The Million-dollar Office Redecoration: It Could've Been Worse

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Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain spent $1.22 million in company dollars to redecorate his office in early 2008. The Daily Beast has a list of all the items on which he spent all that money. Shortly after, it became clear even outside the company that Merrill Lynch was headed for financial disaster. The company was taken over by Bank of America, who announced that Thain resigned his position last Thursday. But was $1.22 million really that extravagant? He could have spent much more on office furniture.

Table

Thain spent $16,000 for a custom coffee table and and another $25,000 for a mahogany pedestal table. Mere chicken feed, of course, since the most expensive table ever sold was the Tufft pier table, which sold for $4.6 million in 1990. It may have been a quirk, since Christie's expected it to sell for $3 million less. You can get a reproduction of this table for a mere $3,595.00 (free shipping!), which doesn't come close to what Thain spent for his tables.

Sofa

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The cost of Thain's new sofa was only $15,000. He could have spent more, but he might have had to sacrifice comfort. This stainless steel sofa designed by Ron Arad was expected to fetch $300,000 at auction. The final sale price was $206,500. The matching chair went for $68,500.

Desk

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Another item on the list was $18,000 for a George IV desk. I found a picture of a George IV mahogany desk, but no price attached (if you have to ask, you can't afford it). $18,000 may be a fair price, but who knows? It doesn't seem like anything special -in fact, it looks a lot like my computer desk, which I snagged from a relative's storage shed. For $18,000, Thain should have had a custom-built Lego desk. Or he could've spent $200,000 on a Power Desk from Parnian Furniture. These are hand-built over five months to exact size and shape specifications for each customer.

Chandelier

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Thain spent $13,000 for a chandelier for his private dining room. Although the question of how one gets a private dining room included with an office burns within me, this is not a lot to pay for a good chandelier. This one went for $450,000. On eBay. In 2006. It contains gold, crystal, and rubies, but the price was really justified by the floor lamp and sconces that came with the deal.

Rugs

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Thain spent a total of $131,000 for area rugs. That sounds like a lot of money, but it doesn't hold a candle to the 5'x7' Persian silk rug that was sold at auction last year for $4,450,500. That's over $700 per square inch! You'd expect to pay a lot for a hand-woven silk rug estimated to be 400-500 years old, especially one from the estate of Doris Duke, but that's a lot of dough to wipe your feet on!

Fabric for a Roman Shade

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Another item on Thain's list of expenditures was $11,000 for fabric for a Roman Shade. I wasn't sure what a Roman Shade is, so I looked up pictures and  instructions for making one. You would have to smile thinking of the CEO of Merrill Lynch making his own shades using WikiHow. The instructions say you only need enough fabric to cover the window, doubled if you use the same fabric for the lining. What would that be, three or four yards, max? What kind of fabric could possibly cost that much? The Belgian textile company Scabal was already known for their super-expensive vicuna wool they call Summit, which costs £1500 per meter, which is about $3,000 a meter, or slightly less for a yard. This past year they outdid themselves by introducing Gold Treasure, a Merino wool fabric with real gold thread woven in, at £4,000 per meter, which is very expensive in American dollars per yard. The normal use for this fabric is to make men's suits. And not very many of them.

Wall Sconces

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Thain paid $2,700 for six wall sconces. That's $450 each, although some of that would have been sales tax. He could have spent a little more and bought Leaf Silhouette Wall Sconces by Fluorescent Hubbardton Forge for $488.70 each, which is marked down from $678.75 each. Bargain!

Mirror

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OK, $5,000 for a mirror? For a mere grand more, Thain could've bought a McLeod Mirror powered by a Mac Mini and a webcam. This mirror takes your image and processes into art.

Chair

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Of course, you must have lots of chairs for the folks who will be impressed by your newly redecorated office. Six dining room chairs cost $37,000, and two more chairs ran an additional $87,000. I can understand how it would cost more than usual to buy dining room chairs without the table -a store usually doesn't want to split up a set. Chairs are more expensive in the United Arab Emirates. This office chair was designed by Hadi Teherani and features gold plating. It's yours for €50,000 or $65,500. Perfect for supporting your tush while you count the money, whether it's from oil wells or investors.

Sooner or later, we will see pictures of the CEO's office at Merrill Lynch and decide if he spend the company's money wisely. Or you can read between the lines.

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January 26, 2009 - 2:50am
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