I work in The Chanin Building in New York, a building that has landmark status but escapes a lot of notice because it’s next to the Chrysler and Grand Central. But it’s gorgeous enough that when I give my introduction to the new employees each week at our orientation sessions, I include some facts about the building as part of my schtick.
And it is gorgeous. The front facade is this beautiful black marble for the first five feet, while over it are a series of brass plaques depicting what are supposed to be “scenes from evolution” – weird fossily sea creatures and seaweedy plants giving way to flowers, grasses, trees, and ducks. The inside lobby is even more jaw-dropping, with spires and eagles and men in heroic poses and Italian marble. One of the subways exits into our lobby, so a lot of people will wander in by accident and then try to get a picture of the lobby; unfortunately, the security staff frowns on that, and will bark out “NO PICTURES!” any time they see someone firing up a camera. This leaf is on the outside, though, and is presumably okay (or they just didn’t see me).
About ten years ago I was similarly awestruck when I visited Chicago’s Art Institute and saw the Chicago Stock Exhange Trading Room; this exact kind of art deco/Arts and Crafts/Art Noveau design work is by far my favorite, so I wandered around in the room, starry-eyed as I reviewed the stained glass and graceful ornamentation. This was worthy of a banquet hall, I thought, but it had been used for an office space.
I worked in finance at the time, and by contrast, the office where I worked was done in dirty white paint, with a couple of random paintings here and there. There was a series of huge blown-up photos decorating one floor where the photographer had taken various animals and posed them in a ruined hotel, propped up next to placards with Latin gibberish written next to them. They were universally hated.
How much better, I thought, to have your office decorated like this. To surround yourself with beauty in the place where you worked. It actually honors the work everyone’s doing; it makes them feel that what they are doing has value, that they have value, if they are given a good place in which to work.
I still think that today.