Where We Work: Instructor Creates Soothing Environment for Students

Posted: July 16, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron

“When students come to see me,” says Don Starr, academic advisor and adjunct instructor in the Department of Art and Visual Technology, “they’re often in some kind of academic trouble. So I wanted to make my office more comforting, more homelike, to establish some comfort level.”

Relying on Ikea and Home Depot, Starr decorated his windowless, 10-by-12-foot space with modern, light-colored furniture, and added soft lighting fixtures. To camouflage tack holes and imperfections, he painted the walls in a base coat of gray, then hand-brushed a silver metallic paint on top for a sweeping, feathery finish. “I added this Asian character stamp for variety,” he says, pointing to a quarter-sized decoration on the wall that is stamped in regular intervals around the room.

For his student advisees, Starr placed a wooden straight-backed chair with a deep cushion next to a café-cum-conference table (“far enough away from my computer screen so they can’t read over my shoulder”). To add “a sense of whimsy,” he perched a fake bug, about the size of a cicada, atop a glowing pendant lamp. He lined a shelf above his desk with three silk orchids in ceramic pots. And in the space between the shelf and the desk, he hung large, decorative wooden letters that combine with a round clock to spell “Don.”

Don Starr
Don Starr, advisor and adjunct instructor in the Department of

Art and Visual Technology, redecorated his office to create a

serene atmosphere.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Starr extends his office by placing two café chairs side-by-side in the hallway outside his office to signal students that he is available for advising. On one of the chairs, he leaves a clipboard with a form for students to complete while they are waiting to see him. When he’s working on other things, he brings the chairs inside.

And how much did the office redecoration cost? Practically nothing. He recycled the furniture from the defunct Design World office, which he formerly managed. “This was about $10 ‘as is,’ from Ikea,” he says, patting his sleek, L-shaped desk top. “The paint came from the ‘already-mixed’ bin,” he adds, pulling a can from a shelf. He installed the shelving and lighting himself—he keeps a drill and a level handy in a file drawer.

A former display designer for Neiman Marcus and Hecht’s, Starr strongly believes that the way an office is decorated conveys a “kind of emotion.” When he painted the walls in the Johnson Center Copy Center, for example, he wanted to project “energy, excitement, and vibrancy.” In his office, he’s going for “serenity.”

“It’s all about what you’re trying to communicate,” he says.

Do you have an interesting work space or know of one on campus? Let us know. E-mail the Gazette at gazette@gmu.edu.

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