Most of us spend at least 40 hours a week at work, much of that time is spent at our desks. We’re composing emails, we’re triaging tasks, we’re jumping on phone calls, we’re strategizing with co-workers. Your office is your home away from home, and your desk is essentially your bedroom. Shouldn’t you make it your own and ensure that it’s comfortable?

“It baffles me that while we spend so much time at work, most people don’t bring their personality to their space,” says Timothy Strudwick, art director at Equinox. “We all need to feel like we belong; why not make your workspace like your home space?”

Below, we spoke with a handful of men about how they design their workspaces as reflections of their personalities and as a way to drive productivity and creativity.

The Dark Loft


Oliver Ripley is the co-founder and CEO for Ocean Group, a private investment company that builds businesses in high-growth industries to create long-term value. He is also co-founder and CEO for Black Ocean, a digital media company part of Ocean Group’s holdings based out of their New York Offices (the Firehouse, pictured above).

The vibe… Clean, simple, organic and dark. The overall vibe is more about the building as a whole than the office alone. Our goal in redeveloping the building was to create a place where people would truly want to come to work, collaborate and be inspired, and I think we’ve accomplished that.

The environment… I surround myself with art, books, light and space. It helps clear my mind. I also have a loft area in my office, which gives me an alternative workspace to my desk when needed. The desk itself is made out of the original floors of the firehouse, which was opened September 11, 1895 (there’s even a New York Times article chronicling the opening for its original tenants, Fire Patrol No. 3).

What’s on my desk…

  • Six-pack of Smartwater: I drink it throughout the day to stay hydrated. It’s the best tasting water.
  • Emergen-C and Aloha dried green juice powder (developed by my friend and highly recommended): I tend to travel a lot, so I mix the two and it helps my immune system stay healthy. It also makes the water taste better!
  • A black and gold Philippe Stark gun lamp, bought in Moscow: I think its a cool piece that’s both functional and speaks to the overall aesthetic of the Firehouse itself.
  • Insanity photograph from Burning Man: We built the white ocean camp this year, and on our last day we went into the playa to take group photos. This photo was blown up by one of our friends and given to us as a present
  • My books: The James Bond Archives 007 edited by Paul Duncan. Ian Fleming went to my school, and he named some of the bond villains after boys that bullied him. There is a list of boys that attended my house, and Scaramanga’s name was above my door in my first year, and I would see it every day. I soon became a diehard Bond fan. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy — I grew up reading Russian literature, and my grandad produced the Soviet movie, which is almost 8 hours long, won an Oscar and was the most expensive movie in Soviet history.Backgammon by Magriel. It’s the bible, and it’s next to a backgammon board from — I’m obsessed. If I’m not playing using my set, then I’m playing on my phone.
  • A golden statue of Genghis Khan -– one of the most fascinating historical figures in my opinion. The statue was given to me as a present by a dear Mongolian friend who brought it all the way from Ulan Bator.

The Screen Trifecta


Steve Martocci is a co-founder of GroupMe, which was sold to Skype for $85 million in 2011. Today, he’s working on his music startup Splice, cofounded with Matt Aimonetti, a former LivingSocial and Sony PlayStation engineer.

The vibe… Comfortable and creative.

The environment… I like keeping my desk up during the day so I can move around. It allows me to quickly walk over and get some email done between meetings. When I need to lock in and focus, I drop it down and get to work — hours can go by without even noticing.

What’s on my desk…

  • Kinesis keyboard: It’s very ergonomic and puts your thumbs to use for more than just the space bar. This is important for me because I broke my left wrist three times and had two surgeries on it. I used to have a lot of pain, and I use this to prevent it from returning.
  • Vertical monitor: I love using this when debugging front-end code. I keep the browser on top and the web inspector below.
  • Nexus 5 wireless charger: It makes it easy to drop my phone down when I’m in the middle of doing something. Things can get hectic around the office, and I hate taking time to plug things in over and over.
  • Imprint comfort mat: When you have a standing desk, a good mat is the key to endurance. It helps me stay comfortable even after standing for long periods of time.
  • A lot of the time I have the Abelton Push on my desk, since making music is now also a part of my job. The Push is an incredibly intuitive instrument/controller that has helped me get deeper into Ableton. It’s really fun to play on — though I think I drive the office a little crazy with the guitar shreds I play when I leave my desk for a meeting.

The Corner Loft


Philip Kafka is the president and founder of Prince Media Co, which buys and markets walls for marketing in Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, Downtown Los Angeles, Detroit and parts of San Francisco.

