Since I was a children’s book writer, I decided my office should be decorated in primary colors. My first office had a blue office desk, a tomato red IBM Selectric, a red trashcan from Conran’s, a red metal bookcase . . . children’s book art often used bright colors, so I had lots of posters and cards decorating my walls.
My house is filled with art. Posters, vintage paintings, even original illustrations from my own books. My biggest complaint is that we don’t have enough wall space! But I believe the eye stops "seeing" art after a while, so I change things up often. My office was no different. I wanted all new things to look at and inspire me. After carefully storing original art in old suitcases, I went shopping around my house. I found all kinds of neat things to frame.
A few things stayed in my office. One is the poster for Hollins University, from Ruth Sanderson’s picture book Papa Gatto. The wall color was inspired by the background of this poster. [It's a wide shot, click on the photo.] The odd red and yellow thing hanging next to the poster is an old tin "driving" toy. The "hood" makes a perfect magnet board.
I also kept this Eric Carle Museum of the Picture Book poster from the Margaret Wise Brown illustrators show I attended in 2005. The scene is from The Golden Egg Book, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, one of my favorite mid-century artists.
One summer at Hollins, I found a large folder of mint-condition farm animal prints by Leonard Weisgard, meant for a child’s room. The prints are hanging in our den, breakfast nook, and kitchen. The folder was too charming to put away, so I framed it, too.
My inspiration board also stayed. Lately I’ve been making vintage-style jewelry and hanging the pieces on the tack board. They look like art, don’t you think?
For more than 30 years, I’ve collected vintage prints, magazines, magazine covers, postcards, and other ephemera, much of it related to children or children’s books. I sifted through my files and chose images that "spoke" to me, with a palette that reflected the colors of my room. Below is a loose, orphaned page from a huge storybook illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky. The scene is "Little Red Riding Hood."
This is a recent flea market find. It’s a wool felt pillow cover from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. I hung it from two small bulldog clips.
That strange-looking thing hanging from one of the dresser drawers is actually a black wooden tray. In keeping with my Virginia heritage, there are old "linen" postcards glued to the compartments: "The Legend of the Dogwood," "Apple Blossoms in Full Bloom," and a few with poems like, "In Old Virginia," and "Down In Virginia," which begins, "The day dawns early and lasts so long/Down in Virginia . . ." So it seems many days in this office!
I respect the integrity of vintage ephemera and never rip the covers off old magazines. Instead, I frame the entire magazine. Many magazines published in the 1930s used black backgrounds–even "cheerful" periodicals like Better Homes and Gardens. I framed two from my collection to hang above my desk: this June 1940 Child Life . . .
. . . and this September 1931 Nature Magazine. I love the dinosaur (tricerotops? stegasaurus?) chewing greens!
However, I do buy magazine covers. Jessie Willcox Smith art is so collectible, I have yet to see an intact magazine with one of her covers. This September 1932 issue of Good Housekeeping is one of my favorites (Jessie illustrated every GH cover from 1919 to 1935!)
Nothing goes to waste. The bottom picture is the back cover of a falling-apart 1934 Child Life–it’s a publisher’s ad! Above it in a float frame is a vintage bingo card.
Family photographs were welcomed into my space. My stepfather’s WWII navy portrait. Black and white snaps of my mother. The Great Lakes Naval Training photograph with both my father and stepfather in the same class. Above that photo, I hung four 8 x 10 photographs, a couple of me, a favorite photo of my husband, one of my mother and her siblings at our first family reunion in 1966.
I never place my computer in front of a window. Too distracting. But rather than look up from my monitor at a blank wall, I hung a vignette of postcards (the original Winnie-the-Pooh at the New York Public Library is a favorite), and, from my stepfather’s document chest brought back from Japan during the War, this unusual advertising sign from Weber Tire Company, where he worked for many years (between them, my parents held three jobs, my mother sold her sewing, and they raised a truck garden). Looking at this sign reminds me how rewarding my work life is compared to my stepfather’s.
Whenever I makeover a room, I change the switchplate covers and the light fixture. The original light figure in my office was a plain white globe. I love Arts and Crafts style and bought this fixture at Lowe’s. I think of it as art.
