The Economics of Oggly

I spent much of my corporate life in cubicles, thinking that was just how offices were supposed to look. Then came the great day when I opened up my own law practice.

I went a little bananas. My new office was in the former county library building, and had the strange dimensions to show for it. I not only had custom curtains made, but I also paid for matching carpet, and painted the walls and wainscoting my own un-crafty self. I ended up with a seafoam, white, and pink color scheme, complete with throw pillows to match the cabbage roses on the upholstered wing chairs, and a pink cushion for my rocking chair.

Take that, corporate Murika! I bought silk flowers for the hearth, filled a basket with stuffed animals, and put an actual green plant (that was still thriving twenty years on) in the window. I hung decorative quilts on the walls along with a six-foot-wide paper fan of a Japanese tiger. I even commissioned a small stained glass window for the transom space–three doves, because doves symbolize peace.

The sheer delight I took in my workspace was shocking to me, because I’m no Martha Stewart. I figured as a self-employed attorney, how I kitted out the work place would say a lot about the extent to which I valued my work and my clients. Then too, my clients–all of whom were dealing with some sort of trauma–deserved at least comfy chairs and a few cheerful colors when they came to see me.

And lo and behold, as far back as the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow (meaning SEVENTY YEARS ago), we have studies to prove that pretty makes us happier with the tasks we’re performing, more upbeat generally, and better able to stick to the job. Ugly makes us cranky, easily distracted, and whiny.

The economic impacts of that finding are profound. Think of all the boring offices you’ve worked in, all the drab waiting rooms you’ve endured, all the classrooms that nearly put you to sleep because they were so blah. Think of the public housing developments and underfunded schools… The entire neighborhoods that haven’t so much as a pot of flowers growing on a street corner.

We regard beauty as an extra, an indulgence, a frolic, but the research says otherwise: It’s an essential nutrient for contentment and productivity.

My take-away from this topic will be to make an affirmative gesture in support of those who create beauty, but I’m also curious: Where is the greatest beauty in your life? If you had unlimited resources, where would you add to the beauty in your community?

To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 e-gift card for 1800-FLOWERS. (And while you’re here on the website, please recall that A Lady of True Honor is already available on the web store, and the Deals page has been updated for February.)


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26 comments on “The Economics of Oggly

  1. I do not understand cube farms. Or hot desking. As a temporary measure in an emergency, maybe. And I do not understand ugly. You should see the subdivision going in behind us. It’s even expensive ugly.

    I would plant daffodils here. I have a long, long list, actually, but that would be first. Next maybe lilacs. Spring can come late here. Bright yellow lets me know the sun will come.

    • I think cube farms come from two places. First, they save on HVAC and build out costs. Second, they dis-empower employees while giving bosses greater intrusion into employee privacy. Both are stupid, mean, and short-sighted motivations, because the data is, cube farms result in lower morale, lower productivity, LESS employee collaboration, more sick days, and higher turnover. Guess people really do not appreciate being treated like widgets.
      Who knew? And when are daffodils EVER a bad idea?

  2. My town–really, it’s considered a village–has a public art commission. There are sculptures all over–in parks, in the middle of a cul-du-sac turn around, in front of the library–well, you get the idea. Art and beauty is all around us and I think, it helps bring us together. This started about 20 years ago with one sculpture of a little girl and took off. There are often plantings to go along with the sculptures and lovely in high summer but still lovely in the dead of winter, without the poseys.

    Beauty IS in the eye of the beholder. We all know a dandelion in a Dixie cup our child brings us one hot summer day is not classically beautiful but it IS beautiful to us. I try to surround myself with things I like, which are important to ME and the troubles and challenges of life don’t seems as bad.

    My guess is your office atmosphere not only helped you in your practice but helped your clients cope. The dove stained glass window seemed an especially lovely thought and symbolic to what your tried to do–GOOD ON YA!

    • What a lovely town you live in. I’m struck when I visit outside my rural silo how much harder other places try to make art a public priority. Our county seat has a few tired mural from days gone by, but I think we’re in the ugly-spiral. We don’t see pretty, so we don’t recall that we miss it, so we don’t make it pretty.

      And I have no idea what inspired that stained glass adventure, but it was a nice touch and brought me much joy. My dad pointed out that three might symbolize the Trinity or doves the Paraclete. I did not make those associations, but that’s that eye of the beholder thing you mention. Kinda wonderful.

