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Bring Personality Into Your Cubicle

In this Feb. 25, 2013 photo, following the expert advice of several interior designers, this cubicle at a Thornton, Colo., business was styled using a bold fabric pattern on the facing cubicle wall and black-and-white patterned contact paper on an upper cabinet and various accessories. The cubicle is outfitted with items that appeal to its inhabitant: framed photos and mementos of world travels, a few items picked up at a flea market and the artwork of friends, and inexpensive boxes to organize paperwork and provide graphic appeal. Decorated primarily with items on hand, the cubicle cost an hour's time and under $50 to decorate. (AP Photo/Jennifer Forker)

In this Feb. 25, 2013 photo, following the expert advice of several interior designers, this cubicle at a Thornton, Colo., business was styled using a bold fabric pattern on the facing cubicle wall and black-and-white patterned contact paper on an upper cabinet and various accessories. The cubicle is outfitted with items that appeal to its inhabitant: framed photos and mementos of world travels, a few items picked up at a flea market and the artwork of friends, and inexpensive boxes to organize paperwork and provide graphic appeal. Decorated primarily with items on hand, the cubicle cost an hour's time and under $50 to decorate. (AP Photo/Jennifer Forker)

We focus so much energy turning a house into a home, we sometimes forget to aim our decorating genius in another notable direction: the office cubicle.

Home often expresses who we are, filled as it is with accumulated treasures and trinkets. But skip on over to the office cubicle — or, for that matter, an office with actual walls — and it can be a different story.

Some offices “are so dated. It’s wallpaper from the ’70s, falling-apart furniture and stacks of files — generally, an overall mess,” said Sayeh Pezeshki, a designer who blogs about decor at The Office Stylist.

Considering how much time many people spend at work, “Your work space should be cheery and it should be fun, and it should be personal to you,” said Sabrina Soto, designer host of HGTV’s The High/Low Project.

A soothing environment cuts down on work stress. “It really does affect the way that you work and the way that you feel,” said Pezeshki. And, she said, “You don’t have to spend a lot of money” doing it.

Bob Richter, an interior designer and cast member of PBS’ treasure-hunting series Market Warriors, visits flea markets wherever he travels, returning home with one-of-a-kind mementos. “I feel like a cubicle or a small office should feel like a small apartment,” said Richter, who lives in a small New York City apartment. “Things have to be tidy but there also has to be an opportunity to store things easily.”

Richter suggests combing flea markets for unusual boxes and baskets for storing supplies on an office desk. He uses old metal coffee tins and vintage ceramic planters for holding pens and other supplies. “There’s a nostalgic vibe to these items,” Richter said.

Soto suggests using lacquered boxes or stylish fiberboard boxes.

Good lighting, an attractive memo board, and at least one living plant or cut flowers are also essential for cultivating good cubicle ambiance. Bring a lamp from home for task lighting.

Bring in low-water, low-light plants — at least one. Two plants that are good at surviving indoor light are pothos and heartleaf philodendron. Peace lilies also crave low light and are excellent at cleaning indoor air.

“Keep one on your desk,” said Richter. “It feels like there’s life there.”

For the memo board, Richter suggests framing a section of cork, dry-erase board or good-quality plywood painted with chalkboard paint. Frame it in a vintage frame — it’s a tenth the price of a new frame, he said — or float the memo board inside the cubicle wall’s frame. The important thing: Decorate your cubicle according to your own personality. If you like sports, use memorabilia. If you’re a movie fan, go that route.

More tips:

∎ Keep it tasteful, said Richter, and check with your human resources manager before turning a cubicle into a fully furnished room. “There’s a fine line between personalizing your desk and going overboard,” he said.

∎ Ditch the sticky notes and the hanging calendar, which add clutter, Soto said. Lean a small dry-erase board against a wall and jot down notes there. Use an electronic calendar.

∎ Hang an attractive fabric along the cubicle walls, attaching it with decorative push-pins. Hang framed artwork. “Anything to make the cubicle walls look like normal walls,” Soto said.

∎ Cover bookshelves and cabinets with printed contact paper. “It instantly pulls together the look,” Pezeshki said. Pick five or six things currently sitting on your desk and replace them — pencil holder, frames, tape dispenser — with the look you want.

∎ Add silver accents. And paint whatever you can, Pezeshki advises, including the metal “in/out” box for papers.