Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Help Wanted: Decorating Assistance

Yesterday I mentioned, for the hundredth time, my windowless office. I love having my own office, even if it is in the LOUDEST DEPARTMENT ON CAMPUS. And, no, that would not be the English Department.

The English Department is quiet and serene, a peaceful oasis in the jungle of academia. English people stay behind their office doors reading. And writing. Quietly.

But the English Department is also crowded, and being the lowest person on the totem pole I get to have an office in a different department on campus (which shall remain nameless). A department that is filled with extroverts. Who leave their office doors open. And who shout to one another across the department.



No, Bert, you didn't, but I'm sure we'd all love to hear about her. Not.

Truly, I'm not complaining . . . even though I am. I appreciate having a place to meet with students and sometimes to just close the door and think.

This semester, one of my goals is to use my office to write more. I'm only teaching one class, so I'd love to take some extra time to use that space as long as I have it.

Of course I might have to buy shares of Pandora for all the free music I'll be playing to DROWN OUT ALL THE NOISE.


But the thing is . . . and here's where I have to lay myself open and be very vulnerable with you . . . my office is kinda, dare I say, ugly. If I'm going to be inspired to write, I think I should have a space that's, well, inspiring. All this space does is inspire me to grade papers--harshly--and to make comments like, "Expand this idea" or "Is this sentence necessary?"


And have I mentioned that it doesn't have a window?

Brace yourself, I'm going to show you a picture.

This is the view from the doorway; it's what I see every morning when I arrive.

Note the stone wall--the only semi-interesting aspect of this room. Note, also, the lack of books (that comes with the lack of Ph.D).

Here's the same little room from a slightly different angle.

Several things to point out here. First, the only "decoration" is the teeny-tiny post-it note on the wall--my reminder of the computing services department phone number. I've called them a few times this year.

Second, notice the desktop computer tucked away behind the filing cabinet. My calls to computing services are usually to say, "Hey, any chance you could get this big, huge, hulk-of-a-computer out of here? I use my own laptop and have no need of your hideous desktop."

And then there's the filing cabinet. Enormous, to say the least; ugly, to say some more. The only splash of color in this entire photo is the teal-colored box sitting on top of the filing cabinet that has been there since I took possession of this office last summer. I have no idea what it's for. But have I taken the initiative to get rid of it? No, I have not.

And finally, just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, here's the view from my desk to the door.

One little table that I use when I have conferences with students. One chair that looks like it's from the 1970's. And one old telephone sitting way back on that shelf. I would bet you a million bucks that no matter who I called to come take that phone away, it will still be sitting there at the end of the semester.

So now, here's the challenge: tell me what to do to spruce up this office. It really is time to do something with it.

Obviously I need pictures on the wall. I'm thinking something like this:

Or this:

Cool, huh? Those might be a little pricey, though, for an office that is probably temporary.

I'm really not much of a decorator, so I need your input, dear readers. What do I need?

Photos of the fam? A colorful throw for the chair? Flowers for the table?

So tell me, what would you do to spruce up this windowless office?



  1. Painting the walls a warm color would do wonders for it. Especially in contrast to that beautiful stone.

    Rearranging might do a lot to make it look more inviting too. Wish I could come play with it with you.

  2. I've thought about rearranging the furniture, Linda, but underneath that computer is a ton of cords. Not sure I could move that (although I might just try). I'm not sure I could paint, but that's a great idea.

  3. I would put the right side of the desk against the wall so behind me would be the bookcase so I could see when someone comes in. Also I would bring a few green plants. They usually do really well in office. I also would bring pictures of outside like beach, mountains, forests etc, since you don't have any windows.

  4. Karen, those are GREAT ideas. Thank you! I especially like the idea of plants (they'd have to be silk--I kill everything) and outdoor pictures. Thanks!

  5. You know those plants that you see in Mexican restaurants - they grow all over the walls and such? Those are impossible to kill - super cheap at Lowes home improvement. Water if they droop, and they do well in low and artificial light. Get one of those. I agree that if you can move the desk face it out. Maybe do some groupings of fun pictures and vases or things on a few of those shelves? A throw pillow to brighten the place up? If all else fails check pinterest - that's where all my ideas come from these days!