  3. If I had unlimited funds, I’d have me a couple of stain glass windows here in the house. In my community, I think I’d have even more flowers plated. We are “pretty good” but we have a neighboring community that does even better (with flowers). We could step it up a little.

  4. I spend my days in a cubical environment. It’s a sea of gray on a gray carpet.
    Prior to the huge layoff, I had family photos and a couple of work related award type things on my desk. I brought everything home a few weeks before the layoff and haven’t brought anything back.

    I plan to bring some of my Afghans, books and treasures into my living room after the remodel is done. I have a few prints, corgi photos, pillows and lots of books to cozy up the space.

    Have a few ideas for the side garden and back deck…flowers and new cushions should do the trick.

    We have a Veterna Park in our town. If I had unlimited resources….I would freshen up the paint, plant flowers etc.
    It’s a beautiful spot to walk through and reflect.

    • Sue, seems like you work for lay-off prone shops, and what a burden that must be. I like that you took your treasures home. That’s a symbolic disengagement to me, and a healthy step. Whoever invented modular “furniture” and office bullpens needs a few years in purgatory, methinks, and I know just what that would look like.

  5. I’m going to go hugely cliche here and say the biggest source of beauty in my life is the way my children smile and laugh at each other, and the care my toddler takes with “his” baby.

    If I had a budget for adding beauty to the community I’d probably commission local crafters to teach the basics of their trades in schools, and then to work with the children to liven up public spaces. Maybe to make a sculpture for the market square, or to embroider cushions for a cosy corner in the library.

    • Well, of course: The joy of children is beauty beyond measure. Also the joy of old people, of couples, of maiden aunties and bachelor uncles. Of young people and everybody in between. The joy of people…

      I love the idea of embroidering library seat cushions. I was surprised, when I first started touring castles and stately homes in the UK, just how many duchesses and countesses actually did embroider gorgeous seat cushions. They could have so easily delegated that task but it was probably very satisfying to create that practical loveliness.

  6. I’m still tweaking things in my nest as I acquire the income & strong muscles get hired to do the bits I’m not up to anymore. But I’m a firm believer in pretty whether it’s using fountain pens so I can write in ALL the colors, to sneaking racy undies in sumptuous colors under my jeans, or gradually planting lovely smelling things like rosemary as the cheap builder’s grade “landscaping” succumbs to the climate it was never suited for.

    • My parents had a thriving bank of rosemary at their home in San Diego, and what a pleasure for the nose to break off a twig and sniff! Great for the memory, but also just delightful!

  7. I have a thumb of black death but I love plants and one of the main draws of our house is that it backs a college campus wooded area and our neighbors are wonderful gardeners. So even though my garden is hardy low maintenance plus a rain garden, I get to see nature everyday, even in an urban setting. I love being on my porch playing bananagrams with my daughter, a cup of tea and looking at trees.

    If I could, I would put rooftop gardens everywhere they would work. Green, cooling spaces all over the city and where it would work have public access to garden (both solely beautiful and crop) spaces. Some spaces would only work with grasses or other low cover but I think wildflowers and bee friendly plants would be lovely. The problem of heat islands, particularly in areas with low political influence, would be partially addressed and plants anywhere plants can grow is a great goal.

    • You envision a much lovelier cityscape than we have at present. Here’s to hoping your dream comes true… now I’m off to google bananagrams.

  8. I’d start community gardens with flowers among the fruits and veggies…feeding stomachs and adding beauty/sweet smells to the lives I’ll able to afford them.

  9. I love the sky and my garden, and look for beauty on a micro scale, since the view from my office windows are of a white metal building so big that I have to lean up close and creak my head in one direction to see a tiny slit of sky. My drive to work includes 13 miles of State Highway 225, lined with one of the densest collections of petrochemical plants on the planet. I paint pictures that are lovely to look at, and bring them to my office. I tend the garden at home, and do not use pesticides so that all may enjoy, even the insects and lizards. Beauty is there if you look hard enoug.

  10. If I had unlimited funds I’d add to the greenspace in my neighborhood. A play area, benches, a small free lending library or two and we’re set. Hopefully it would draw people out so they would get to know each other.

