Technology has made it possible for a growing number of people to work full time from their homes.
Matt Schnell of Bettendorf is one of them. But rather than carving out a space inside his home, he decided to build his own office, in his yard. The structure, “a mite smaller” than 80 square feet, is literally a stone’s throw from his back door, taking its place near a play yard for his children.
Schnell, an information technology contractor for IBM, works on IT infrastructure remotely. Before he and his wife, Kelly, had children, he worked out of his basement.
But with two active preschoolers now, Mara, 4, and Collin, 1, that was no longer feasible.
“I need a quiet space to work,” he said.
Schnell said he became intrigued with a freestanding office out back as a result of his interest in the “tiny house” movement, in which people are making a conscious decision to downsize their possessions and their living space. Some estimates put the typical American home at around 2,600 square feet, but a tiny house falls somewhere between 100 and 400 square feet.
Actually, a word has been coined to describe what Schnell built in his backyard. The freestanding offices have been referred to as “shedquarters” — and they are a growing trend, with separate structures ranging from the size of Schnell’s office to multiple-room work spaces.
Schnell purchased the plans for his one-room office online, modifying it somewhat, including enlarging the window space. He purchased windows from Habitat Restore, allowing an ample amount of natural light to flow into the space, making it seem larger than it is. It took him about two months to build the structure last year, with help from his father.
Plywood walls painted white to resemble the rough-hewn look of “shiplap” siding — one of Kelly’s favorite features — give the 8-foot by 10-foot space a clean and bright look.
A minimalist approach to furnishing the office includes a plain white desk for his laptop computer and neutral industrial-type carpeting.
Other repurposed items in the office include an overhead light fixture of black metal with round yellow lights that give off a softer glow, a small metal side table that belonged to Kelly’s parents and a table lamp with a shade of bright orange leaf accents that brings a pop of color to the space. A guitar hangs on the wall.
“I play every once in awhile,” Schnell said.
There’s also a flat-screen television hanging on one wall, which he uses to check up on the news.
A surprise feature that takes up a good amount of space is a brown sofa that runs the length of one wall. With several comfy-looking throw pillows tossed on it, it provides a spot for Schnell to relax.
He had to run electricity out to the building, as well as a network cable and separate cable for a phone line. Providing heat to the office is an oil-filled radiant heater, connected to a smart outlet that turns it on several hours before Schnell starts work at 8 a.m. It shuts off promptly at 5 p.m. when his work day is officially done.
“To the extent that I can, I keep regular hours,” he said.
The building, covered in beige vinyl siding, is insulated, and Schnell points out that he “worked out there on even the coldest day of the year.”
Although he’s hoping that his shaded location and access to fresh air will help during the summer, he’s pondering a few cooling options for hot days to come.
Kelly Schnell, a stay-at-home mom, is pleased with her husband’s work location.
“I think it’s a great idea,” she said. “I was very impressed with his ability to put up a tiny house in less than two months.
“Working in the basement would be a very tough thing for him. This is very conducive to the way we live. We can be rowdy in here.”
And, she notes, he is close by in case of an emergency.
Matt spends his lunch breaks in the house with the family.
Mara and Collin know that Daddy’s office is not a playhouse, although Matt will bring them out there for supervised visits and maybe to catch a little television at night.
“Occasionally,” he laughs, “they will pound on the windows and door. Kelly is good at setting boundaries for them. They understand that Daddy has to go to work.”
Mara nods an enthusiastic “yes!” when asked if she likes to visit Daddy’s office. And she’s proud of the role she played in helping to hammer in one of the nails during construction.