Office upgrade: An extraordinary project for Wired magazine

In college, my friend Scott lent me his dog-eared copy of Hackers and said I should read it. I knew my way around the command line, and Scott was trying to convince me to switch majors and join him in the computer science department.

I read the book, was mesmerized by its genius, but decided to stick with journalism. As much as I was fascinated with the people and the ideas in the book, I knew it was because of their stories, not because I wanted to emulate their engineering and programming.

Jump 15 years forward. I was standing in author Steven Levy’s office holding a trash bag and asking him if I could throw away a crumpled business card I’d found at the back of his closet. Turned out, the card belonged to a current executive at a major tech firm, but was from a time when the guy was a nobody at another company. I told myself that if Levy decided to trash the card, I’d slip it into my pocket instead.

He kept the card.

We organized dozens of business cards like the one I found in the closet, tapes of recorded interviews, preview copies of software, baseball memorabilia, hundreds of notepads with names like “Gates” and “Jobs” scrawled on their fronts, research files, files, and more files. While we worked, he told me about how he found Einstein’s brain in Kansas, tracked down Bob Marley and Bruce Springsteen for interviews when he worked for publications in Philadelphia, and explained to me what is really going on with Google in China. I was there to help Levy organize his office for the July issue of Wired magazine, but I felt more like I won a contest to spend a few days with an iconic journalist and author. Although I hadn’t met him before the project started, I felt like we were already good friends because of my connection with his book.

Since the early 1980s, Levy has been reporting on the technology industry in the U.S., and a good portion of that work was in his home office in the Berkshires. We were able to condense, unclutter, and organize more than 15 boxes of files into two elfa rolling file carts. As is pointed out in the article, the portable carts were a must so that “Levy can roll his files with him wherever he goes” to work in his home (when the power goes out in the winter, there is a wood-burning stove in the living room to keep the space warm). We also upgraded all of his equipment — added a second monitor and Fujitsu ScanSnap, installed an automatic digital data backup system, traded up to an APC battery backup power supply, gave him a much-needed paper inbox and task lighting, updated his audio system, and, although you can’t see it, we overhauled his desk drawer and outfitted it with supplies generously donated by the companies of Newell Rubbermaid. It’s difficult to tell from the angle of the photographs, but we hauled two SUV-loads of clutter to the dump and recycling center before the project came to an end.

I encourage you to check out the transformation of Levy’s space, either online or on newsstands. Also, feel welcome to put any questions you might have about the project in the comments, and I’ll try to answer them. I don’t usually speak or write about my work with clients to respect their privacy, but since this one was featured in a national magazine, I feel comfortable sharing a few of the details about the work we did.

Image by Noah Sheldon for Wired.

16 Comments for “Office upgrade: An extraordinary project for Wired magazine”

  1. posted by Michele Connolly, Get Organized Wizard on

    Great job, Erin! There’s no question which workspace will inspire greater motivation and productivity. :)

  2. posted by Jim Deitzel on

    I’m so glad we could be a part of this project. I’ve been a dedicated Wired magazine reader since ’98ish. Wired has helped guide me through the online ecosystem and in some ways allowed me to connect with you via Twitter :)

    In a small way I feel like I was able to give back a little of what Wired has given me.

    Thanks!

  3. posted by leonie on

    What I liked most about this project was that everything in the room appears to be the same but with the clutter gone.

    On shows like Clean House (which I enjoy), the focus seems to be on selling, getting rid of AND THEN BUYING new furniture.

    The items that Erin incorporated are those that solve existing problems with electricity outages and computing issues.

    Great job Erin!

  4. posted by Chris Guillebeau on

    Fantastic, Erin! This really is an extraordinary project. Well done.

  5. posted by cdelphine on

    That’s so cool. Awesome job Erin

  6. posted by Sarah on

    Wow, what a great project! I hope you’re proud of yourself and your work!

  7. posted by sara on

    wow, what a cool thing to get to do! And great solutions to the problems, I think I’ll incorporate some of those here! How did you end up getting the job?

  8. posted by Steven Levy on

    Too flattering! I found the experience great as well, and can report that the newly uncluttered and re-imagined space has made a huge difference as I worked there in the months since — so much that I have managed not to allow things to fall into entropy.

    Steven

  9. posted by BryonM on

    I found your blog because of this article. Kudos!

  10. posted by Leah on

    Hi Erin,

    The office looks great! I wanted to let you know that I think the number 1 and 2 labels in the Wired photo are really the opposite. 1 should be the back up system and 2 should be the rolling filing system. If this is a mistake, hopefully they caught it before publishing!

    Thanks,
    Leah

  11. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @leonie — Keeping his office furniture the same was important to Steven. He loves his desk, and we didn’t see any need to change it once we got rid of all the clutter. We knew that not changing the color of the walls or switching up the furniture would create less drama for the picture, but ultimately this is a place where he works, not a museum. We stuck to what was really important, getting his space organized so that he could work more productively.

    @sara — I have no idea. I think maybe the editor at Wired who headed up the four upgrade projects for the magazine reads the site?? I should call him and ask.

    @Leah — It’s that way in the magazine, too. Thankfully, it’s a pretty obvious blunder :)

  12. posted by Jaimi on

    Erin, I never thought of the cord labeling trick! Thanks for sharing that one.

  13. posted by maggie leyes on

    I saw what you did in Wired, but they should have let you write as well, this post does much more justice to the extreme clean you did–I didn’t really get that feeling in the mag. Nice job.

  14. posted by HelofaMess on

    The room looks fantastic! It’s almost unrecognizable as the same space. I actually had to hunt for the sofa in the before photo. Hope Steven keeps up with keeping it uncluttered.

  15. posted by Peter (a different one) on

    Nice job Erin. I was happy when I saw your name in Wired. I think yours was the best room makeover featured.

  16. posted by Laura on

    Great makeover. The most inspiring part is that Steven was able to keep up with it afterwards– so the choices really met his needs.

    BTW I am sooo going to do that with my cables. I am always hitting them with my feet. And labeling both ends seems obvious, but I never thought to do it.

    Great post :-)

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