When I started Steamclock, I had a lot of experience being in offices, but no experience decorating one. For the first couple years, our walls were mostly bare. All our office said about us was: “we have an office”.
Since then, we’ve invested in making our office actually feel like a place we want to be five times a week. During that process I’ve learned a lot, especially from Rachael and Rachel here at Steamclock, who have put a lot of time into making it great. (Yes, we are 20% Rachaels by volume, as all companies should strive to be.)
And so, here are some of the simple lessons we’ve learned about crafting an office.
1. Plants are friends
Plants can be a challenge for tiny startups, since you may not yet have an employees who is skilled at keeping plants alive. Still, as soon as you can, it’s worth getting some hardy plants to green things up. Plants are inexpensive, look good, and most importantly, just kind of make people happy!
2. Get matching art
My first attempt at office decorating was to start ordering one-off posters or other pieces of art that we just generally liked. While this can work, it’s both easier and better to get batches of prints or other items that look good as a set. For example, we now have a set of NASA posters, a set of Pixar posters, and a set of app icons. Each on their own is nice enough, but as sets they look great.
3. Show your work
If at all possible, it’s nice to show off work you’ve done. This might be designs you’ve created, momentos from projects you’ve shipped, or in our case, icons we’ve designed for apps we’ve worked on. While it’s important to always be looking forward, it’s also worth celebrating what you’ve shipped.
4. Your windows are a canvas
Ideally, your office will have a healthy number of windows. Windows are great for natural light, but they’re also big canvases that can be filled (or simply trimmed) with art. For years now we’ve kept neon or chalk pens that work for writing on windows in the office, and change up what’s on the windows from time to time.
5. Big art is worth it
In a home, you’re likely to fill your walls with shelves, furniture, and so on. In an office, you often have more wallspace to work with, and that means you need bigger art. Now, larger art can cost substantially more, and seems like a bigger commitment. I was initially gun-shy on larger pieces, and early on I just stuck to ordering various little posters and knick-nacks that may or may not look nice together.
I now know this was a mistake. Larger art looks better, takes less time to collect and place, and may not even cost more once you’ve actually filled up your walls.
If you’re looking to fill a wall with something large, a suprisingly cheap option can be a giant vinyl. We have a simple monochrome vinyl of our logo, four feet wide, near the entrance of our office. It’s pretty great. For the same price, you can get a far larger vinyl than a full-fledged sign.
6. Advanced technique: hire artists
It’s always good to hire multidisciplinary employees, and in our case, our Office Manager, Rachael Ashe, is a talented paper artist. While we may not have full-time paper art needs, we very much enjoyed having Rachael build us a custom origami art piece for the office. Visitors love it, and it’s now a permanent fixture in our meeting room.
7. Soundproofing can be art too
Speaking of meeting rooms, a meeting room plagued with echo and noise is the bane of any conference call. While it’s even better to minimize unnecessary conference calls, you can make calls a lot better by adding sound dampening to your meeting room. A rule of thumb for soundproofing is to cover a wall, ceiling, or floor area equal to your floorspace with sound-absorbing materials. Professional sound dampening can be extremely expensive, but indie sound dampening can be surprisingly easy, and attractive. In our case, we got a simple area rug and deployed Rachael’s amazing origami masterpiece, and voilà: far less echo.
8. Embrace your personality
Just because you’re incorporated doesn’t mean your art needs to be corporate. One of my favourite things in our office is a painting of a unicorn and a rainbow. This was our first piece of art, selected by our first employee, and just like everything else, it says something. Years later it still hangs on our wall, saying: This is the kind of company where you can propose putting up a rainbow unicorn slaying ponies, and it will happen.