the creepy dolls, the massage chair, and other stories of amazing office decor — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

Last week we talked about the best, worst, and weirdest office decor you’ve seen. Here are 15 great stories you shared.

1. The dolls

One of the managers in my former job had a massive full-wall bookshelf of baby dolls in her office. They were all dressed sharply in frilly dresses and so forth. I think they were a mix of antiques or from specialty shops so you better bet they had that special “definitely haunted by a sick Victorian child” look to them. Everything else was covered in lacy doilies and homemade quilts, so it felt more like being in a particular kind of grandma’s house and not a manager.

The worst part was if you needed to have a sit-down conversation with my coworker, you’d be the one facing the Doll Wall. Dozens of glassy vacant eyes staring right at you the entire time. Staff was split between finding it either cozy or creepy.

2. The self-love

We showed up one morning to discover a new director had completely redecorated his office overnight. He brought in new furniture and hung at least a dozen pictures on the wall … all of himself. There were at least a dozen more pictures of himself on his credenza. Everyone else’s office is very light on decorations otherwise, so it definitely stands out.

I was interviewing a candidate (who we later hired) and unforeseen circumstances led me to interview him in the other director’s office. The candidate (now my coworker) later told me he didn’t realize it wasn’t my office. He said he thought all of the pictures on the wall were of my husband and I was just “weirdly obsessed” with him.

3. The professional redesign

Years and years ago, the office I worked in had a professional company redo our cube farm and come up with layouts for each cube. Mine, it turned out, was to be arranged with my desk blocking the opening into it. I would have had to climb over the desk to access my cube. I got our handyman help me arrange it so that I would have had enough space between the desk and the edge of the cube so I could squeeze in. Then I rearranged things (file drawers and printer stand) so I could actually function in it.

No one ever said anything about either my rearrangement or the company’s initial layout.

4. The massage chair

Several years ago, my large, public organization absorbed another organization in the state that was doing similar work. The new folks were not thrilled with the move, as our organization had an (earned) reputation as being more conservative in its perspective and how it handled employees and employee autonomy. For them, coming under our umbrella was a real downgrade.

One of the new folks was particularly salty about the move, but he was very talented with a pretty niche skillset so I guess he thought nobody was going to have any issues with how he went about things. Shortly after they officially came over to our offices, all of us came in to our open-plan cubical farm to see that New Guy’s office was…..decked out. Normal decorations, leaning on the nerdy, but what really stood out was….the giant massage chair. Over the weekend, this guy hauled a massage chair into the office and sat it right in the middle of one of the cubical clusters, complete with foot rest, side table for his beverages, and a little eye mask.

New Guy rolls into work at around 10am (normal for his schedule), does a little bit of work, then settles into his massage chair, gas station big gulp by his side, noise cancelling headphones on, eye mask ready to go, and takes a nap. This was admittedly made easier by the fact that we all were forced to work in the dark without overhead lights (that’s another letter for another day).

I wish I could tell you it started a movement and we all ended up with massage chairs, but tragically he wasn’t there much longer. I ran into him at a birthday party a year later and asked what happened. He sighs heavily and says, “I don’t think our boss liked the massage chair.”

5. The cube farm

Old Job was a cube farm. A client needed pictures of a generic office setting, so our in-house photographer took pictures of our own offices to use. The client rejected them as “too Soviet.”

Nobody in management had seemed to notice before then how shabby and depressing that office was.

6. The boudoir photo

A head manager at my former company had his wife’s sexy boudoir photo framed in his office. They were also rumored to be a swinging couple, so maybe it was an advertisement?

7. The morgue

I was a manager at a hospital. Unimportant backstory skipped, they finally gave me an office.

In a past life, it was the hospital morgue. After morgue-type activities were moved to a different site, they gutted the room and threw down new flooring after which it sat empty for two years. No one wanted to work in such a “spooky” space.

I didn’t care whatsoever – it was a HUGE room, all mine!

It took several weekends of me dragging in furnishings and decor from home and thrift stores before I was satisfied. It was like an oasis of calm — one side of the room was my workspace, the other was a homey “conference room” setup complete with a thick pile rug, soft floor lighting, realistic-looking plants, beautiful art prints. I had even hidden small speakers to play soft music. Heaven!


The Director of Nursing was taking visitors on a tour and walked past my open door. Her jaw dropped, and she demanded to know – in front of the others – how I got all of this [waved her arm around] approved by Finance. I told her I owned nearly everything. She harumphed and left.

Two days later, a group of nursing staff knocked on my door and said they needed to use my office for a meeting. I thought they made a mistake until they showed me the conference rooms schedule master and sure enough, they had properly booked “Stella70’s Office.” My oasis was listed and bookable for “groups of up to six people.”