When I had hung the last picture, my husband came to the door of my office and said, "Aren’t you going to put a rug down in here?" "No," I said. I liked the wide, inviting sweep of my new floor. You see, my office is more than just a workplace. When a song I like comes on the radio, I get up from my task chair . . . and dance. I dance like nobody’s watching, even though somebody is.
It’s been my pleasure showing you my new office this week! I hope you’ve had fun and are inspired to make a few changes in your own home office. Please take a tulip, go outside in the spring sunshine, and dance a little on the sweet green grass.
[A view of my former studio, now my 1923 sitting room]
I’ve learned this lesson twice: rooms, like people, have breakdowns when you ask them to do too much. We drop the ball when we multi-task beyond our limits–rooms throw a great big temper tantrum. They lie down in the floor, kick their heels and refuse to do anything. My former studio (above) was a perfect example: one small bedroom had to serve my ever-growing scrapbooking/mixed-media art needs, store art projects and vintage ephemera, store seasonal decorations, be a wrapping station, hold my winter wardrobe and clothes I clung to hoping I’d fit into them again (including the Dress I’m Going to Be Buried In–a size 3!), house photographs and family memorabilia and odd pieces of furniture, store 1000 stuffed bears and rabbits, and provide a refuge/time out room for cats that fought. What did my studio do? It exploded. I was too scared/depressed to set foot in there until I renovated it in 2008.
[Office while I was sorting books. Art projects from renovated studio wound up here.]
When I set up my office 14 years ago, it was just an office. I had two computers, a fax machine, phone, copier, stereo, and a small TV/VCR within easy reach of my desk. Then my husband bought a Chuck Norris exercise thingie. I bought a Pilates performer. The room is big–it could hold a few pieces of equipment. Then cats started showing up and the office became a sick bay/playground. I’ve already mentioned I went to grad school and the room became a repository for tons of papers and books. I watched TV in here after supper. When somebody was sick (or snored too much), he slept on the Aerobed in my office. In the fall of 2008, I was seriously ill and literally lived in here, night and day. I began to hate this space and it hated me back.
[Our dining room with office stuff]
[The library, about half full. Yes, the chair-and-a-half is covered with towels because of you-know-who]
[Labeled book stacks]
The first step in redefining your office needs is to clear it out! As you remove every stick of furniture, piece of equipment, every book and file, decide what should come back in. I spent two months clearing out books (15 cartons donated to the library), papers, and junk. Then it was time to paint and put in the floor and that meant moving out every single thing. 34 cartons of books and 16 dresser drawers of stuff were neatly stowed downstairs. Then I ran out of boxes. Also time. So the last stacks were set on the floor and labeled as to exactly where they’d fit in the bookcase (this almost worked–I couldn’t carry as many books up the stairs as down). Material from my office covered the dining room, downstairs library, master bedroom, and my sitting room.
[Close-up of bookcase ell--5 bookcases that were formerly scattered around the room. Board book collection neatly contained in a vintage green wire basket instead of the ugly milk crate]
But I had already shifted the bookcases into the ell-configuration for the sitting room and stowed comp copies into the luggage. Yes, that meant handling books not once, not twice, but three times. The "practice floorplan run" allowed me to weed out unwanted books and determine if the plan would work. It saved time on the moving-back-in end.
[Supply cabinet and filing cabinet behind reading nook]
So where the heck is all my stuff? For starters, my utility cabinet (as a former secretary I’ve always wanted my own suppy cabinet) pretty much stayed intact. The filing cabinet next to it holds the necessary papers from my 30-year career–more than 150 article/short story sales, more than 100 published books, and lots of canceled/unpublished material as well. I keep my files streamlined because my original drafts, galleys, mechanicals, proofs, and research are archived at two universities. Once you publish a body of work, check into the numerous universities that have collections of children’s literature (like the Kerlan). They are generally eager for original material.
[Drawer of mid-century classic children's books in armoire]
[Drawer of stationery in the long dresser]
I’ve mentioned I replaced ticky-tacky bookcases and hold-alls with dressers and an armoire. Yes, I actually store books in dresser drawers. All the stuff that loaded down old desks and plastic bins is now in dresser drawers. My research files are in the drawers. My grad school stuff is in the drawers. How do I know what is where? Good question, considering I have the memory of a kumquat these days. I am in the process of taking inventory, drawer by drawer, suitcase by suitcase, shelf by shelf. The books are in categories, so I don’t need to record every title. The written inventory will be typed, bound in a clear plastic folder, and kept on my desk. (That former secretary creeping in again).
