Her Space

Sometimes a design project stalls to a stop for reasons unforeseen. That seems to happen to women who set out to design a feminine home office space. The stores just haven't all caught on to the needs of businesswomen and home office furniture, on the whole, tends to be too masculine, with the décor too modern, metallic, and dark. But the trend in catering to the woman entrepreneur's needs is starting to enter the commercial conscious.

With more women setting up their own small businesses every day—twice as fast as the national average for business retailers, some of the big names in furniture are selling office furniture designed from the feminine perspective. Women need desks and office chairs that suit their more petite frames. They also need more storage space to hold, well, all the paraphernalia that figure large in a woman's life. That holds true whether the office is in an office building, or in a woman's home.

Design Preferences

Not all women are created equal when it comes to design preferences; however women know exactly what they want, and unlike men, view their furniture as reflecting their personal spirit. Women care more about the personal touch, while men are focused on function. The men want to know if an office chair is of ergonomic design, while a woman takes function into account but is more concerned with how the chair fits into the general décor.

The first large office supply retailer to gamble on the feminine niche for office décor, Office Depot Inc., is the nation's second in the overall market. In 2003, the company hired Christopher Lowell to come up with office furniture that women might like. Lowell designed desks with a whitewashed exterior and a breezy quality evoking the beach house. The designer also created a line of antiqued hutches. Next was a line of shelving with a decorative motif.

Competitor OfficeMax worked with companies like the Sharper Image Corporation and Broyhill Furniture Industries Inc., to design traditional office furniture with touches like old pewter ring pulls. Meantime, the Center for Women's Business Research, a not-for-profit organization whose focus is on the approximately 10.4 million female-owned businesses, says that the number of business firms with at least a 51% private female ownership went up 42.3% between 1997 and 2006. Compare this figure to the 23.8% overall growth for all private enterprises during the identical period and you have a figure that doubles that amount.

Smaller Frames

Consumer research was a big help in casing the market. OfficeMax determined that women were more attracted to the Sharper Image label than were men. But the manufacturers didn't seem impressed with the fancy research. OfficeMax had to cajole the manufacturers into understanding that women wanted slimmer office chairs that fit their styles as well as their smaller frames.