CUBICLE COUTURE: I've been an image consultant for 25 years, and often guided salon architects in using color and patterns. Demand grew from working with people on colors and clothing to designing their homes and businesses. Clients talked about their drab offices, so I started researching and talking with sociologists and psychiatrists for insights into enhancing workspace productivity. I established Systems Design, Inc. (www.systemsdesignbuild.com) in 2002 to help businesses create warmer, more productive environments.

FROM BLAH TO AAAHHHH: I combine simple elements -- fabric, patterns, colors, wood and other finishes -- to bring balance, remove toxic energy and help people work better together. People spend as much time with officemates as with family, so harmony is important. Bring your own creativity into your environment, and get control over your space. Rearrange furniture so you can move easily and you're not seated at your desk all the time.

BRIGHT IDEAS: Good lighting is a key thing you can do to enhance how you see, feel and manage your work. Choose a lamp with a dimmer or switch to control the brightness, and get a halogen bulb, a coated bulb or a screen to reduce glare. Put things within easy reach, and bring in an ergonomic chair to relieve stress.

COLOR CODED: Remember, this is a work environment. Bright, light colors can distract you and distract others from you. Choose calming muted colors instead, and add brightness with accessories. Bring a piece of art, something that makes you happy and exemplifies your strengths. Don't have a hodgepodge of family photos be the first thing people notice when coming into your space -- put them in coordinated frames in the background. What should be in focus is you -- and your good work.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT: For the Department of Justice, we designed new backdrops and window treatments to enhance how people coming before the parole board and the interviewers perceive each other. We replaced deep, distracting ruddy tones -- which made people appear sharp and hard -- with neutral shades of blue and beige that worked to soften people's facial features. This helped reduce tension and enabled people to communicate better.

IN THE PINK: People assume they can't use pastels for office furniture, but there are neutral ones you can build upon with finishes, such metals and woods, to enhance light colors and retain an authoritative feel. The same goes for stripes, checks, paisleys. When you use colors and patterns to create an atmosphere that's pleasant and soothing to the eye, you feel good, feel more patient and think more clearly.

As told to Robin Tierney

Darlene Mathis

designs

offices with calming, muted

colors

that she says help workers

become more

productive.