The vibe… As an athlete [Kafka was previously a professional tennis player], I know that my best performances occurred when I was relaxed. We play great music in the office, we have a vibrant art collection and we don’t have a formal dress code (but you do have to look good!). All in all, we believe that a relaxed but serious environment produces the best results. We have a relaxed vibe for a purpose, not simply for the sake of being relaxing — but there is a point where too relaxed an environment diminishes returns.

The environment… I am comfortable where I work and can spend hours in my workspace. Being in the office is never tedious, and it doesn’t feel like a task. I look out onto Houston and Broadway, so the office pace never seems slow.

What’s on my desk…

  • Money tree: The name speaks for itself!
  • The cube on the corner: It’s by my artist friend, Charles Lutz. When I first started my company I was marketing BLANK walls, and I did a collaboration with Charles where we placed art on a handful of the walls I had just developed. His art made the walls easier to market! He gave me this nice piece as a gift, and not only do I like it, but it also reminds me of where I started.
  • Teapot: Nothing like drinking a short cup of hot tea to keep the mind sharp.
  • MoMa cube light: People love it, and so do I. Gives the desk a nice buzzzzzz when I’m working late.
  • Industrial C-clamps: They remind me that I’m a working man. I like the industrial vibe they give off, and they remind me to do the heavy lifting.
  • Business card holder: This was a thoughtful gift from Stephanie, my associate. It’s made from reclaimed bike parts. She got it for me because I wouldn’t be able to make as much business as I do without my bike!

The Stand-Up Coder


Rahil Sondhi is a software engineer at InternMatch, an online platform connecting the intern candidates and employers.

The vibe… InternMatch has a fun vibe. Everyone is working hard, but we have nerf guns, footballs and an open office, so it’s easy to get to know everyone and be friends rather than just co-workers.

The environment… Our office uses a lot of thinking from the Stanford design school. There are different types of spaces (couches, standing whiteboards, small breakout rooms, etc.) so you can always find the right working environment for the type of project you are working on. Embracing the open-concept office has made us more collaborative and productive. I certainly love the flow of information across the office, the ability to innovate and the spirit of camaraderie with my coworkers.

What’s on my desk… I’m a minimalist and a clean freak. That means I only have exactly what I need and no clutter. I have my 13″ MacBook Pro sitting on an mStand Laptop Stand, a 23″ ViewSonic IPS monitor, a Kinesis Freestyle2 split keyboard, an Apple Magic Mouse, and a Bluelounge Milo to hold my phone. I always try to ensure I have a sketchbook nearby, just in case I need to work out a new idea or easily take it with me on the go. Technology is great, but it doesn’t mean all of the traditional tools need to be left to the wayside.

The Creative Hub


Stephen Gates is ‎VP and creative director of global brand design at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

The vibe… It is was deliberately designed to have a creative look but a welcoming vibe. Because of how much time we spend in the office, I wanted it to be a place that felt more like home than an office.

The environment… I arrange my office to match my creative process, which is pretty evenly split between outlining the rational elements that make up a creative strategy and the visual elements that make up their design. So I use my desk for the rational elements like writing, sketching and making notes. The combination works for me, and having our work hanging in my office makes it a gathering place for the team, who made my office a ‘factory’ Foursquare check-in and put a Foursquare sticker on my door.

What’s on my desk…

  • 8-bit Post-It note self-portrait: I was working and traveling in Europe for a few weeks at the end of last year, and when I came back I found that my team had created a huge 8-bit-style self-portrait of me on the wall of my office out of Post-It notes. I loved it so much I never wanted to take it down.
  • Hanging crit rail: I use a long crit rail to hang sketches, photos and designs from all of our ongoing projects. I like seeing digital work in an analog form, and having our work hanging in my office makes it a gathering place for the team and clients to come in and discuss problems and ideas with me.
  • Urban Vinyl toy collection: It is the cliched part of any designer’s office, but I’ve been collecting designer toys for over a decade, and my collection has reached a point where some of it has spilled out of my house and into my office.

The Co-Worker


Mark Dorison is a DUMBO-based independent iOS and web developer. He is the principal consultant at Arkic and co-founder of City Notes, which publishes city guide apps and travel content.

The vibe… Cheerful, clean and organized.

The environment… Unlike some of my other studiomates [at Swissmiss’ Brooklyn Studiomatesco-working space], all of my work is digital, so I like to have a sparse physical workspace to start my day. Things sometimes accumulate, but I try to straighten it up before I leave each evening, and anything that must remain is a giant blinking to-do in my mind.

What’s on my desk…

  • Roll & Hill modo desk lamp: My wife and I received this as a wedding present. It reminds me of her and of our wonderful friends.
  • Jambox: For filling the studio with music.
  • iPad Mini: If I am not using it for testing an iOS app I am working on, I use the iPad once or twice a day for a quick reading-break away from my desk.
  • University of Florida water bottle: I have to represent my alma mater. Go Gators!
  • My dog, Hudson (technically he’s more ‘under’ than ‘on’ the desk): I try to bring him a few times a month, or just enough so that everyone in the studio is still excited to see him.

