The Office

Don't let your messy office hold you back--clear the clutter, spruce up the design, and organize the space so it works for you.
Magazine Contributor
5 min read

This story appears in the October 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Let's face it: Most offices do little to inspire and encourage productivity. When you're a busy entrepreneur, your desk is more likely a repository for piles of paper, sticky notes and misplaced files than a smooth, Zen-like surface devoid of clutter. Faxed restaurant menus mingle with business proposals, and a drawer exists solely to house a hodgepodge of items one step away from the trash bin, allowing you to indulge--quite guiltlessly--in your pack-rat mentality. And let's not even start on your overflowing inbox.

Does any of this sound familiar? Every day, entrepreneurs look at their offices and wonder what can be done to reverse the ravages of a stress-filled environment. And just like many harried entrepreneurs, Entrepreneur magazine's editorial director, Rieva Lesonsky, was ready for that change. When she's not traveling the country promoting Entrepreneur and small business, she's spending long hours at the office, generally the first person to arrive and the last to leave. It's safe to say her office is as much her home as is her actual residence. Lesonsky's many responsibilities require her to pore over articles and layouts, magazines and e-mails, as well as host multiple meetings daily. And with her frequent travels, it's vital that her office be organized to maximize her time there. Lesonsky's demanding schedule and obligations resulted in a disheveled, mismatched and overcrowded office that was begging for a redesign.

Fortunately, the folks from Christopher Lowell Inc., the design, licensing and marketing firm of interior designer Christopher Lowell, offered their décor and organization expertise. Lowell and his design team, Michael Murphy and Jocelyne Borys, took over Lesonsky's office for four days. They took her wishes into account: She's a visual person who wants current projects in front of her but needs to stay organized. Lesonsky needed a proper place to hold meetings, but she also needed enough room to not bump into herself. And please, she begged, no beige or green. What emerged was a complete transformation of the office's mood and function--without losing an ounce of Lesonsky's personality.

Lowell, designer, author and host of several design shows, saw Lesonsky suffering from the same problem many entrepreneurs experience with their offices: lack of organization. "Today, it's really about embracing technology and [ridding yourself of items you never use] that take up way too much space," says Lowell. He and his team placed items Lesonsky used often "at her fingertips." Gone were the bulky desk and credenza, supplanted with pieces from the Christopher Lowell Office Collection.

Maria Gracia, professional organizer and founder of in Watertown, Wisconsin, stresses common-sense strategies for organizing your office. "If you answer the phone with your right hand, keep your phone on the right side," says Gracia, noting that necessities like a calculator and pens should always be kept in your main desk area. A bookshelf is a must, she says, to prevent books and magazines from piling up around the room.

Lesonsky gravitated toward Lowell's Shore Collection because it follows the décor theme of her home. By choosing a theme, says Lowell, you can quickly eliminate things that won't fit. "One of the reasons we developed this line of furniture was this emerging trend," explains Lowell. "Many entrepreneurs are spending a minimum of 12 hours in a place that's not their home, but they want it to feel as much like their home as possible." So throw away the notion that certain creature comforts have no place in your office--Lowell contends that a space that's uncomfortable or doesn't reflect your personality will inhibit productivity and creativity.

Using the same elements that one would in the home, Lowell eschewed the overhead lights in Lesonsky's office for lamps, installed custom blinds, and softened the look with white drapes between the blinds. The ceiling was painted to compliment the walls, and a conference table was added with an area rug underneath. A new sofa created a more contemporary feel. "The whole idea is that in 10 years, the office should look as up-to-date as it does today," says Lowell.

If you're considering an office redesign, Lowell suggests, "Think in terms of how you're going to feel in the space beyond the job that has to be done in the space." As an entrepreneur, connecting with your clients is key. Your individualism sets you apart from large corporations and competitors, so it's important to show that in your office. "Be deliberate about what you want to reflect," says Lowell, and maintain a level of professionalism. Your love of martinis may make for fun décor ideas at home, but not at work.

Also, keep your needs in mind, reminds Gracia. "Think function first, style second."

Lesonsky has adjusted to her new office and finds herself "totally at ease. I feel like it's an oasis," she says. One notable difference has been the meeting space. "The use of comfortable chairs has made our many, often endless, meetings seem not so endless," says Lesonsky.

Lowell now poses a challenge to all entrepreneurs: "Look around and ask yourself, 'Does this working environment reflect what I offer?' If it doesn't, then it's time to get busy."

Start Shopping
Inspired by Rieva Lesonsky's office redesign? Here's where to find her new furnishings:

  • Desk and office furniture: Christopher Lowell Office Collection, available at Office Depot
  • Blinds: Christopher Lowell Collection, available at 3 Day Blinds
  • Sofa: Christopher Lowell Collection, available through your local Flexsteel dealer and for tips and guidance on your redesign, check out Lowell's book Christopher Lowell's Seven Layers of Design, or visit

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