The Logistics of Decorating Your Office

Long day at the office, originally uploaded to Flickr by thewinchester.

2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on the logistics of decorating your office— links have also been updated below.

Decorating your first office is always exciting — but the logistics can be a little intimidating.  How do you get furniture in to the office?  How do you hang pictures up?  Reader D has some fabulous questions…

I just accepted a job offer to start next month in a senior position at a non-profit. I managed to negotiate a private office into the deal. I am coming from cubicle land so this prospect both excites and scares me. I obviously need to wait and see what the office looks like before planning anything but wanted your advice. I plan to probably bring my framed degrees with me as well as some professionally framed pieces featuring news clips of my work, etc. but how do I go about bringing them in/hanging them up/etc.? Also, I was reading an old post on personalizing an office where people suggested bringing in real furniture, rugs, lamps. How? I guess I could drive one day, but do I just one day after I start working start just moving things in my office? That seems so strange to me… I’m not sure if I will have access on the weekends, but that seems like the logical solution maybe, but what if not? I don’t want to burn bridges by decorating but I want to make my office my own… so what do I do?

Great questions (and congrats on your forthcoming private digs)! We’ve talked about office decor a few times in the past — whether the best office is big or well located, how to liven up your office (without making it “too nice”), what ergonomic things (chairs, keyboards) you should consider requesting or adding,  when an office is too messy, as well as when an office is decorated too nicely — but we haven’t really talked about the actual logistics of decorating your office.  (Pictured: Long day at the office, originally uploaded to Flickr by thewinchester.) I think this is going to be specific to every office, but here are my suggestion with how to proceed:

– Day 1.  Show up with yourself.  In a suit.  Maybe with a favorite pen or notepad.  Don’t bring anything else that you intend to leave at the office.  As you meet people that day and look at other people’s offices, assess the level of decoration (among everything else you’re doing that day).  In my BigLaw firm some of the partners had decorators come to do their offices — many walls were painted or wallpapered, artwork was hung, huge desks presided, and lux couches and armchairs filled the space.  In my non-profit legal job, everyone (including the VIPs) used furniture that looked as if it had been abandoned by the side of the road sometime in 1994, or perhaps purloined from a college dormitory garbage bin.  So this is really going to vary by office.

– Day 2.  Bring a bag with you of a few office necessities — for me that would be tissues, hand sanitizer and lotion, and maybe an extra sweater or wrap. See how that goes — are things still there on Day 3?  Are people coming in to grab a tissue?

– Days 4 and 5.  Maybe bring a few more small items with you — a few framed pictures of your loved ones (to be stood on your desk or shelf, not hung on the wall).  Maybe something colorful.  If you bring something larger (such as a framed degree), lean it against the wall until you figure out how to hang it up (see below).

– Day 5 (or your first Friday).  Ask about weekend access to the building, if you haven’t already been told.

I would probably wait another full week before bringing stuff in on the weekend.  This lets you assess how the weekend went at the office (e.g., were cleaning crews there? Were the offices in use by another entity, such as a colleague using it to hold alumni interviews?). If there IS no weekend access, start watching the flow of the working week — in some offices everyone is in at 8 but out by 6, so you could plan to do it one night at 7 pm.  In other offices, the office is empty at 8 but still humming with lots of people at 7.  From here, I would assess the situation.

  • What does your office need?  Color? Consider artwork instead of or in addition to your degrees. Light? Consider a great lamp that you love. A more comfortable desk chair for you? Ask if they would consider buying you one, but also consider just buying one yourself and bringing it in.
  • What do other people at the office have?  Lots of pictures? Framed artwork? Couches and chairs? A rug?
  • What do you really want?  I put this last because it is a strong consideration, of course, but has to be metered against the other two things.  If your idea of an amazing office includes a huge rug that you’ve brought from home, you first need to ask yourself: does my office need this? Will I be the only one (or first one) in the office with one?  As a new employee I would put that on the backburner for another week or two, unless it’s vitally important.

Another thing to keep in mind — particularly with furniture — is what will happen to the stuff you’re replacing.  For example:  You hate your office chair.  You spend $200 on a new office chair for yourself.  What becomes of the old office chair?  It’ll probably just go to a back room or conference table, to be pulled out again when you leave (presumably, taking your office chair with you).  But if you have a couch in your office that is rank — stuffing falling out, smells funny, etc. — odds are that couch will be thrown out when you “replace it” with your own couch.  In that case, I would consider the new couch a “donation” to the office decor, and let go of any idea that you’ll take it with you when you leave.  Either way — these are good things to think about when you’re planning how much to spend, and on what.