The Data Den


Vijay Subramanian is chief analytics officer at Rent the Runway, where he uses big data to help drive business decisions across marketing, operations, product and technology, inventory buying and planning, and customer service.

The vibe… Functional with a quirky personality. There are allusions to both science and hip hop!

The environment… Standing/being in motion most of the day feels healthy and energizing. I think better on my feet (no pun intended), especially at the numerous impromptu meetings at my desk. When I need to rest and reflect, I flex to the sitting position.

What’s on my desk…

  • Coffee mug: The design on the mug represents the equations we are unlocking at Rent the Runway
  • The $ chain is hopefully the result of such equations.
  • Rent the Runway water bottle: I had a choice of black and pink, and naturally gravitated toward pink.

The Quirky Nook


Timothy Strudwick is the art director at Equinox.

The vibe… My desk vibe is organized chaos — the walls are a mess and the desk is immaculate. It’s a living collage of inspiration that keeps me motivated. Everything has its place.

The environment… It’s terribly important that my desk space feel like my space. Usually one of the first things I do with jobs is ‘move in.’ I enjoy evolving my desk space over time with my work. I’ve traveled with totems and scraps of artwork for years at a time for them to finally find a place on my desk or walls. Quiet music, a nice candle and loads of visual stimulation help me to focus on my role within the creative department.

What’s on my desk…

  • ‘Bitches in glass houses shouldn’t throw bitches’: This was given to me by my Creative Director Liz Nolan. It reminds me how lucky I am to have a partner and boss that gets me and totally thinks on the same plane as I do. It also reminds me to have fun. I am blessed to love what I do; even when it’s tough, it’s still fun.
  • Framed Polaroid of pigeons: These pigeons flew into my first apartment when I moved to New York 10 years ago. It’s a reminder to me of how crazy and unpredictable this city can be, and of how far I have come in my career.
  • Gloomy Bear: He’s pink and cute and looks totally lovable and covered in gore. I think it’s such design genius; I love the subversive nature of it. It’s part of what I do — take something and turn it on its head for our members to view through a different lens.
  • My Swiss ball: It keeps me upright, and I find myself absentmindedly bouncing along to my music while I work (rather embarrassing when I don’t realize co-workers are watching). And like many things about Equinox, it’s good for me.
  • Pantone Cool Grey 10C chair: My studio manager bought it for my desk before I arrived — how could she have known that it was the perfect color for me! I am very attached to it.

The Hardware Haven


Ernie Aguilar is staff firmware engineer at Whistle Labs in San Francisco.

The vibe… The vibe of the desk is much like that of a miniature laboratory. Many times, when we’re debugging hardware, it’s more efficient to just sit at my desk as opposed to in our real lab, because most of the tools we need are all right here. The desk is always ready for action. Many fun puzzles have been solved (or sometimes left as a mystery) here.

The environment… As a constant reminder of how far we’ve come, I like to keep some of the historical pieces of our projects on the desk as a reminder of where we’ve been and obstacles we’ve overcome. These old prototypes sometimes get recycled into newer projects, too. In terms of raw efficiency, the desk has a healthy amount of monitor real estate. One third is dedicated to a Windows-based firmware development virtual machine. The rest is dedicated to other stuff, reviewing schematics/datasheets, email, browsing baby animals on reddit, and keeping my to-do list refreshed. Most of my inspiration comes from all of the amazing dogs we have in the office. Fortunately, a couple of them have beds nearby, which is great!

What’s on my desk…

  • Nerf basketball goal: We have a saying on the firmware team that we borrowed from Nike: “Just Dunk It.” It’s our Hakuna Matata around here, and we use it for expressing good situations and bad. It has evolved into a super versatile catch-all mantra.
  • Knock on wood: Our cofounder Steve’s grandfather made everyone handcrafted pieces of wood with the Whistle logo. He believes that knocking on wood brings good luck, and he makes them just for fun. We often knock on these when someone makes a statement that we hope ends up being true. Sometimes I use it for holding open my window too, so it’s a highly useful piece of lumber.
  • Don’t not enter (not pictured): There’s a little window with wood all around it on the side of my desk that’s a fun project we worked on at the Freescale Technology Forum 2014 hackathon. It is an Internet-enabled cat door that you can control from your iPhone. Sparkles puts her paw on the capacitive touch sensor, you get a notification, and make a decision on whether or not to let her in. We ended up winning the grand prize at FTF, and we’re still tweaking it to do other cool stuff. It’s on my desk because I’m currently adding stealthy new features to it.
  • Fortune cookie wisdom: I keep a fortune that I recovered from a cookie taped to my monitor. I try to incorporate its message into my day-to-day: ‘Excuses are easy to manufacture, and hard to sell.’

