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May 14, 2016

Suite 3H in the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank, California served as Walt Disney’s personal office from 1940 until 1966. During those 26 years, he created Disneyland, developed plans for Walt Disney World and EPCOT, oversaw television programming like The Mickey Mouse Club, and made animated classics including Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, and Sleeping Beauty—all from within its now-refurbished walls.

After Walt died in 1966, Walt Disney Studios archivist Dave Smith was the first person to enter, preserving and taking inventory of every item down to the number of pencils on his desk. Though portions of Walt’s office have appeared within Disney parks in the past, it has never appeared in full, in its place of origin, until now. This proved to be quite the task for the archival team. As other people had worked in his office since his passing, some items (like carpeting and blinds) had to be sourced from the era, but nearly everything else is authentically Walt’s, from working scripts to calendars and hand-written notes: all placed exactly where he left them.

The suite re-opened earlier this year, and tours are limited to those with gold-level memberships to D23, Disney’s fan club.

Besides the small trinkets and larger-than-life tales that have emerged from the space, what’s most significant is that Walt Disney made so much happen. Whether you're on a virtual tour of Walt's personal space, or seeking inspiration to transform your workspace into a big-idea generator, consider these office tenets to live by. 

Decorate with miniature knicknacks.

Walt was so obsessed with them that he’d receive hundreds as gifts during his lifetime, some of which were neatly lined up in rows on the wall behind his formal office desk. Most of their stories are unknown, but there was a tiny hippo figurine in his working office that was a dead ringer for a Jungle Cruise model!

Stick with slick, early-midcentury design.

In the late 1930s, designer-architect Kem Weber was hired to design the entirety of the Burbank studios. His signature midcentury modern aesthetic can be seen throughout Walt’s office to this day. From multipurpose wooden tables to the font on Disney Studios paperwork, that sleek, clean polish was the essence of Disney decor. One of Weber’s famed Airline Chairs is housed in the office’s private room, but they weren’t just used in 3H—Walt commissioned hundreds of them for animators working on the lot, which now sell at auction for tens of thousands of dollars each.

Don't judge potential productivity by square footage.

While conference rooms are commonplace for company gatherings, back then, workers would cram inside Walt’s cozy office for meetings. Space was so limited that chairs would be brought in for business discussions, tables would be pushed together to form workable surfaces, and some staffers would even grab a seat on the floor. Some of Weber’s furniture could even be joined together to accommodate the brainstorming, planning, and feasts brought in for fellow creatives. In this compact space, they'd work together on anything from future animation classics to the origins of Disneyland, of which a large-scale map still hangs on the wall.

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Creative clutter is a necessity.

One of the most noteworthy parts of the restoration project is Walt’s bookshelf, which was painstakingly replicated by the archival team. The cherished collection of tomes, which includes signed copies of works from C.S. Lewis and Upton Sinclair, is now exactly as Walt left it, down to the direction each book was facing. Worldly trinkets are in abundance, drawings of his children by Norman Rockwell hang on the walls, and two automatons that influenced the audio-animatronics pioneered by Walt Disney Imagineering are on display. That's not even counting the larger things on his desk: Walt would have to gaze over a Grumman Gulfstream II airplane model (one was being built for the studio), and a large bronze bell gifted by the Coast Guard for his achievements on the movie Men Against The Arctic.

Make space for leisure.

Though archivists are keen to mention how Walt considered the studio both his job as well as his hobby, he still carved out a little time at the end of the day for his favorite drink—a Scotch Mist. He spent many Friday evenings with songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman over the piano in his office, listening to songs that would become classics, including “Feed The Birds” from Mary Poppins. In fact, it’s the same set of keys that Pixar Czar John Lasseter had Richard (now 88) play when he overtook the space for a recent Walt-inspired birthday. Word has it they served Walt’s signature drink, his favorite chili, and that there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

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Keep some things private.

Nothing may be more intriguing than the secretive cooking space connected to Walt’s working office. Designed with GE cabinets from 1940 (a company Walt Disney collaborated with for the 1964 World’s Fair) that light up when they open, the ktichen can be entirely concealed or revealed with the push of a button.

Put your achievements on display.

Statues of Mickey and Donald Duck known as “Mousecars” and “Ducksters” were handed out to staff for significant contributions to the company.  Walt himself, naturally, received one of these Mickey awards from his brother Roy, and had a Duckster in his office as well. It may have been easy to get one within his own company, but hey, an accolade is an accolade.

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