Commentary: Modernizing your office within your means.

AuthorPribek, Jane

Byline: Jane Pribek

I can't tune into HGTV for any length of time because I get too bored, nor can I watch Extreme Home Makeover because it makes me cry. I just didn't get the decorating gene.

But I can and do appreciate appealing surroundings.

At the recent Solo & Small Firm Conference, more than one speaker emphasized the need for an eye-catching, professional-looking office as part of your marketing and branding. People do judge books by their covers, like it or not.

At that same conference I met Nancy Brochhausen, an account executive/interior designer with Creative Business Interiors in Milwaukee and Madison. Her firm has consulted with and helped implement decor and furniture choices for many Wisconsin law firms, from countless one- and two-lawyer firms to Davis & Kuelthau s.c., one of the 10 biggest firms in the state.

Big or small, Brochhausen says all firms are cost-conscious these days, for obvious reasons. But even in a strong economy, professional services firms walk a fine line between wanting to look successful without looking opulent. Clients don't like to pay for your excess marble and mahogany.

Here are more of Brochhausen's tips:

Hire a consultant to create a plan only. This is for people like me, who enjoy executing a plan but could never make one themselves.

You'll benefit from an expert eye, creating a plan with your firm's branding in mind. For example, Brochhausen's business card is bright green on the back side. Sure enough, her building's exterior is adorned with a bold stripe of the same shade.

The plan should be for the long term, for you to follow as time and money allow. By sticking to a plan, you won't waste money by replacing items that you bought on a whim.

Re-paint. Color is a dramatic way to change the look and feel of an interior. It's also very inexpensive.

Some of the popular colors these days are green, orange, yellow and brown. If this is triggering nasty flashbacks from the '70s, Brochhausen says it should - popular color schemes are in fact cyclical, but they are always re-invented when they re-emerge. For example, Avocado has now become Guacamole.

Speaking of the disco era, remember that hideous fake wooden paneling?

If you're still plagued with it, Brochhausen cautions against trying to remove it because you risk ruining the drywall beneath, since it's probably bonded with industrial-strength adhesive. Moreover, you can't just paper over it. Like a horror movie, those fake knotty eyes will...

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