  6. Yes, totally turn the desk - I'd flip it 180 so you're facing out. Is that a fireplace? What building are you in?

  7. I would duct tape the phone to the computer & give a big strong student 5 bucks to cart it to computing for you. Make a poster, and make it a contest. Plus you could throw in the incentive of something homebaked along with the fiver. Guys at college are absolute suckers for that kind of stuff.

    Green plants (a cactus is almost self-maintained), bowls of candy (better shelf life than fruit, huh?), a little bar fridge. All essentials. You can take it all with you.

  8. First off, I know a professor who is retiring this year and is getting rid of books. I'd keep an eye out in the English department to see if there are boxes of books to fill those shelves:) And second, can you get that little desk and/or filing cabinet out of there? Then you could replace it with a comfy chair from Jubilee. Or better yet a pair of chairs, one for you and one for your students. Barring that, fill the shelves with books and plants and knick-knacks to warm the place up. You could put an old paned window on that wall, with pictures of your family or vacation spots or something in each pane. That stone wall is fabulous, so it would be nice to see more of it.

  9. I love the plant ideas. I love ALL of your ideas--thank you everyone! The only problem with turning the desk around is that there is no room to get past the desk. Seriously, that room is SMALL. I'm going to work on putting the desk on the wall where the filing cabinet is. Now to find someone to help me . . .

    Nancy, your comment just made me laugh. Think he'd really give me some of his books? I'd treasure them forever! :)

  10. Rotate the filing cabinet 90 degrees clockwise, so the drawers face the doorway.

    Rotate the desk 90 degrees clockwise and push it up against the shelves. You'll have more room behind you since the file cabinet will be the other direction and better access to the shelving. If possible, put the wastebasket to the left of the desk, where it's not visible, yet readily available.

    Are the shelves removable? If so, I'd remove the top two shelves above the desk, so you have room to put all those outdoor photos. Put interesting English reference books next to the round table to use during student interviews.

    Put a large poster or photo on the wall next to the door; you'll be able to glance over at it from your desk.

    Put a flowing plant on top of the file cabinet and one in front of the unused computer, with a photo above it. You can use the file cabinet's wide side for magnets or post-its.

    Buy a few bookends, little vases, baskets or other knick-knacks for on the shelves. Choose natural substances like wood, fiber, or stone to minimize the plastic shelving.

    LOVE the idea of having a student carry the offending computer to the appropriate office. :-)

  11. Anonymous, whoever you are, you're a genius! Thanks for all of those wonderful tips!

  12. I can't figure out the dimensions, but if there's any way at all to move your little table and chairs so that they're by the stone wall instead of the desk, that would be very cozy and inviting. Definitely go with the bribe-a-student idea to rid the office of anything that doesn't NEED to be there to create some space. Fill the shelves with books and other things that you love. I love the old window idea, perhaps with mirrors in places of panes to create the illusion of more space. Even if you can't get a window, I would definitely have at least one nice-sized mirror on one of the walls for that reason. Put down a soft, cozy area rug or two to cover the institutional carpet and get yourself some pretty lamps to replace that overhead lighting. If you can't paint, cover the walls with pictures from your travels and your beautiful family along with some inexpensive art. (You could totally do your own version of the prints pictured here with a couple of canvases, some paint and some vinyl letters.) If you CAN paint the walls, do! :)

  13. You have so many shelves - one of them needs to be filled with tea paraphernalia! A nice tea pot, some cups or mugs, a selection of teas...very cozy. I loved the suggestion of a bowl of candy, and so will your students. :-) A throw pillow on the extra chair would be nice, and it could be put on a shelf if necessary when someone needs to sit there. If you have a "decorating budget" you could take one of your favorite scenic photos from your sabbatical and have it put on a canvas to hang. It would invoke the outdoors and be lovely and personal. I'm not a good decorator, so perhaps my ideas aren't unified, but those are the things that came to mind!