As I mentioned before, if there’s a maintenance staff in the office, they may be the people you call — just ask how you should go about hanging up some artwork.  They may want to do it, or they may be happy to loan you a hammer and a few nails.  (If you do it yourself, do it after hours, or on the weekend.)  If no one else in your office has a couch in their office, float the idea past your boss before you spend any money on it — “You know that big empty space in my office? I was thinking a couch would be great so we could have more meetings in there, and I could sometimes work on it.  Would you mind if I brought in a couch from home? I think I have one that will fit the spot perfectly.”

Two final pieces of advice.  First: Unless you’re CEO, it’s going to be very weird if your office goes from zero to DONE in two days.  Give it some time for a more organic, slower growth — more of a “I needed X so I bought X.  Then I needed Y so I bought Y.” versus the “THISISHOWMYOFFICELOOKSANDIJUSTMOVEITFROMPLACETOPLACE” robotic feel.  Second of all:  Be considerate of your office building and space.  A hammer and nail may seem more intrusive, but most walls will be much better off with those two things than with some of those “easily removable” things with double-sided tape.  Similarly: don’t bang furniture into the doorframes when you’re moving it around, and don’t scrape the carpets or rugs.  If you damage something, offer to repay it immediately.

Readers, how did you go about the logistics of decorating your office?  What was the biggest hurdle you faced to getting stuff into your office?

Picture below via: Flicker ,  Long day at the office

Curious about the logistics of decorating your office? Picture this: It's your first day as a lawyer or accountant -- and you're super excited to get your own office! You know from your internship last summer that some people have couches or framed artwork in their offices -- but when is it appropriate to bring those in? Is that a weekend thing? We discuss the logistics of decorating your office. (Pro tip: you may need to get Building Services involved even if it's just your diploma you want to hang up!)


  1. This is a great idea! With all of my new case’s, mabye I should ask the manageing partner to put me in the me small window office that Mr. Andrew used to be in, and b/c that office has alot of sun, I think I should also ask for a nice potted plant I can water! Yay!

    Roberta called and said she got a good report from the doctor’s. We are going to try an ethenic place up at 183rd Street. I do not know what kind of food that is, but Myrna got a recomendation from the lady whose the head of the food pantrie’s. Roberta said she would meet us there at 6 and drive us both home into the City b/c it will be late and we will be haveing beers! Yay!

    Myrna is haveing a blast here too. I think she realy likes the atention she is geting from all the guy’s. But she alway’s has alot of guy’s chaseing after her b/c she is an athelete and she was also a faschion model and cherleader at State college.

    I am also haveing so much fun with the girl’s that I think I could do this every day! Yay!

    • I may have to start writing Ellen fanfic.

      “State college” –> “Big State” from “He Got Game.” Ellen is a dyslexic walk-on point guard with a heart of gold. Her boyfriend is a young Ray Allen; they’re in love, but her overbearing father doesn’t approve.

      Ellen finally gets off the bench for the last game of senior year. She sinks a three-pointer to beat Notre Dame in the last 5 seconds.

      Her teammates hoist her up on their shoulders. Cut the “Chariots of Fire” theme.

      A Liberty scout is in attendance; he signs Ellen for a 5-year contract.

      Not a dry eye in the house.

      • Susan (edna_mode_nyc) :

        There are tears in my eyes because I’m missing the ELLEN-caps in her post. Waiting for ELLENWatch to decipher…

  2. I waited about a month or two to bring in my degrees, a non-personal photograph in a frame, and two framed pictures for my desk. I would have brought it sooner, but my colleagues (I’m a clerk– so my other two co-clerks) had nothing at all in their offices. I asked them if I could hang some stuff up because the bare walls/no windows thing bothered me and they assured me yes I could and that they had wanted to but never gotten around to it.

    I brought in my own picture hooks and borrowed a hammer from a woman down the hall and hung the degrees oneslow friday afternoon. Because I drive to work, I just parked at my building one day, brought the stuff in, and then moved my car to my deck. Sounds like the OP might use public transportation, which makes this more difficult.

    Like Kat recommended, I also added a few other things slowly, like a plant and a desk calendar. As I determined what I felt like was missing.

    I don’t have room to bring in any other furniture, so I haven’t done that– and this is only a two-year position– so nothing to contribute about that.

  3. Kat, you are reading my mind! Getting things together to decorate my office has been on my to-do list forever. Awesome!

