(ARA) - In the age of wireless communication, telecommuting and global travel, a professional's "office" has become more of a virtual world located anywhere from a hip coffee shop to a busy airport. This makes creating one's stationary office fun, stimulating and imaginative even more important.

There are ways to accomplish a more collaborative environment that is replacing the look and bulk of the cubicle and provide a modern, architectural feeling, according to Sara Seward, certified interior designer and Interior Design faculty at The Art Institute of California - Sacramento.

For example, she recommends that offices feature more casual areas to gather for a quick meeting, juice bars to host social events, or lounging areas to relax. Also, keeping the design simple and using lighter, modern finishes can increase the feeling of open space.

If people are expected to work in small cubicles, "provide them with a 'break away' space that gives them an alternative area to work or hold impromptu meetings," says Amy J. Aswell, who holds a master's in interior architecture and is also an instructor of Interior Design at The Art Institute of California - Sacramento.

Aswell notices a trend toward residential living room layouts for these break away areas, as well more home-like amenities being added such as lounge furniture.

For employees who want to dress up their office or cubicle, Academic Director of Interior Design at The Art Institute of California - Sunnyvale, Sandra Slade, has the following tips:

* Hang one focal piece of artwork and add sculptural interest on a credenza or side table but avoid very strong or controversial subjects in your art.

* Family pictures are nice, but don't overdo it and limit yourself to a few.

* Adding a nice live plant or small tree offers a nice feng shui touch.

* Maintain professionalism in your color scheme by adding an accent wall of medium color paint or surround yourself with a soft neutral.

When it comes to shared work spaces for independent consultants or small business owners, Slade acknowledges a freedom from corporate office decor guidelines but advises not to "go overboard" on personal expression.

"You will still want to appear professional," she says, "And that can be accomplished by avoiding lots of distracting 'toys' on the desk and keeping the space orderly. Since your office may also be your conference space, allow for a comfortable upholstered guest office chair. You might also want to add a small side table with a sculptural piece for sophistication."

The need for a typical office has been replaced with flexible environments that maximize the use of square footage along with what makes the staff comfortable. "No matter the space, it's about allowing employees to work in whatever manner they need to stay productive," says Seward.

To learn more about The Art Institutes schools, visit www.artinstitutes.edu.Rethinking small office design: Creating a more collaborative and imaginative workplace

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