  11. Music is my greatest beauty. I enjoy making it and experiencing it. I had a great experience of listening to a choir that has only been in existence for three years and filled a cathedral with the sound of their voices. Not bad for 20 members. I have seen all sorts of responses to the music I have helped to bring to others over the years and none were negative. Their lives were brighter for the time spent with the music.
    That said, I do hand crafting and have items hanging on my walls that I have completed. And I don’t have beige walls either. I love color. I’m not afraid to use it to decorate or to wear. I have even started putting bold colors in my hair. Life is too short to live in black and white.

  12. If I had unlimited resources, I would buy various abandoned properties around the city (the fields that sit empty and neglected for years, the houses that have reached a point where they can never be recovered) and turn the lots into flowering green spaces with native plants that support pollinators and rain gardens to help absorb rain rather having it be runoff that contributes to overwhelming the water infrastructure.

  13. I work in Gary, IN which most Americans have heard of for it’s notorious for dilapidated buildings and crime.

    It is truly a depressing place. As I drive there I feel sorry for the children who live across the street from burned out buildings.

    I saw a documentary that said there were 4000 abandoned buildings in Gary and that about 50 were being torn down yearly. So basically they’ll never get ahead of the problem.

    The problems that plague Gary are immense. It’s going to take vision and investment to turn it around.

    Thankfully I can leave there and go to my hometown where the snow gets plowed and flowers grow.

  14. My house is a mess, in terrible need of a dumpster and a clean out crew. (my retirement plan) I’ve tried tackling one bit at a time, but my daily chores, grocery shopping and a full time job – leading to tiredness – are obstacles.

    For right now, I have little islands of order and beauty. It helps me keep my sanity. One little island is a few pieces of doll furniture on top of my dresser. The table has a cup and saucer on it, and there is a small cat sitting on the little chair eyeing the cup. There is also a bed with a quilt on it, and yes, a cat is sleeping on it also.

  15. I think beautiful surroundings do make a difference in how you feel. I think better when things are less cluttered and green plants make a difference.

  16. I find beauty in colors, nature and hand made objects.I used to always decorate my office with colorful quilts and hand made objects. At home I have ocean pictures of the Pacific Northwest and stained glass window hangings and lamps. I find tiger oak furniture lovely and have antiques and Stickley furniture made of that.Our community is in bend in the river with a lot of open space so I am not sure how I would beautify that more. I would probably find more beauty in a community near the ocean.

  17. This post takes me back to when I worked for Roanoke College. The Admissions Office was in an old home and my office was one of the bedrooms. I put a love seat with chairs in there (separate from my desk, decorated the walls with my crewel work and made that area feel homey. The interviews I conducted there were less intimidating than a regular office might have been. I wanted visitors to the college to feel comfortable. I had a pretty good record of success from the students I encouraged to attend (and by success I mean doing well and staying in college). I’m retired now and my home is decorated to suit me, no one else. So I think I’m surrounded by beauty.

    I love the idea Amary has of providing garden plots in underprivileged areas. And I think there are some flowers you can plant in gardens that control pests, so beauty and usefulness – yay.

    Here in Ocala, we have horse statues everywhere (we claim to be the horse capital of the world *snort*) and they are all painted in creative ways.

  18. My family is spread for more than seventy miles from the Ohio river down route 16, a documented old buffalo trail that led herds from the north in the winter down to the Carolinas then back north in the summers. The route is sprinkled with pockets of stunning beauty but they are all too few. Appalachia is like Leon Uris’ description of Ireland, “A Terrible Beauty”. Literacy is low and inspiration can be hidden behind the grey clouds of depression, thus I would plant perennials and evergreens, holly and mini-libraries all along the entirety of Route 16. Daffodils and deep blue and deep yellow irises, (the state’s official colors) (as well as WVU’s), and daisies and bells of Ireland for Marshall University. Lots of redbud and rhododendron the estate’s official flower and white dogwood. Where possible I’d grace the flowers with some English benches. Thus every mile, through all weather, there would be an opportunity to offset the bleakness of poverty and celebrate the hope of saving struggling dreams. People would want to drive on such a beautiful rural road and with them would come new ideas, and interaction with cultures and societies our children don’t often get to experience or learn about. The economic value to the community would make the beauty sustainable thus persuading and dragging the doubting Philistines along in the wake of beauty, art, and progress.