  4. manomanon :

    I work in a non-profit although it is smaller than the OP’s, my two cents would be along the lines of JK- wait a while. One of our directors started a month before I did and she did not start bringing things in and making major changes until I had been here about 2 weeks- which put her at 6 weeks in. Our office totally doesn’t care what happens to or with your space as long as it isn’t super offensive or outside the bounds of common sense (she has a couch rescued from her back porch- sounds nicer than it is) with beautiful cushions and is planning to paint the walls, plus pictures etc.
    I have accumulated several pens and a fun mask on my bulletin board that came from another office when they were cleaning- but since I am the only one without my own space my decorating is a little limited. I will probably end up with a few more funky nature themed things (it’s a nature based non-profit) and maybe a picture as a result.

  5. wait why are nails better than double-sided sticky things?

    • I’ve always thought it’s because nails leave a small, easily patched mark, where the sticky-tape things can tear off large chunks of paint and sometimes even drywall when removed.

    • emcsquared :

      Double-sided sticky things often don’t come off walls if they are left up for long periods of time (learned while living in college housing). Nails make very small punctures that are easily filled in when you switch offices or take your pictures down. Most landlords greatly prefer nails for that reason.

  6. I waited probably a week, maybe two. Granted I had been at my job a few months when I finally got an office and moved out of cubicle land. I brought a few things in here and there, but saved most of the big stuff (framed diplomas/photos and mini-fridge) for the weekend.

  7. eastbaybanker :

    I work with a bunch of sloppy people with no decorating sense, and nobody brings more than 1 personal photo and a plant in their office. After YEARS and much thought, I finally broke down and hung up some professionally framed prints that relate to my industry. In a workplace like mine, I think decorating can quickly become like the dreaded cookie baking…proceed with caution.

  8. I Do Not Like the Cone of Shame :

    I would wait even longer to start adding decor – because if you do it too early, it might send a signal that you’re not focused on your new job and you’re more concerned with decor – and hurt your credibility a little bit.

    Maybe start with a few framed pictures of family early on (so your new coworkers have something to ask you about and can get to know you). But hold off on the artwork, degrees, rugs, potted plants for at least a month or so.

  9. I did work someplace where a (very senior) lawyer shipped probably ten boxes of her stuff to the office *before* she showed up for work. Turns out she was a terrific person to work with and everyone loved her, but we did wonder about who was this person whose ten boxes were sitting there for two whole weeks before she arrived. (I do think you have to be very senior to pull this off at all.)

  10. Young Consultant :

    This convo makes me a little jealous I don’t work in an office… I am always in some big open team room with everyone else from my company at whatever project I am on. Not even cube level personal space or room for decoration…. Someday!

    • Midwest Transplant :

      Don’t worry Young Consultant, you get used to the big open team room and then feel anti-social when you are moved to project in cubeland. While you can’t decorate at the client, I do try to personalize with great notebooks, a cute zippered accessory bag that holds chapstick, lotion, USB drives, SecureID key, etc.

      At my consulting firm, even the partners rarely decorate their offices. There will be family photos, kids drawings and a couple of corporate trinkets, but I’ve never seen new paint or different furniture. I’m pretty sure the goal is to not make the space too nice, so they will leave the office and sell more projects.

  11. Re: hanging items on the wall. You need to ask your office manager. For my organization, only maintenance can do it. I had my pictures propped on the wall for weeks, until someone came down from HQs (2 hours away) to hang them.

    Re: potted plants. Be sure you read your office policy. We can’t have live plants in our office (I know, weird, but I got with it). When I got flowers delivered to the office, I took them home because no one else has live flowers in their office.

    Take is slow, add as you are able; no need to go from 0 to 60 all in your first day.

    • Weird. What’s the rationale behind the “no live plants” policy? Allergies or something?

  12. I agree with going slowly, would start with work-related items first–a particular mouse or mousepad you like, your professionally-framed degrees, reference books you actually use. Personal items, particularly pix of kiddos, I’d save for much later. I’d keep personal care items like lotion and hankies out of sight in the desk.

    I’m of two minds on coffee maker, fridge, etc. A colleague used to invite people to his house for coffee hour in the afternoons. My thought had always been to be pretty quiet about those things, as not to be seen as “domestic”. What do other people think? Is that one of those things that guys can get away with more easily than moms?

    • Absolutely. NGDGTCO has a big rule against feeding the office. Women are more likely to be seen as a “mom” rather than a colleague or boss.

      • Interesting! I always bake and bring things into the office… maybe I should curb this!

      • So you’d say coffee counts as “feeding”?

        • Aimez-Moi :

          Our office team does cake day. Everyone has to bake for team meeting, whether male or female. I like to think it’s a good exception/compromise to the no-baking rule.

  13. karenpadi :

    I think this is all really solid advice. Decorating offices is a “know your office” kind of thing.

