Campus Cribs: Office Space Williams style

Seemingly overnight, or over the summer, the North and South Academic Buildings arose from the frenzy of concrete construction, dirt and bulldozers to stand in their new fresh and clean splendor. As for the interior decoration of faculty offices, however, the story proves to be a bit more complex.

Before the buildings opened, faculty who were moving into the building had the opportunity to meet individually with Timothy Reisler, the assistant director for administrative services, to design and furnish their offices. Using a virtual blueprint layout, the faculty members could choose from a vast array of desks, shelves, chairs and other furniture to arrange their offices to their own individual taste. Sounds simple enough. However, that’s not that case when the room in question is a center for deep, philosophical thought and award-winning research, the meeting locale for office hours with students and on top of that, needs to channel an approachable vibe.

The process of choosing interior decoration took a total of about four months and involved an intermediary designer who used the sketch to draw furniture to scale and then sent it back to Reisler, who forwarded it to faculty for approval. “I think it was helpful for faculty to be able to visualize the physical space – it can be very difficult to visualize things from a two-dimensional drawing,” he said. “Obviously there are some who can visualize this and others who, upon coming to meet with me, started the conversation by saying that they had absolutely no ability to understand how things would look or flow.”

What may have started as an innocuous attempt to give faculty more control over their aesthetic environments quickly turned into a marathon of decisions. Some faculty agonized for two to three hours over furniture and layout options.

Others weren’t so concerned. “I ended up using a lot of my own furniture because it looks less institutional, and I’m fairly persnickety about making my office comfortable,” said Joe Cruz, professor of philosophy. “I took about three minutes and chose six bookcases and that’s it.” Cruz stated his personal aesthetic as Victorian, and listed favorite decorating elements such as maps, typewriters, textiles and photographs from his travels.

The modernistic design of the new buildings threw a few curveballs for those of the faculty with classically-minded decorating styles, but otherwise got rave reviews.

Allison Glover, professor of Spanish, mentioned the clean, fresh lighting as a favorite feature. “I really feel more at home here,” she said. “It’s a place where I can do all of my work, instead of splitting it up between here and my house.”

Holding a friendly competition for best-looking office, faculty members gave each others’ rooms the once-over, engaging in light-hearted banter and criticism. Among the top contenders were Peter Just, professor of anthropology and Jim Nolan, professor of sociology, whose tidy and spacious office maximizes natural lighting from its window, giving it a wide-open appearance.

Of course, I had to take a good look for myself. Walking down the corridors and glancing surreptitiously through opened office doors, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was shopping in some weird, alternate academic installation of a Home & Garden T.V. showcase. Quite a variety of decorative styles met my eyes, ranging from efficient IKEA minimalism to Old World wall-to-wall bookshelves and travel-acquired curios. Some rooms appeared to be arrested in eternal unpacking purgatory, bare walls and all.

My personal favorite was the office of Robyn Marasco, professor of political science, who tastefully combined cozy elements like an ornate Oriental-style rug with more modern lighting and plant arrangements. Also adding to her office’s eclectic vibe were a mix of framed prints of Niccolo Machiavelli and “The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David alongside the likes of Karl Marx and an advertisement for Stanley Kubrick’s infamous Dr. Strangelove. Marasco noted the improvement in work environment, adding that most of her furniture had come from her own home and not from her old Stetson office, which was comparatively sparse.

Also excellent was the office of Peter Just, professor of anthropology. Colorful theater masks and calligraphy scrolls adorned the wall, set off by an intricate woven rug. The salient feature of the room, from my perspective, was the fact that it was over halfway comprised of windows, making for a broad and wide-open feel. “In putting the place together, I based it around tutorials,” Just said. And indeed, the cozy chairs lent an inviting and comfortable atmosphere, despite the Mexican Day of the Dead “Cafe Salmonella” scene taking place behind me on the bookshelf.
Some professors looked to pictures of their intellectual role models’ offices for decorating inspiration. Among those cited as office muses were Bertrand Russell and G.W.F. Hegel, both lofty influences on humanity’s beliefs (and now, apparently, its window curtains). Hint: philosophy students looking for a dorm-decorating idea, this may just be your best bet.

But a word to the wise: before you go channeling your inner Sartre, consider this: one of life’s sad little idiosyncracies is that, as Cruz aptly put it, many of the people who inspire us intellectually may have had very bad taste in interior decorating. Just something to think about for your next office hours session.