Welcome to my Tiki Bar (Or: How do I Personalize My Workspace and Still be Taken Seriously?)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012 by Mark

This is a question that I get asked a lot…really a lot!

As Americans spend more and more time in their offices; whether at home or in a corporate building, the desire to personalize their spaces becomes stronger and inescapable.

There’s a fine line though between a personal space that still exudes professionalism

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and a play space that is filled with vacation mementos, stuffed animals and junk food containers.

Let’s first begin with your employer.

Many will argue that their employer is fine with over personalization of their work area; in fact encouraging it. Others will state that a stapler that isn’t company issue could earn them a walk down to HR for a gentle reminder of the corporate policy and “Company Brand”. Far be it for me to comment on my personal feelings on this…. I’m here for you!!

Well it’s true that a company that specializes in post-production work on films or “of the minute”, edgy advertising campaigns for hip fashion designers, usually look the other way and do encourage individuality in the workplace. But when it comes down to it…we all want to be taken seriously in our positions. We want to command some level of respect and usually not fall for the TMI (Too much Info) on our personal lives or private pastimes outside of work…usually.

Whether you work in a home office, large corner tower suite or small cubicle or “workstation”, I believe that there is a balance that I can (and have) achieved between the real, deep down you and the business side of you…a little Jekyll and Hyde really…but it’ll be our little secret.

When working with a client, I find it most helpful to start with the “Don’ts”):


…Use plants… unless you really have a green thumb and the plants are lush, exotic and tend to elicit favorable comments…in other words, don’t continue to help that old plant on life support just because “She’s been with me for 175 years…”. If you use plants, group them and put them in nice pots and planters…. don’t ever leave them in a plastic pot wrapped in foil with a “Congratulations” card firmly planted in the dry soil.

…Use questionable artwork that is either too sexy, offensive OR contains nudes of any kind…even if YOU swear that it’s ART because it is TASTEFULLY done. You never know who is secretly offended or made uncomfortable by it and they walk their business out the door.

…arrange all of your business and industry awards front and center. You may be rightfully proud of your accomplishments but it’s kind of crass, boastful and tends to make your colleagues feel diminished if they don’t have as many as you. Also, clients usually don’t really know what most of them mean and they have to ask…Tacky. A nice arrangement of certificates, well-framed, hung on a secondary side wall and well lit with accent lighting can be extremely tasteful and very impressive…not as the main focal point behind your head. Crystal statuary, awards and trophies; on shelves mixed with well arranged books and Plants (If your green thumb is in check)…make it look like the placement just sort of happened, not like you were up for days arranging and re-arranging your 4H ribbons and softball trophies (Yep…the one time that I would say you have a free ride to plaster your entire room with your accomplishments and awards is when your self-esteem is in the formation process)

…Turn your cubicle into a Tiki Bar (yes, a real example) with bamboo flooring, Tiki Torches, rolls of Raffia wall covering tacked over corkboard.

—Turn your office into nightclub (another real example) with black lights, a wet bar, full refrigeration for questionable refreshments and…oh yes…a futon rolled up in the corner in full view….


….personalize with vintage Mid-Century toys that will have commonality with your colleagues and clients…really! Just remember, the display of these toys is crucial.

They can: be ice breakers with colleagues and clients, touchstones on a really bad day, bring a smile to a gruff boss or associate…be a bonding mechanism between adversaries…just like the old neighborhood and kids that you hung out with.

Try G.I. Joe just peeking out from behind a set of law books on a shelf; Barbie or Gumby clutching onto a brass lamp base on the edge of your Mahogany

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desk as if to greet every associate for you,

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or a Motorific car on the back of the executive wash room sink…in a substantial Lucite tray.

Here is a real example of my own. I designed and installed an extensive office environment for a client of mine, in his companies’ corporate offices. The office was sleek, architectural and substantial. He was an avid collector of vintage matchbox cars and wanted to use them…we used

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them, definitely. I displayed them in several beautiful black leather trays with a heavy modern silver edging placed around the office. After working in this office for over one year, he called to tell me what an ice breaker these cars had

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been and not one person that came into his office, didn’t remember a particular favorite Matchbox model of their own or fond memory and also asked if they could play with them.

Another personal example was a female client, who for years, kept one piece of furniture on her desk from her original 1960’s Barbie’s Dream House…a chair. It was her touchstone and she noticed one day that either she or one of her clients had worn a thumbprint-sized hole in the seat of the chair…from holding it and remembering their own Barbie Dream House…no doubt.

Hey…most of us are just all a bunch of grown ups who once had all of the same toys.



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