Style + Ask the Edit

Ask the Edit: Office Decor Suggestions

I remember my first office well.  After years in a cubicle or communal workspace, having four walls and a door was such a pleasure.  But how do you decorate an office in a way that’s professional?

Hi Abra,

What are your thoughts on appropriate office decor? I am graduating with my MA soon and with that I am moving from a cubicle to an office at my workplace. I want to hang art or perhaps bring in fake plants (our office prohibits live ones). Also, is it tacky to hang up your degree? I’ve heard mixed feelings about this (people trying too hard, etc.).

Thanks and keep up the great work!! I love waking up to new blog posts!

-Taylor

How you decorate your office depends on your industry.  If you work in the law, government affairs, accounting, or another equally staid profession, keep it simple and classic.  If you work in public relations, marketing, or another creative field you have more freedom to let your personality shine.

So before you move into your new office, take a walk by your co-worker’s offices and see how far they felt comfortable pushing the envelope.  It’s a good barometer.

Degrees.  In the law, hanging your degrees and professional licenses on the wall is standard.  In other professions, it may not be.  So look to your colleagues for guidance.

I think you should be proud of an advanced degree and see no issue with tastefully displaying it.  If you’re at all sheepish about it, I would recommend displaying in a grouping with some other photos and art to downplay its iconography.  But if you don’t see others in the office hanging theirs, I wouldn’t hang yours.

Art. Abstract art and photography are my office wall decor of choice.  Measure your walls and then head to a retailer like HomeGoods, Bed Bath and Beyond, or an online shop for the best selection at decent prices.

Shades of blue are always a safe choice.  I like this abstract sky piece from BBB for under-$200.  I’ve also seen a lot of lovely art at West Elm.  The key is to keep it tasteful and minimalist.

I had a co-worker who hung blue prints in his office.  They were of Star Wars elements like an Imperial ship or C3PO.  It was cheeky, but it worked.

Maps are another good office art piece.  This gold foil map of D.C. is kind of cool.  For a more conversation office, you might choose something more staid like this reproduction vintage map of D.C..

Lastly, I’m about to redo my office.  I have a number of pieces of Native American ledger art that I intend to mix with vintage Montana travel posters and railroad calendars that I already own.  It shows a little bit about me, but is office appropriate.

Mirrors. In my first office, I hung a square mirror that I purchased on Amazon, similar to this one.  I chose it because it fit the space, but also so I could check my hair and makeup prior to meetings without running to the restroom.  And then, a funny thing happened.

As the only owner of a non-bathroom mirror, my male colleagues would often stroll into my office (the mirror was directly across from the door) to straighten their ties.  I had more conversations with my boss while he was retying his tie then I can count.  No one thought of it as prissy that I had a mirror, and it became a useful way to chat with my boss.

Now, there are certainly some of you who would be uncomfortable having a mirror in your office because it might look narcissistic.  I think if you choose one that is more decorative than functional, that can be remedied.  If for some reason, you feel the need to have a full length mirror, put it on the back of your door.

Tschotchkes.  If you plan to do fake plants, I find that fake ivy or lilies look a little dated.  I recommend something more modern like this artificial succulent.  If you want to go big, I would go really big and put a large fig tree in the corner.

I used to have a ceramic elephant in my office.  I also find a decorative hourglass is a nice piece.  But the key to choosing items for your desk is to not crowd the space, but to use them as an accent.  A former colleague had an office filled with so much baseball memorabilia he had to add extra shelves, and things looked cluttered.

Shelfies are still a thing.  If you have a lot of books in your office (#lawyer), and you want them to look a bit nicer, turn them around.  This shot from ElleDecor shows how it really unifies a space and brings a certain sophistication to a shelf.

How did you decorate your office?  Any faux pas you’ve spotted?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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    16 comments

  1. Jessica says:

    This is great advice. My boss took me office-decor shopping just a week or so into my new job and picked out decor for my office that I don’t particularly like – I was too nervous to say something at the time. Am I stuck with what I have or are there tasteful ways to slowly bring in pieces that are more me and transition the other pieces out?

    May 6, 2019/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I would say you slowly bring in other pieces. Add first, then slowly subtract. At least one large piece may need to stay, however.

      May 6, 2019/Reply
  2. cait says:

    I would also add – don’t feel rushed to decorate your office immediately. Take the time to see what is the norm in your particular office and if anyone comments, ask for their suggestions (and gauge what is considered normal based on their response).

