Saturday, May 04, 2002

Trading work spaces

The switch is on as co-workers take up our challenge to redecorate each other's cubicle

By Joy Kraft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        We call it Changing Cubicles. It's our version of Trading Spaces, the Learning Channel's hit TV show where two couples get $1,000 each, a weekend and a decorator to make over a room in each others' homes — with results that are never boring. The spaces in our version of the show aren't rooms in a house. They are a pair of 8-foot-square, back-to-back work cubicles belonging to Greg Fioretti, 28, account manager, and Katie Schoemaker, 28, account supervisor, at Northlich advertising and public relations, downtown.

        And our imaginary budget is considerably less — $125 for each — at the start.

Greg's cubicle
Katie's cubicle
        Each contestant had a shopping cart, a half-hour at the Great Indoors in Springdale and a store decorator at his or her elbow.

        As in the TV show that draws 5.4 million viewers a month, each contestant's job was to make his or her colleague's space more livable — but lively — keeping in mind that person's taste and working conditions.

        Persuasion wasn't hard. Mr. Fioretti and Ms. Schoemaker are fans of the quirky cable show, super-charged host Paige Davis and the panel of decorators, from the mural-happy Frank Bielec to Doug Wilson, the show's bad boy, to Genevieve Gorder, who once covered a room's walls with moss.

        “I loved that one,” says Ms. Schoemaker of Columbia Tusculum, who soon will be moving into an 1890 Victorian cottage in Dayton, Ohio's, historic district.

        “She has a great attitude and a sometimes earthy approach,” Ms. Schoemaker says of Ms. Gorder. “The moss on the wall was a total sensory experience. I don't think I would have thought of it.”

        Neither would have the room's owners. They took it down immediately.

        “It's fun to watch (the show) and see what different people can do to the same space,” says Mr. Fioretti, who lives downtown. “You can gauge what you think as they go, and sometimes you find yourself saying, "Oh no, they're not gonna do that. ...' ”


        Both contestants describe their style as “modern-yet-hip,” with a little feng shui tossed in.

        Their work cubicles have walls of varying heights in dark upholstery with black cabinetry, swivel chairs, laptop computers and swing-arm lamps.

        Folger's coffee, Skyline canned chili and Charlie the Tuna stuffed animals and foil packs and a couple of Polaroids make up the only “decor” in Mr. Fioretti's cubicle, along with two desktop files and memos pinned to the walls.

        Ms. Schoemaker's cube is more orderly, with neat piles, a wall calendar and more than 30 snow globes covering her shelf.


        Great Indoors designers Kelly Fanta and Amy Flury pair off with Mr. Fioretti and Ms. Schoemaker, respectively, at 7:40 p.m.

        He says: “She likes color a lot. She dresses very stylishly. I'm thinking about some color for her.”

        She says: “He's very artistic. He loves music. He has an older kelly green chair. Maybe I can start with that.”

  Katie's tally
  Square pillow, $24.99
  Round pillow, $29.99
  Curtain, $24.99
  Curtain rod, $6.99
  Tray, $9.92
  Candles, $4.92
  Grass, $16.99
  Square plate, $8.99
  Bamboo mats, $17.97
  Total: 145.75

  Greg's tally
  Gerba daisies (4 at $1.99 each), $7.96
  Square plate, $8.99
  Foot spa, $34.99
  Light, $18.71
  Clock, $29.99
  Cup, $3.49
  Candle, $7.99
  Candle, $6.99
  Rose lantern, $7.99
  Vase, $12.99
  Grass, $16.99
  Bamboo mat, $5.99
  Total: $163.07
  Discount: $16.30
  Total $146.77

        The budget falls apart almost immediately.

        Ms. Schoemaker and Ms. Flury stroll by a black leather and chrome vertical magazine rack. “Oh, I love it. It's perfect,” Ms. Schoemaker says.

        Mr. Fioretti passes by five minutes later and picks up the same piece. “I love it.”

        “Oops,” he says.

        It's $299.

        The show's budget often has loopholes. So will ours. It's raised to $150 each.

        Fifteen minutes later, Ms. Schoemaker announces, “I'm done.”

        Mr. Fioretti is struggling.

        “He's having trouble getting a grand scheme of things,” Ms. Fanta says. “He's jumping from idea to idea. He's doing well, though.”

