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Spruce up that office, but not too much

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Susan Taylor, an interior designer who has worked on offices for advisers, has an interesting take on desks: She doesn’t like them, at least for this profession.

Desks convey the person behind it as an authority figure, which isn’t conducive to a relaxed discussion about personal finances, Taylor says.

Instead, go for comfortable chairs, and for those who want a table, keep it at coffee table height, “to lower barriers to communication,” she says.

Taylor, who operates a home and office decor shop called Black-eyed Susan in Holicong, Pennsylvania, also suggests a clock with large numbers “so you don’t have to peer at it or your watch to check on the time during a client discussion.”

As for general office appearance, she argues for “getting away from burgundies and hunter greens,” opting instead for “soft grays and stone colors.”

Teresa Riccobuono, a professional organizer and founding principal of Simply Organized, a business consulting firm in San Francisco and a former adviser, agrees that making the office comfortable is critical to success.

“You’ve only got seconds to make a first impression,” she says, adding, “think about how you feel when you walk into some professional’s office.”

Riccobuono’s suggestion is for comfortable chairs, in both the waiting room and office, preferably upholstered, and with armrests to facilitate standing for elderly clients.

Taylor says that for the sake of the elderly, who don’t like to require assistance when standing, chairs seats should be a minimum of 21 inches above the floor.

Stephen Boswell, president of Greensboro, North Carolina-based the Oechsli Institute, which trains advisers, says, “We think that having an attractive office is important for an advisory business, but the style can vary according to the style of the adviser. It can be homey and comfortable, or it can be spare and modern. What it can’t be is cluttered.”

All three experts stress the importance of upgrading the decor of the office bathroom, which should also be handicapped accessible.

Although Taylor says that hiring a professional decorator to do an office makeover can run from $20,000 up, including the cost of design advice, furnishings and labor such as carpet installation and painting, Boswell says it needn’t be that costly.

In fact, he cautions about overdoing things, especially for young advisers who are just starting out.

“You want it nice but not too nice. You don’t want people wondering if that’s where their fees are going,” he says.

This story is part of a 30-30 series on smart strategies for RIAs.

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