    I travel to many different offices and rarely do I see degrees hanging. But for some orgs, I’m sure that’s the norm.

    May 6, 2019/Reply
  3. cait says:

    PS – Belle, did you read the Elle piece? It is about the absurdity of books being backwards like in the photo.

    May 6, 2019/Reply
    • Monica T says:

      Not just absurd, but sociopathic??? As a bibliophile who has whittled down my book collection over the years, I really do love seeing the book spines. I worked in a book store and the thought of finding anything when it’s turned backwards seems so impractical, however pleasingly(?) monochromatic it might look.

      May 6, 2019/Reply
      • Pompom says:

        I mean, I get this pov. But not everyone who has books is a bibliophile. Or sometimes people have a small collection. Or a collection they know by appearance—color of spine, for example—that they can easily comb through without relying on Dewey Decimal. That hardly makes them a sociopath, right?

        May 6, 2019/Reply
        • Monica T says:

          Oh that’s from the article that was linked, I think it’s hyperbole on the writer’s part for sure. Or…I hope it is.

          May 6, 2019/Reply
          • pompom says:

            Ah! Gotcha! Definitely assumed hyperbole, but it’s wild haha

            May 7, 2019/Reply
    • Katie says:

      This makes me feel so much better.

      May 6, 2019/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I did not. I actually just enjoyed the photo when I saw it on Pinterest. I think it’s a cleaner look; but it certainly only works if you know what books you have. For example, all my legal/statute books could easily be turned around.

      Let’s call it a race to post before heading to work error on the failure to click over from image to post.

      May 6, 2019/Reply
  4. C says:

    As a librarian, the books turned around backwards makes me shudder. How do you ever find the one you’re looking for? But I must admit, it does give a calmer atmosphere.
    The best thing I ever did for my office was decide that if I need to display something boring, I’ll do it in an attractive way.
    For example, there are several charts I need to reference frequently. I printed them in color, then framed them and hung them next to my desk. They’re easy to see and I don’t have to constantly dig them out from under a pile of papers or have random pieces of paper dangling from thumbtacks.

    May 6, 2019/Reply
    • DCP says:

      I love the idea of framing reference documents. All of mine are dangling from thumbtacks and it does not bring me joy.

      May 6, 2019/Reply
  5. Jenna says:

    I’ll add that lamps are a great place to start if you are shy about decorating your office because they’re functional and can help balance out the harsh florescent lights.

    I brought a “money tree” into my office and a week later got a substantial raise. Who says money doesn’t grow on trees?! 🙂

    May 6, 2019/Reply
  6. chloe says:

    Just a fun one (I work in a creative field, no offices to decorate!) for a riff on a map. I love the ork posters – [http://orkposters.com/]. I moved from DC back to Boston and my husband and I bought them for one another on separate anniversaries/birthdays etc so we hang them side by side. I was also recently in DC and came across really cool prints with quotes from famous females in history (snagged one of Aretha Franklin) from a store on the Wharf, the name of the artist is escaping me.

    May 6, 2019/Reply
  7. Erika says:

    I don’t have an office yet, but I love my cube’s decorations. I’m going to count myself as a creative field: math or algorithm analysis and development.
    Blue prints of various sci-fi or fantasy shows are quite popular among all the STEM varieties in the building, at home or work. There are also a lot of airplanes, trebuchets, figurines, Lego sets, etc.
    However I’m in love with my old map style Mandelbrot set and foil Sierpinski triangle and Fibonacci spiral. A lot of people don’t recognize the graphics at first and simply say the pictures are pretty while the people who do recognize the graphics usually excited and are great people to bounce off ideas about algorithm development.
    To be fair, many guys first wonder about my sweater, fingerless gloves, and tea set. It’s ninety degrees outside and I’m freezing at work.

    May 7, 2019/Reply
  8. Pam says:

    In my office I have fake succulents that look really good -people are amazed they are fake, i got them from wayfair I think and put them into nice white pots that used to hold the real succulents I had killed, along with the real bamboo i had killed. As to hanging degrees or professional certificates I am a cpA- in my current company no one hangs their diplomas or professional credentials. IN my old company everyone did. So i would recommend observing first, before deciding. Sadly my beautifully matted and framed certificate is sitting in my basement office now – but it would just be awkward to hang it where I currently work.

    May 7, 2019/Reply