    My office: mostly men. I was the second female attorney (the only other female attorney has an office but mostly works from home so she hadn’t decorated). The guys maybe, if they made any effort, had their degrees and certificates framed. Some of the guys had pictures of family in random corners (maybe their wives insisted they have a picture of the kiddos?). My first office was super small and I didn’t have too much space to do anything except hang up my degrees and start my turtle knick-knack collection on a bookshelf. I have since added to the collection and added non-turtle knick-knacks I’ve gotten from clients and colleagues over the past few years.

    After three years, I was moved to a ginormous office. It’s bigger than my master bedroom! My first move was to commission a 4’x4′ painting of a fish (I’m a scuba diver–it isn’t quite so random). It sits between my two windows. I’m one of two people in the office with not-generic art on my walls and people seem to like the painting.

    We each get one plant in our offices and I picked out a huge thin-trunked multi-palm tree (the pot has about a dozen of the trunks) that’s taller than me.

    For now, I’m looking for a couch for half my office (currently empty). No one else has a couch in their office but I haven’t been told no and one partner has come over twice now to ask about it. I’m thinking of something like this in a light blue (to match the background (water) of my fish picture):

    I’ve also added this to my Christmas list:

    I’ll need some kind of end table or console table to complete the look. But I’m not sure where to start.

    Anyone have thoughts? Suggestions?

    • Turtle Wexler :

      Aha, I had sort of wondered what the “padi” part of your screen name meant, but now it makes total sense!

    • In the Pink :

      I don’t know about the coloring and finish of your office, but you might look at the “twisty stools” from viva terra dot com. I actually use one as an end table and the other is a realy stool – for my vanity at home. Very organic feel to the shape and the fact that they are not sealed/finished/varnished. They are small in footprint which might make them look like a display pedestal for your xmas aquarium choice!

  14. TO Lawyer :

    On this topic, where do people find tasteful pieces of artwork for your office that are not too expensive? My walls are bare but I don’t really know how to go about finding art to hang up!

    • Mountain Girl :

    • karenpadi :

      etsy. You can save a lot of money by buying things pre-framed.

    • Random galleries in your city. I have some framed photos of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial that a friend took years ago.

    • If you have a college in your city/town that has an art department, they often have student sales at the end of semester or year. I’ve gotten some great things from these for CHEAP.

    • 20×

    • In the Pink :

      Plus for art dot com

      There are also many commercial framing outlets (thinking Aaron Bros.) which also sell pre framed art. I have two over the couch in my office.

      You could also look at the variety of “museum stores” and get a print or something that you like and then pop it into a premade frame, even if it has to be trimmed. MoMa, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian, Art Institute of Chicago, etc…

      • In the Pink :

        Oh, I also have seen a piece of wallpaper done up very well in a regular frame and presized mat.

    • Check the AGO shop — they have a ton of prints along the back wall.

  15. Apparently_Unhappy :

    *Tangential Threadjack* This post gave me a great idea for my own life, but in the reverse direction: I need to decorate my office! There is a persistent rumour going around the watercooler that I am “unhappy” and am planning on leaving…neither of which is true. Maybe bringing in a plant or a picture could send a message of “happy” and “in for the long run” ?

    FWIW, turnover is an especially sensitive topic in our company, and I won’t be promoted unless the C-Suite thinks I’m committed. I have NO idea how this rumour got started. (My natural b!#*hface? My robot-like demeanor? Seriously, that’s just me–they should know that by now.) Nor can I comprehend how this rumour has persisted for so long. (If it was true the first time I heard it, shouldn’t I have been gone by now?!?)

    • If you bring a plant, make it a big one, not a little pot on your desk that would be easy to move. And ask to have the art hung on your wall.

      You don’t want to be inauthentic to yourself, but you might want to think about a “work” version of yourself that seems a little more attached to the place or the people in it.

      • Apparently_Unhappy :

        Ah, there’s the rub: I am not an “attached” type of person; but for the sake of career advancement, I must pretend that I am.

        Unfortunately, I am NOT a good actor: when I try to fake it, I look like Lt. Cmdr Data trying to act human. (Yes, that geeky. No, not that funny.) So I need the props to do the work for me. Big plant, got it. Hang art, got it. (Oh, s#!t, now I have to choose art?!?)

        Any further ideas, ladies? Candy bowl? Humour books? Cat photos?

        • I’ve carefully crafted a reputation as the “chocolate” person by buying multiple flavors of Dove chocolates from Target and putting them in a nice crystal candy dish between my desk and the door. That way it intices people to “drop by” and then there is a nice entre for a chat (such as what is your preference – dark or milk chocolate? With nuts? Caramel?) They are colorful and people view them as a luxury treat, so that way as long as the dish is well stocked I’m in it for real.

