Cell Block Tango – Office Makeover

One of my good friends is a professor of English literature/drama at a college in Atlanta.  She begged me to help decorate her office.  She’s in one of the older buildings on campus and it has unfortunate cement block walls.  Nothing like painted concrete blocks to make a place feel institutional and dreary.  It is nearly impossible to nail into or stick something to those walls.  She thought it was important that the office look a bit more lived in, and she begged for help.  So how to transform the prison cell into a homey office?

I will say the office did have a couple things going for it.  One wall was essentially a giant window with a big magnolia in front of it., so the office gets natural light but still has privacy because of the tree.  The office also had very high ceilings, making it somewhat less oppressive.

She already had one nice lamp on her desk, and some posters.  I encouraged her to bring more literature-related postcards/art to pin on the bulletin board.  Then we hit up Ikea and Target for decor and supplies.

We ended up with these at Ikea:

At Target:

  • Sunburst Mirror for $25
  • soft blue satiny curtain panels marked down to $4 per panel!  yay clearance.  we got 2 panels.
  • 3M Command hooks in various sizes, about $10
  • picture hanging wire $4

My plan was to use the curtains to cover up the tall cement block walls  – not exactly wallpaper, but similar effect.  I wanted an old-world, bohemian feel without being too girly and staying somewhat intellectual.  I stuck command hooks on the wall as high as we could reach close to the ceiling.  Then I cut tiny holes in my blue clearance curtains to hang directly from the hooks.  Then I layered the sheer lace Ikea curtains over the blue panels.  I simply pushed the end of the command hook through one of the tiny holes in the lace (all the curtains, both solid and lace, are 100% polyester so its not like I’m doing damage to anything really valuable).

This was actually a LOT of work because we did not have a ladder!  We did have a 5 foot tall file cabinet, which we pushed back and forth (and back and forth half a dozen times) and I climbed on top of the cabinet while my friend nervously kept it from toppling over and sending me to my death on the unforgiving tile floor below.

She already had a large poster of Romeo and Juliet (which I gave to her years ago) and other Shakespeare/writer posters to put.  I added a couple black and white photos, and some floral art prints that I found at home.  I also brought a some Target curtain panels that I’m not using at home that almost matched the color of the clearance curtains we bought.

The second set of my Target curtains were sheer and trying the cut and hang thing was not working with them.  I was worried the fabric would rip.  So we took the picture wire and strung it between 3 command hooks to make a little clothesline of sorts.  Then I simple draped the curtain in half over the wire, and with it doubled-up it became fairly opaque and the perfect length to cover up the cement wall over the bulletin board.

Same corner as photo before, but closer in.  The file cabinet has Shakespearean word magnets and little finger puppets of famous writers.  Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe are hanging out on the side there.  The extreme verticality of this photo may give an indication of how tall this ceiling is.  The bulletin board is full and happy now.

Here’s the rest of the curtain wall and part of the window wall.  The Ikea lamp is glowing nicely on the desk.  Too bad about the bulky monitor, but it came with the office.

Here’s a closeup of the bulletin board for anyone who likes T.S. Eliot jokes… (he lacks the courage to eat a peach.  hmmm).

A bookshelf came with the office, which Miss Professor put to use.  She also had a great poster, and I re-located the schmancy granny lamp here where it could get more attention.  Eetsa all sparkly glowy!  You can see why I entirely hid the cement wall with fabric on the other side.  With more money I might have continued around the room.  The orange vinyl chair came with the place so we’re stuck with it.  Let’s call it a pop of color.  The lamps weren’t really necessary for practical lighting purposes, but they give such a homey feel when they’re lit up.

Glow lamp glow!

Here’s the rest of the corner.  I wrote an excerpt from a sonnet on the chalkboard.  You can see the sunburst mirror here and how we hung it with no nails.  Two command hooks with picture wire are sharing the load – the mirror weighs only a few pounds, we made sure to get hooks that were supposed to withstand a couple pounds to make sure it didn’t come crashing down.  Not the classiest way to hang, but it was my best idea.  Now I’m thinking I could have done some more file-cabinet-as-ladder action and put these hooks higher on the wall so they were less noticeable.  We had plenty of wire.

Here’s our Target sunburst mirror.  These are trendy right now, but it serves a practical purpose too.  Now Miss Professor has a way to check her face before heading out to teach a class.  Good idea after lunch.

My computer seems to have eaten the photo of the Ikea rug on the floor.  Sigh.  Its a nice plush low-pile Oriental style rug.  The website doesn’t do it much justice, it is more red in person.  Since it is such a traditional style of rug you would never look at it and think Ikea, unlike some of their other more modern, trademark items like the paper desk lamp.  I was tempted to buy it myself, but I don’t really have a place in my life for such a rug at the moment.  It did the job of covering up the cold tile floor and making a warm but scholarly environment.

Miss Professor is extremely happy with the results (she’d been unsure about purchases such as the lamp and mirror, but in the end she was glad she had both).  The distraught freshmen coming into her office with ravaged papers are comforted by the granny/boho/literary vibe.  Miss Professor said she’s received compliments from the kids, and she feels much happier working in there now.  Personally I wasn’t as thrilled as I expected I’d be when it was all done, but I’m a perfectionist who had to use command hooks and a file  cabinet as a ladder, plus we had a limited budget with which to get all those textiles.

Have you ever had to creatively cover up some hideous walls with no nails or permanent adhesives?  Did anyone get my totally random movie reference in the title?  Here’s the answer if you’re wondering.  Enjoy!


2 thoughts on “Cell Block Tango – Office Makeover

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