I protested, pouted, whined to everyone I knew, but nothing changed. And my cozy space was so popular that I wound up hot-desking in a cubicle farm, because I couldn’t be in my office during most of the meetings held there.

Lesson learned: The most I will furnish these days are fancy paperclips, and I repo them if I don’t get them back.

8. The Demotivator

A former job had one of those motivational posters behind the receptionist’s desk. Someone — no idea who, but they’re my hero — swapped it with a same-size, similarly cheaply framed Demotivators poster. If anyone else is a Demotivators fan, it’s the one with a salmon leaping out of the whitewater and a huge bear standing above the fish, perfectly positioned for a tasty sushi snack. The text is something like “A journey of a thousand miles…sometimes ends very badly.”

The best part? Management never noticed. I worked there for at least two years after the swap and the Demotivator stayed.

9. The dorm room

At an old job, a recent college grad put brightly colored tissue paper all over every open space in her cube. Then she pinned pictures from college literally from the floor to the top of her cube walls. It was weird trying to ask her about a TPS report while looking at pictures of her being drunk, holding various beverages, splayed across multiple people on a couch in her clubbing clothes, her and her friends at the beach wearing what I suspect were Wicked Weasel (NSFW) bikinis, her and her boyfriend in a passionate, open mouthed kiss, etc. I’m surprised no one said anything to her because that’s how her office was decorated the whole time she was there.

10. The salesperson

I used to work with a senior salesperson who had a couch in his office with a bunch of cozy blankets on it and would always encourage you to sit on the couch with a blanket if you wanted to, and there were many times I would go into his office for a meeting and another salesperson or someone from his account team would be sitting there with a big fuzzy blanket on their lap.

He also had a graphic of an Amy Poehler quote printed out and hung on his wall that said, “I just love bossy women. I could be around them all day. To me, bossy is not a pejorative term at all. It means somebody’s passionate and engaged and ambitious and doesn’t mind leading.”

Needless to say, he was my favorite salesperson!

11. The stripe

A dishonest, bigoted, quarrelsome, and universally-loathed colleague weaseled his way into being Interim Dean of the Honors College. One of his must-haves for the college offices was a stripe in one of the school’s colors all along the tops of the walls, three inches below the ceiling.

Facilities declined to paint the stripe for him.

He came in on a weekend and painted the stripe himself.

The following Wednesday, Facilities painted over his stripe.

12. The books

I worked at a NY company that was headed by a male version of the boss from Devil Wears Prada (but less classy). I had to be in his office A LOT for meetings etc, and there were two things there that I will never forget: an absolutely gorgeous embroidered antique haori (a jacket worn over a kimono) that was like mounted in a frame with no glass or any kind of protection from the elements – and a collection of books on Japanese kink binding that was just sitting on the conference table.

13. The misunderstanding

I worked with a guy that had a poster in his office that read “It’s 4:20… got a minute?”

He got it for free somewhere… he hung it up because it reminded him of our boss, who was famous for grabbing someone right before it was time to leave and asking “got a minute?” and then talking to them for like an hour about something that definitely could have waited until the next day.

He seriously had no idea. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that his poster was an invitation to smoke weed.

14. The sex couch

I worked for a nonprofit and we were at the mercy of our board president’s wife. She was an aggressive thrifter who fancied herself an interior designer. We had an entire storage unit for extra furniture, carpets, tapestries, holiday decor that we didn’t need. She had very free-form tastes, often donating things that were bright neon orange, visibly sexual nude paintings, creepy clown statues.

My boss, who would have chugged a gallon of mud if the board told him to without question, was adamant we swap out the perfectly normal new sofa in our waiting area for one the board president’s wife donated. He stressed how important it was to accept this furniture and thank the president’s wife, as it was very important to the board president that we accept her donation.

The day it got delivered he took one look at this sofa and it went right back onto the delivery truck, my boss red up to his hairline. It was a sex couch. It was a very discreet sex couch, but one quick google told us it was a very expensive bespoke sex couch from a high-end BDSM company. You could see where it had uh … spaces for attachments, hidden compartments, and platforms that pulled out from under it. We didn’t get anymore donations from her after that.

15. The Windows 95 room

Oh, the Windows 95 room!

There was an unloved conference room with a white board and a couch or something, and Facilities decided to liven it up. They took away the couch (alas), painted it sky blue with clouds, put in an artificial grass rug, put in Adirondack chairs, the whole bit. I think it was supposed to look like Wine Country, California or similar bits of Palo Alto — but since that’s what the Windows 95 desktop was inspired by, and this was an operating system adjacent company…

For April Fool’s I added a large error message box and some mouse cursors.

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