        • Let’s try this line of thinking – what items signal that a a co-worker has been at an organization for many many years? I’m thinking of non-personal creature comforts that you leave when you practically live at your office – a coffee pot, a cardigan and blazer that you don’t take home, a coat tree, nice desk accessories (pen caddy, post-it note caddy, non-standard stapler), clock (a wall clock or a desktop one with a circling pendulum)), small college pennant (only if you don’t hang a degree). This is not a nice-looking decoration, but many people hang their conference badges for conferences where they’ve presented, kind of like badges of honor (<–awkward wording, ack). That definitely shows commitment.

          • By non-personal, I meant things that don’t scream “I love cats” or other preferences, since you don’t seem to be that type of person. Obviously a cardigan is personal. Unless it features an applique cat.

          • Apparently_Unhappy :

            Thanks for the concrete suggestions. They all seem within my capability and corporate culture (unlike selecting art…yikes). I like your reasoning: office homesteading totally makes sense. I will go shopping for a red stapler today. ;-)

            But I have a question: Do professionals really have coffee pots in their offices??? I have never seen that in person, except for the odd IT guy with an Aeropress in his cubicle drawer. Sure, I’ve seen C-Suite offices with private espresso bars…in the movies. (I’m not at that level yet anyway.)

    • karenpadi :

      FWIW, I work with a client who “stole” two of our attorneys in the recent past for their in-house department. This fall, I had a number of times where I had an hour or so between meetings so I would work from their cubicle farm instead of going to the office or a coffee shop. There were jokes coming from both sides (my firm and the client) about me being “Number 3”. I was able to dismiss all that drama with jokes about my very large fish picture–it wouldn’t fit in a cubicle, I might need to put it in a conference room and re-name the room “Karenpadi’s fish picture”, the colors would clash with the color scheme of the client’s remodel, etc. So yes, decorating an office can be helpful in convincing people you will stay.

      Second the suggestion to revise the “work” version of yourself. Be friendly, smile, laugh, have running jokes with people. Unless you are being harassed, work should be a friendly place–no b*tch face or robot-like demeanor needed. One of the best ways to start a working relationship is to ask for a small (5-10 minute) favor (like reviewing an important email or bouncing an idea off of them). I do this quite a bit with new laterals–just to have an excuse to pick up the phone and chat.

    • What does your boss think? If your boss thinks you’re on your way out, they may not give you quality work. I’d make it clear to your boss that you’re in for the long-haul.

      And develop friendships with others in the office, even if you don’t actually like them. Read NGDGTCO.

      • Apparently_Unhappy :

        My boss believes it! However, I heard it third hand, so I don’t feel like I can confront her head-on without revealing my sources. She’s new, so I’m baffled how she could have come to this conclusion so quickly.

        BTW, I do try to be nice. I’m just awkward with people, so I try to keep my mouth shut to avoid making a fool of myself.

        • If you aren’t good at chumminess, you can find some other way. Set yourself a quota of compliments to give out per day (start small so it doesn’t seem weird). Notice other people’s successes with either public congrats or some kind of little gift. Give and offer small favors. If your office is one where people talk about kids & personal life, work up one story per month and learn names of colleagues’ family members so you can ask about them once per month. None of this requires actually giving a rats ass, but something of this sort make the impression that you want to be there. You do want to be there, so it’d be a pity to not be there bc that’s what people thought you wanted.

          My guess is that newbie was trying to figure out what’s up with people and asked if that was you. Make sure you ask her how she’s settling in, if there’s anything you can help her out with. By email if its too painful to do in person.

    • Is it possible there is a sabateur at work here? You state that turnover is a sensitive issue in your company. Perhaps a rival started the rumor on purpose. Although, the B_Face might have helped it stick. ;-)

    • someone thinks you are competition

  16. Threadjack – advice to handle colleague who keeps you out of the loop (meeting invitations with less than hr notice) yet drags you to the boss’s office and says you are the one leaving him out (claims no knowledge of meetings he’s been actually in). How to let the boss know you are communicating yet he is the one who isn’t…..

  17. mary jones :

    when I go to the office, I like to take care of my looks first.
    I get my Womens suits from the place.

  18. I find the idea of decorating my office to be simply overwhelming. I searched high and low for ideas, inspiration, etc but could not find any. I clearly do not have a creative bone in my body. You would think I would have some inspiration living in San Fran! But nope! I ended up hiring a company to do my “dirty work” and they were AMAZING! AAA Business Supplies & Interiors!

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