Last week a client said he had just one more question before we wrapped up a virtual consulting call. “Sure,” I said. “What is it?”
“What’s with the orange wall? Is that a branding thing?”
Indeed, orange has become part of my personal and professional brand. I wear a lot of it, and Jill and I use it liberally in our Story Mode marketing and communications. But the real reason I surround myself with orange is because of a discovery I made 21 years ago
Color sparks my creativity.
Back then, a home renovation project resulted in some unexpected square footage that became my office. It was a challenging floorpan: L-shaped and snug. But a giant window looked out over our backyard, filling the room with light. And with six walls, I had abundant space to display the art I love.
But before I set about hanging that art, those walls needed color.
The vibe I wanted was happy, energizing, and creative. A little color theory research pointed me to the answer: BRIGHT ORANGE.
I love color, and I’m unafraid to splash it boldly.
I chose a shade called “Nasturtium.” The handyman I hired to paint the space raised an eyebrow at me. “You sure?” He asked. “Absolutely,” I said. When the job was done, he swore he’d never worked so fast. He found the color so energizing, three coats covered those walls in record time.
For two decades, entering that room was like hitting an “on” switch. The orange walls signalled to my brain and body that it was time to make things happen.
Flash forward 20 years.
Eventually I waved goodbye to that house and moved to another: a 100-year-old Victorian with a spectacular unfinished attic. A team of miracle workers (aka carpenters and tradespeople) transformed the space into the gorgeous studio I occupy today.
Once the floors were laid and the drywall was up, I handed the crew a paint chip for an even brighter orange called “Navel.” Again, I was met with skepticism. They thought I was nuts. But as the room came together, everyone agreed that bright orange paint resulted in the perfect cocoon for creative work and play.
Can I produce good work in dull surroundings?
Sure. I spent many a year cranking out creative communications from beige cubicles and grey conference rooms. I’ve written speeches in drab airplanes and planned events from nondescript hotel rooms. I once strategized a company reorg in a fast food restaurant, and I scribbled one of my best branding ideas ever in a dark corner of a mahogany bar.
But my bright orange attic is my preferred zone for creativity and productivity. In addition to the color, I’ve equipped the space with essential tools and creature comforts that make work feel more like play. For example:
- My desk has a motorized lift so I can sit, stand, or bounce on a balance ball. Let’s be honest: I never use that ball. Maybe because it’s in the basement. But I could if I wanted to, and having that option gives me a sense of power (if not the ambition to haul that awkward thing up three flights of stairs).
- I’ve tricked out my desk with a wide curved monitor, an ergonomic keyboard tray, and a fancy mic on a boom arm stand. A pair of high-powered speakers go largely unused, because my brain needs silence. Start a podcast or playlist, and I lose all focus.
- On the desk at my right elbow sits an orange teapot snuggled into a crazy purple cozy my sister crocheted years ago. I allow myself two pots of weak tea each day, sipping from a variety of mugs that reflect my sass and fascinations. “Nevertheless she persisted,” Wonder Woman, Ferris Bueller, and the like.
- Sticky notes are always within reach. I keep them in all colors, shapes, and sizes. They are the tiny canvases I use to catch and organize ideas and to remember sh*t that would otherwise escape my cluttered brain.
- Also at hand are jars of colorful writing utensils. Sharpies are crayons for grown-ups, and I keep them in every hue. Life is too short to make notes in black ink.
- Just beyond my reach is a candy jar. Right now it’s full of sea salt caramel chocolate squares. Sometimes peanut butter cups. Sometimes lemon drops. When my energy dips in the mid-afternoon, a single sweet brings me back to attention.
What’s your Creative Zone?
When I mentioned all this to Jill, whose office also sits in an orange attic, she laughed.
“You and I are so different,” she said. “I don’t do creative work in my office. My happy place for thinking and writing is a busy coffee shop.”
She suspects this is a trait she picked up from her father. Her childhood memories have him sitting at a card table in the living room, TV blaring, preparing customer invoices while the family bustled around him.
“I think I got that gene,” she said. “I need background noise. Without voices or music, I get stuck in my own head.”