How to Decorate an Executive Office

Quick! What comes to mind when you hear the words executive and office? If you’re like most folks you probably conjured up the president’s Oval Office or prestigious corporate enclaves richly decorated with wood-paneled walls, thick carpet and ornately trimmed furnishings. A few of you may flash back to periods of ostentatious displays of wealth, such as gold lavatory fixtures and priceless paintings more suited to the Louvre than to Wall Street. Whatever type of executive office you’re invited to decorate, you will want to make the room tasteful and restrained while reflecting the personality of the person who will be sitting behind the big desk. If you’re looking to put together an executive office that’s as pleasing to look at as it is budget-friendly, you’ll be happy to know that you can achieve both goals using this article as your guide.

Talk with the person set to occupy the office to find out what furniture styles, colors and periods he prefers. Ask what he doesn't like, too, in order to short-circuit missteps during the shopping process. Unless you are decorating an executive office destined to shelter a doll designer, recommend the colors that high-profile room designers choose: sedate greens, grounded browns, saturated blues and bold burgundies. Using these colors as a palette from which to personalize the office, you’ll have a terrific background as a start. Finally, get a “not-to-exceed” budget from the boss.

Put together a design board. This terrific tool is part of design school curricula, but you can make one without a degree. A design board helps the person occupying the office to see how colors you have chosen work together. Obtain swatches of fabric, wallpaper, stained wood chips and furniture catalogs. Use glue (rubber cement works really well) to artfully arrange photos clipped from the catalogs with the swatches and samples. Use coated foam board as a base; it’s available from any art supply store. This design board will give the boss an idea about how the materials and colors work together and you will look very professional, too.

Cement decisions made by the office occupant so everyone is on the same page. Draw up a contract in which the decision maker acknowledges your choices of colors and styles. Include the agreed-to, not-to-exceed budget in the contract. Try to avoid setting project completion dates in the event that unforeseen circumstances—such as late furniture deliveries or carpet delays—arise.

Locate office furniture wholesalers and retailers in the area. Call several to ask about volume discounts, as you will be purchasing multiple pieces. Consult with the boss or their spouse about accompanying you on your shopping trips to pick out materials needed to accomplish the job. In some cases, you may be asked to shop for furniture or carpet on your own, sending back cell phone photos of your choices for approvals. You may also wish to shop online for office furniture. Several website addresses in Resources will help with that.

Subcontract with specialists to handle individual tasks and schedule everyone to do their part in logical order. Wall treatments come first, followed by carpet, window treatments and lighting fixtures. Some companies may offer all of these services, but most likely you need to compare prices and use several contractors. Always have the furniture delivered and put in place as the last step.

Be particular about furniture layout. Whenever possible, the occupant’s desk should face the door to avoid surprises. An executive chair in a complementary color will be the most important seat in the room. If the room is small and the boss wants couches, choose loveseats so the office doesn’t look crowded. Make certain there is adequate light in seating areas. Choose horizontal file cabinets for their design and utility. Plants, books, photos and other memorabilia can be displayed nicely on these low-slung units.

Add signature touches to the office. If the boss loves fishing, add sport-related paintings, figures and other decorative accessories to personalize and warm up the office. Throw pillows in contrasting colors offer soothing comfort on a couch. Check the corporate art site in Resources for unique wall hangings. A cocktail table beside a sofa is the perfect place to display a piece of sculpture or a whimsical cookie jar. Find the perfect balance between the business being conducted in this executive office and the personality of the person in the executive chair, and your mission will have been accomplished with flair.