Double Take: The Disappearing Home Office

Double Take: The Disappearing Home Office

“Every mother needs a cockpit,” says architect Elizabeth Emerson of E/L Studio. In this case the cockpit includes her customer’s long and linear office, extensive craft and wrapping paper storage, and a laundry area, with closeness to the kids’ craft and homework area and playroom. The best part is the parts that get messy — the office, homework channels and craft area — can be concealed behind a fresh blue lacquered wall once the family wants to amuse.

The renovation of this damp, low-ceilinged cellar of this 1911 home in Maryland introduced many of the usual basement renovation challenges, such as pliable brick piers, moisture, dangling cables, exposed ductwork and low ceilings. The renovation addressed each these issues, and the result is a fresh and bright multiuse space full with an adjoining laundry room, bath and family room.

Job at a Glance
Who lives here:
A family of 4; at the time of their renovations, the girl was 7 and the son had been 11
Location: Chevy Chase, Washington, D.C.
Size: About 1,100 square feet
Year finished: 2009


Emerson closely considered the method by which the family would use each zone in the area. This mother’s command fundamental has plenty of storage — overhead, on the desktop and underneath the stairs — such as flat files, space for wrapping supplies storage for both adult and kid craft supplies.

Well-placed lighting, electric outlets and a fabric-covered pinboard across the rear of the wall let her keep everything she desires close at hand.

So, now you see the cockpit …


… now you don’t!

When amusing, the clients can draw full-height, in-line sliding doors across the children’s craft and prep area and across the desk, leaving everything as littered as may be, even with no one the wiser.

The doorways, created by German firm Hafele, pile and vanish into closets at either end when open. There are also bolts in the floor so the mother can lock up her computer once the children have sleepovers. The doors are covered in a custom lacquer that reflects the light.


The children’ workstation includes a pegboard for hanging tools and plenty of bins for storing supplies.

“It may take a lot of work to clear a basement,” Emerson says. She replaced the cellar’s authentic brick piers with a structural system of steel columns; all the spaces back up round them, which maximizes the usable distance. The husband is 6 feet, 6 inches tall, so she lowered the floor 18 inches. Ductwork and HVAC systems have been transferred strategically to clear the living area.


In addition to the numerous closets, the new area also contains an ample storage space behind these doors that are white.

“It is a floating flooring, not fixed at the borders, which means it could expand and contract in case of moisture,” Emerson explains. The flooring is bamboo, that is the elegance of hardwood but is softer to get play.


“The office area flows seamlessly from one area to the next,” Emerson says. In the adjoining laundry area, the counter doubles as a wrapping station. The space also includes a built-in ironing board in a cupboard to the left and an apron-front sink.

“The soapstone we used for these counters is more figurative than the ordinary soapstone and has more veining,” she says. It picks up on the tones.

More about soapstone countertops


Emerson says the adjoining playroom and TV area is “family center for movies and enjoyable.” Plush custom cushions for your seat came after this photograph was taken; this really is a comfy gathering place at which the family has movie nights. In addition, it is a great place for playing with the Wii.

The built in U-shaped bench seat covers the basement reinforcement necessary for falling the floor amount. The beadboard hides insulation and a drainage system that addresses moisture by draining it to concealed troughs that lead to subpumps. The initial loose rock foundation was cleaned up and retained exposed above standard, where moisture isn’t an issue.

“By not falling a ceiling, we could get about 12 more inches of perceptive height,” Emerson says. The electrical, mechanical and plumbing were rerouted so the joists could be exposed painted and uplighted to give the room elevation.


The mantel is made of the exact same soapstone used in the laundry area. Coppery flecks select up on the Daltile copper penny tile fireplace surround. Even though the space is quite clean and light, elements like the fireplace and the rich-colored cork flooring add warmth.

As a result of the carefully considered strategy, the basement is currently a multiuse area that is efficient and comfortable for the entire family.

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