Extreme Makeovers

Rick Frisiello uses a hand grenade as a doorstop, but that’s not the only reason his office can put people he’s never met on edge. Perhaps it’s the Black Sabbath poster, or the X-ray of his broken hand (the result of a skateboard wipeout), or the gel he wiped on his windows so the sun sprays psychedelic colors across his workspace.

For many creative types, the office is a private canvas, and the urge to tack, nail and color the place into shape is palpable. For Frisiello, associate creative director at Arnold in Boston, his workplace is the private basement he never had in high school, a storage area for things his live-in girlfriend doesn’t want at home, and what he calls “a bit of an oasis in an otherwise bland environment.”

It’s a place many of his colleagues like, too. It attracts account executives looking for a hideout and nappers who enjoy sprawling out on his eight-foot-long, orange, sticker-covered couch, which came from an old Howard Johnson hotel. It’s even a popular meeting place. “I think people are more productive when they don’t feel so stiff or are sitting around a big table,” says Frisiello, 37. “It’s informal, and that’s kind of the way we try to roll here.”

Steve Drifka, an art director at Element 79 Partners in Chicago, takes a different approach with his office. Drifka says he likes to keep his life simple, and he describes himself as organized but fun and creative. He has only two items hanging on his walls, both nabbed from photo shoots: One is a deli “Now Serving” digital counter, which he sees as an ideal embodiment of his busy work life. The other is a mounted head of a jackalope, a mythical rabbit-with-antlers creature. “I think it’s a little quirky,” says Drifka, 34. “I think the jackalope on my concepting wall kind of gives that wall some added stature.”

There’s a myth surrounding the decorations in Haley Rushing’s office at GSD&M in Austin, Texas, as well. She has more than 200 gloves tacked to the wall, all different sizes and styles, creeping vinelike around the entryway. When tours come by, they’re often told that the gloves represent all the different types of consumers in the marketplace. “That’s a good story,” says Rushing, 32, the agency’s chief planning officer. “Truth be told, they are an odd fetish that I have.”

Rushing started collecting lost gloves 12 years ago and hasn’t stopped since. Others have gotten involved in her project, too. People who have visited the agency from Japan, Norway and Canada have sent her gloves they’ve found. Rushing says the wall entertains her, but even she finds some truth in the myth. “You can see very quickly all the roles people play,” she says.

Of course, what would an ad person’s area be without client paraphernalia? Carlos Montemayor, president of the San Antonio office of GlobalHue, lines his shelves with items representing Chrysler, Corona and Continental Airlines. Chrysler models are among the 20 miniature cars Montemayor has been collecting since he was 5 years old. He also has a few model Continental planes and a particularly bright neon Corona sign. Montemayor, 58, also has a 1948 Wurlitzer jukebox in his office. The items “create a comfort zone, and that helps me relax,” he says.

Two time zones away, the Los Angeles office of Ben Wiener, CEO of WongDoody, serves as a shrine of sorts honoring his favorite dog breed—the wiener dog, of course, officially known as the dachshund. Wiener started the collection five years ago when he had a photograph taken of himself and his wife next to the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, which happened to drive past the site of his wedding in Las Vegas. A few months later he added a photo of his new wiener dog, Velvet.

Wiener, 32, now has several dozen wiener-dog collectibles: wooden tchotchkes, calendars, postcards, etc. He didn’t buy any of them himself—all were gifts from colleagues (or interviewees)—but he finds the collection somehow therapeutic. “There’s nothing like a lot of stupid dog kitsch to help you keep things in perspective,” he says.