Senses of Living® Décor

April 2005
© 2005 by Bret S. Beall


In the movie "Steel Magnolias," Olympia Dukakis' character, Clairee Belcher, announced, "The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize." From both a scientific and spiritual perspective (the two s's in GOD-DESS), I could quibble. However, I'm citing this quote because it has come to my attention that those humans who do not accessorize well in many cases display some of the worst traits of animals. What am I talking about? Read on, please.

First, I want to make it clear that in this context, I am discussing accessorizing office décor, NOT wardrobes. THAT is a whole 'nuther issue. Also, I'm not talking about homes. The demands of office décor are vastly different from the requirements of home décor. And the beastly behavior I've been observing is from management, not front line staffers.

Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of capacities in several offices in downtown Chicago. Most of this work was project management or general organizational consulting. Of course, as a designer and lifestyle advisor, I cannot keep myself from analyzing the décor and the ambient environment of any place that I visit. In doing so, I eventually synthesized my observations into a pattern, particularly after I had spent some time working and conversing with various staffers within their "natural" environments. I'm now going to discuss the variables I used that led to my observations, analyses and recommendations cited at the end.

Common Areas

"Common Areas" are those parts of the company used by all, most or many of the employees (contrasting with private space, like personal cubicles [see the next topic]). We can actually break "common areas" into subtopics:

Individual spaces (cubicles/offices)

Can you believe that some companies have rules against personalizing individual spaces? I can understand having guidelines, because it is important to maintain a professional atmosphere and to not impose one's individual preferences on others. That said, if individual creativity is not encouraged in the décor of personal spaces, individual creativity will also be stifled when it comes to work and project completion. I really enjoy surveying employees' individual spaces in the companies that I visit. If I see personal photos, cartoons, jokes, flowers, low-playing radios/CD players, and other personal accoutrements, I am happy. If I see conformity, I'm saddened!


I can personally vouch that companies that surround their employees with a bleak environment have little or no respect for their employees. I had a client in one of the historic landmark buildings of Chicago who actually inspired me to write this column. My task was to help them complete a project on time. We were making great progress, despite the fact that the overall atmosphere of the place was one of quiet resignation to the depressing environment. From the moment I arrived at their offices, I made décor recommendations to accompany my management consultations. They acknowledged my concerns, and indicated they knew that their décor was less than optimal. I thought I was making inroads on behalf of the employees, most of whom had dismal, oppressive workspaces as bad as the one I was assigned. So, imagine my surprise when they suddenly realized that they had exceeded their budget for this project, and they terminated our verbally-agreed-upon contract with absolutely no notice. I could have fought them in court, but I didn't want this job (or these people in my life) any more. This was a gift from the Universe to cut my ties to these oppressors. I truly felt sorry for the employees who couldn't escape as easily as I did!

This one company was the impetus for my doing the qualitative analysis of all of the companies I had visited, using the checklist of variables listed above. I wasn't surprised when the general correlation pattern emerged. You won't be surprised, either: a pleasant work environment leads to happier employees! This is what comes from pure observation of staff in their environment. And happier employees lead to greater productivity and profitability. It's a win-win-win situation!

However, I also had access to management, and this is where a further conclusion appeared. I am sad to report that an office's ambience is often a direct reflection of upper management's opinion of its workers (it also is often a direct reflection of upper management's bad taste, but that's not the point I'm trying to make here). It turns out that not only does an unpleasant environment depress employees, but so does the demeaning, dispensable attitude that upper management has toward them.

As with any generalizations, there are no absolutes in this correlation of décor and accessorization as a reflection of management's opinion of workers, but the mere fact that I can identify this general trend based on 15 years of personal experiences provides you with a general tool to evaluate your workplace. Survey your own office to see where it falls in the continuum of how décor is a symptom of a company's overall health. Keep in mind that sometimes well-meaning upper management is simply clueless regarding the environment they have fostered. That is the situation where I can help! (Actually, I can also help management respect and reward their employees, but that's a bigger problem with a different solution).

Let me know whether this correlation holds true for your work environment. If you find yourself on the downside of this correlation, why not suggest that your bosses read this column? Remember, our ability to accessorize separates us from the animals, and your bosses don't want to be animals! And happy people mean higher productivity, which means higher profit margins! How's that for motivation? Everything is fixable! And I can offer the fixing. Just put them in touch with me at 773.508.9208 or email me. You won't regret it! In fact, we spend so much time at work, it may be one of the best decisions you've ever made!