In an office designer's sketch, a cubicle is a cubicle is a cubicle. A roomful of them consists of carefully color-coordinated partitions and furniture . . . perhaps punctuated by a few discreet outbursts of selected greenery.
Reality is much messier and more interesting.
Whether we're ensconced in a cubicle, a private office or just a desk of our own, we imprint our territory as assertively as a grizzly scratching tree bark in his part of the forest.
How we do it depends in part on how distinctive our basic space and furnishings are.
Top executives who are allowed to pick out antiques or expensive modern furniture at company expense . . . and original art for their walls . . . tend to limit their personal effects (in the usual sense of the term) to a few family pictures and mementos. Their corner offices and elegant appointments provide distinction enough.
At the other extreme, standardized cubicles or company-issue desks in a row of desks often resemble refrigerator doors, encrusted with a wonderful hodgepodge of snapshots, kids' drawings, newspaper clippings, mottoes of all sorts and favorite cartoons.
Just as there seems to be "body language" in much that we do, there is probably "furnishings language" in our different personalizations of our office environment. Yet I would hesitate to do much interpreting.
I feel confident about spotting a plant freak here and a political activist there. But the seemingly doting daddy who has a plaster paperweight with a child's handprint on it . . . and a spray-painted, sequined orange-juice-can pencil holder . . . could be more concerned with keeping his den chic than with making his office homey. And the obsessed fellow with a partition-full of Brooke Shields photos could be her proud uncle.
I will admit that a TV producer I know, who has practically papered his office with Polaroids of every pretty girl who ever came to his casting sessions . . . each sticking out her tongue . . . has something on his mind that meets the eye.
But much of what I see is like the only draftsman's lamp with tassels on it in the art department: I wouldn't label it as anything but one more example of our universal desire to resist depersonalization.
And universal it is. Some of our conference rooms and hallways reflect only a corporate look -- because they are a no-man's land. But our personal work areas become ours.