[Children's literature alcove. Luggage stack holds magazines, review journals.]
[Work table alcove. The red-painted chair is my very first piece of vintage furniture--bought 30 years ago. Stripped it wrong and painted it with 15 lumpy coats of red gloss. My grandfather made the toy chest in the back, now holds comp copies.]
[On my work table: a Mexican child's chair my sister gave my mother 40 years ago, my Jiminy Cricket milk cup with "winking" eyes, and a Sunshine Toy Cookies tin--Toy cookies were way better than animal crackers]
While the office is used for work, I’ve divided it into stations. My desk station. My reading nook, where I go over galleys and proofs. One alcove holds a vintage enamel-topped table. I may do some scrapbooking here, but I also draw. And color (no better way to relax). The other alcove stores part of my children’s literature collection. My yoga mat is tucked in here, too. When I get stiff, I can throw my mat down and do a few poses.
Whew! That’s quite a tour. Stop by the ironing board for milk and cupcake. Sorry there’s only one cupcake (you’ll have to fight over it) and it’s slightly smushed. Tomorrow we’ll look at details, the loving touches that make any office personal and homey.
. . . to my new office! This week I’ll show pics and describe how I tore out an old office that was no longer working for me and created a vision I’d been keeping inside me for more than a year. The new office reflects my new direction in writing . . . and where I am at this time in my life. So welcome!
You may recognize the vintage child’s easel I bought a while back. Once I decided I was going to do this make-over, I began picking up things at junk shops and antique malls. Most of the time I didn’t know where they’d go in the grand scheme of things. But I had a rule: everything had to pull its weight. The easel is from the early 50s. The top part scrolls to different scenes and the alphabet.
We can’t have an office-warming without goodies! This vintage child’s ironing board almost didn’t make it in here. As I arranged and "fluffed," I could not find a spot for the ironing board. Unlike my other childs’ ironing boards, this one isn’t attractive folded up so I couldn’t hang it on the wall. I was about to relegate to the garage when it said, "Please, give me a chance!" "Where are you going?" I asked. "And what will you do?" "Put me right here beside the big dresser," it said. "I’ll hold incoming mail." And so it will. When it’s not holding cookies.
Here is my office Before. I have a lot of these shots, but this one gives you an idea of how messy and cluttered it had become over the years. Trouble began when I went to grad school. I had another life in this room. To accommodate those books and notebooks and files, I just added tacky little bookcases and plastic hold-alls. Pretty soon I couldn’t walk. It didn’t help that I had a cat tree, litter box, food dishes, a tarp to protect the carpet (futile), and two exercise machines (used for bookstands). Every year I’d weed out books and paper and files, but the stuff crept back. The only way to really clean out my room was to move every single solitary thing.
When I began planning my office re-do last year, I decided that I’d go for a vintage look, which is in every room in the house but this one. I believed my office should be all business. It was . . . and boring. When we moved in 14 years ago, I decorated the room in Early Children’s Book. Lots of Mary Engelbreit. Publisher’s posters. Toys based on children’s books.
But I’m not that same person any more. I still write children’s books, but my work is heading in a new direction. I’m settling into the novel genre, using my Southern/Virginia background. I wanted my office to reflect that. So . . . out went the Mary Engelbreit, the children’s book character toys, the posters, even original art from my own picture books is in storage. The cat stuff went when Xenia died. The exercise equipment went to the shed. My biggest problem was storing comp copies. I’ve published over a hundred books and often receive 25 comp copies. Do the math. I’m drowning in books. I had a bunker of comp copies under my desk. So I began buying vintage suitcases to store them.
Then I decided the ticky-tacky bookcases and plastic hold-alls had to go. I decided to purchase old furniture painted shabby white: two dressers, an armoire, a boudoir chair, and a 1960 Silvertone console radio joined the pieces I already had. Some bookcases would stay, of course, but I rearranged the furniture into "areas." My desk/work station area. A bookcase/reading chair nook. A project station in one dormer alcove.
Well, enough for today. Have a cookie. Browse the bookcases. Have a seat! Tomorrow I’ll be back!