        Meanwhile, Ms. Schoemaker backtracks. Her silk curtain was not on sale as she thought, and a glazed pottery tray she snapped up was part of a three-piece set. She goes back to find a less-costly curtain and a substitute tray.

        Mr. Fioretti has put a foot bath in his cart. “I've got to find a way to get this,” he says. “For all her walks over to Procter & Gamble. She needs it.”

        Forty minutes later, Ms. Schoemaker is tapping her toes across the store. “Hurry up. We have to meet somebody in 10 minutes.”

        Mr. Fioretti is ruminating in the candle section. He's over budget by about $15 with the foot bath.

        “Sometimes, on the show, designers get a discount on fabric. Do you get one?” he asks Ms. Fanta. “Can we do that?”

        They rejigger the numbers with her discount and he comes in under budget.

        Fifty minutes and the shopping is done.


        Back at the office, we find the duo picked three of the same things: a bamboo placemat, a wavy square glazed pottery dish and a black wood planter with acrylic “grass.”

        They begin unpacking and cleaning their desktops, drawing an audience — and a lot of advice.

Greg's cubicle
Katie's cubicle
        “This is like being on the show with people calling in with opinions,” Mr. Fioretti says.

        “Think of it as a live studio audience,” a co-worker says. “We're just here to help.”

        The first thing to go in Ms. Schoemaker's office is the shelf of snow globes. After consulting Practical Feng Shui by Simon Brown ($19.95, Sterling Publishers), Mr. Fioretti places her laptop on one of the bamboo mats, “facing south; that's good for people in marketing.

        “I'm going to take her calendar down. She's too wrapped up in it anyway,” he says, stripping the wall.

        He adds a few sheets of white corrugated acrylic board to the back wall and a few colored pieces cut in triangles to the side. Then he carefully centers a modular clock where the snow globes were, with faux gerba daisies in a vase on one side and the grass on the other. A funky blue vase-light is placed in the corner and the piece de resistance — the footbath — is under the desktop.

        Across the wall, Ms. Schoemaker is still cleaning.

        “These multiplying teacups are developing their own ecosystems. That's very bad chi,” she says. She has consulted Practical Fung Shui as well.

        “He has a lot of diverse job assignments. I'm trying to give him a calming influence.”

        Charlie the Tuna and the foodstuffs are swept away, as well as the teacups.

        “I thought we should take away the client distraction, so if he's concentrating on one client, he doesn't look up and get distracted by another. Mixing tuna and chili — bad chi indeed.”

        The file folders go in the drawers and the faux silk curtain is hung across a bookshelf “to hide the chaos.”

        Two earth-tone silk pillows plump up the old green leather chair. Three bamboo mats are hung on the wall behind the laptop (also facing south, in keeping with feng shui advice) and several aromatherapy candles are arranged in a glazed dish on an upper shelf, their fragrance drifting over the wall.

        About 40 minutes later, each contestant was ready to see the revamped work spaces.

Her cubicle

        He says: “I felt she needed a more open area, especially because she's left-handed. I also tried to add an air of simplicity to the shelf across her desk by removing the snow globes.”

        She reacts: “This is awesome. Is that a lamp or a candle? It really brightens up the corner. It's perfect.

        “I see he moved my family photos to the south just like feng shui says you should. And I wore the perfect slip-on shoes for the footbath. The only change I would make is to put the wrist rest back on my keyboard.”

His cubicle

        She says: “I know he likes to spread things out, so I created a work-in-progress file out of the way to clear some space. The curtain hides the chaos of the bookshelf in back, and I wanted to add a smoother, more natural look; bring a little of the outside in, so I started with the pillows on the chair.”

        He reacts: “It's amazing. I want to keep it all. I love how open it is. This is the best. I can even hide behind the curtain.”

The lessons

        The hardest part for both contestants was keeping to the budget and winnowing choices. But they both learned one of the tenets of home decorating — finding multiple uses for accessories and furniture.

        “When I started looking at objects as something different from what they were originally meant for, it got easier for me,” Ms. Shoemaker says.

        She used three bamboo placemats as wall decor, a square pottery plate as a candleholder and a clearance relish tray for pencils, paper clips and markers.

        He used his glazed plate as a candle base and a wire mesh candleholder as a pencil and pen stand.

        “I'm going to try to inspire other people,” Mr. Fioretti says.

        Just like the cable show — but on a smaller scale.


- Trading work spaces
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