The Open-Floorplan Desk


Stephan Hoefnagels is the director of user experience at ZocDoc. His team is responsible for designing, including the mobile apps, tools for doctors, and communications and marketing collateral.

The vibe… We’re always iterating and testing out new things at ZocDoc, and my team’s workspace reflects this. We frequently move desks so that team members who are working closely on a particular project can sit together. The environment is casual — some like to sit on exercise balls, others prefer their makeshift standing desks. We’ve found when employees are most comfortable, they are also at their most creative.

The environment… I think my desk is seen as a calm place within a flurry of activity. But actually, I try not to spend a lot of time at my desk. I spend most of my time at my team’s desks to have design reviews, informal brainstorms and work together towards solutions.

What’s on my desk…

  • Device lab: This is where we test how our work is displayed both on various browsers and on different devices including phones and tablets. This allows us to ensure that the user experience is smooth and cohesive across all platforms.
  • Ollie award: At the end of every year, we give out this award to recognize seven employees who exemplify each of ZocDoc’s seven core values. The Ollie on my desk is an early 3D-printed prototype of the statuette.
  • Design boards: We display all of our works-in-progress on large boards around the office. This makes it easy to visualize the end product, discuss its direction and review our work collaboratively.
  • Pantone color swatches: I consult this often to make sure our colors are consistent across all type of media. When it comes to color, attention to detail is key. These swatches allows us to ensure that the colors on the ZocDoc site are the exact same whether they are displayed on a computer screen or printed out.

The Zen Workspace


Tom Wahlin is product designer at Cover in New York.

The vibe… Minimal and monochromatic. When my desk is organized, my thoughts are organized.

The environment… The overall style of the objects on my desk are sparse and reserved — which correlates with the way I design. Usually, the more simplistic something is, the easier it is to understand.

What’s on my desk…

  • Sketchbook and Zebra pencils: In this digital age it’s nice (and extremely fast) to sketch layout ideas and design flows on paper before using a computer. Slinging pixels around in Photoshop can be fast, but not pencil-and paper-fast.
  • Pioneer HDJ-1000 Headphones: I mix and produce music as an additional creative outlet and hobby. These headphones come in handy while at the office — great to block out distractions and focus on the deep problem solving stages of a design.
  • Matchbook from Charlie Bird: Working with Cover is really great way to stay up to date on the best restaurants in the city. My current favorite is Charlie Bird: a modern Italian restaurant with a hip-hop vibe. Nice aesthetic choices on the matchbook, too.
  • The Laddie Ten Scotch from Bruichladdich: Good tasting single malt. Nice looking bottle. You know, for when you need that extra kick of creativity.
  • The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst: This is basically the bible for any designer that loves typography. Most of my work strips away unnecessary elements down to the core of a message or experience. Solid typography is a must for this style of design.

The Punchy Desktop


Zach Cole is social media manager at Lyft in San Francisco.

The vibe… Our brand’s space at Lyft is always calm, colorful and creative. We all sit in pods, which makes it easy to just holler across the table to ask a question or start an impromptu brainstorm. None of our work is created in isolation; the workspace is designed to be as collaborative as possible.

The environment… I try to keep my desk free from too much clutter (although I sometimes fail) so that I can focus better. To keep things lively, we have a number of plants around the office, and I have a couple on my desk. I also like to keep a few objects around that have been part of my Lyft journey.

What’s on my desk…

  • California coffee mug: This given to me for free by Bear State Coffee. I always tell people that San Francisco takes coffee really seriously, and it’s fun to have a mug that reflects this sentiment.
  • Pink boombox: It was a prop we used at Lyft Recess during this year’s SXSW. We had an amazing time there bringing a bit of nostalgia and delight to the streets of Austin.
  • Hot Wheels cars: These are from when we created stop-motion videos on Instagram for new city launches. These cars were used in the Indianapolis video.
  • Custom notebook: My notebook was a generic notebook with someone else’s logo on it that I had lying around. I re-skinned it the way they teach you in high school with textbooks, and drew my own Lyft logo. I prefer to use pen and paper to keep notes and track the projects I’m working on.
  • Cards from coworkers: I have a stack of cards that I’ve received from co-workers over time. Sometimes for no real reason at all you’ll get a nice note from a co-worker here, and it just makes your day. I like keeping these around as reminders of the amazing people I get to work with every day.


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