the way, and led us to live outside of the urban core, we learned much from the experience. If you're considering a live/work alternative, our lessons in repurposing a space (in our case, a concrete masonry warehouse) may be of help to you.

Kevin Parma is the founder and principal of parmadesign.