Can "meticulous" be used to describe a room or some other inanimate object, or is it only descriptive of behavior?
Google Books English corpus through 2000 returns three instances of "meticulous room" entering the corpus between 1928 and the end of 1985:
- the clutter spread around the normally meticulous room (1984);
- the only thing out of place in that meticulous room (1958);
- pleasant, meticulous room (1928).
Two occurrences appear in 1986:
- a meticulous room is a healthy room (1986);
- The usually meticulous room looked as if (1986).
The 1986 appearances were apparently in the heyday of meticulous rooms. Use of that particular phrase in the Google collection dropped off sharply afterward, from near-zero to nearer-zero.
These appearances, however, document only the one phrase, "meticulous room". Uses with other concrete nouns certainly occur.
Notably, five of the seven quotations given in the OED Online for the
careful, punctilious, scrupulous, precise
meaning of meticulous, modify abstract nouns:
- meticulous propriety (1877);
- meticulous discipline (1904);
- meticulous and fussy restrictions (1935);
- meticulous plan (1952);
- meticulous English accent (1973).
The other two quotations refer directly to behaviors:
- we do not hold ourselves peculiarly meticulous (1827);
- how meticulous his approach was (1990).
In my opinion, (and I should stress opinion because I think this ultimately comes down to writing preference and "feeling" for this word) meticulous should really be used as an adjective to describe behaviors, actions or things that were the result of behaviors.
The AHD 5th edition gives this definition for meticulous: Showing or acting with extreme care and concern for details. Notice the word "showing." Etymonline says that the first use in the sense of "fussy about details" was in 1827 and that the word comes from Latin where it meant timid or fearful.
Examples in AHD and Oxford Writer's Thesaurus give sentences for meticulous which use it as an attributive adjective.
Meticulous work Meticulous examination Meticulous details meticulous preparation meticulous attention
In my opinion, if you wanted to describe a room, you might want to use the passive and say "meticulously arranged / detailed / ordered / set up / etc." as in "He lived alone, in a meticulously arranged room." or "The surgeon made sure his room was meticulously sterilized before each and every procedure." Notice that in these examples, there is an action (arrange and sterilize) that is being described as meticulous.
Rules, details, bureaucracy, system, procedure, and other processes are inanimate (even though they were set into motion by people). I think if you used meticulous for those, people would understand, however I think there are better adjectives to describe those things such as rigid, careful, fussy, nit-picky, tedious, etc.
If I were editing a piece of writing and came across a sentence such as "He wore a meticulous suit." or "He worked at a meticulous desk." I would ask the writer to provide more details such as "He wore a meticulously tailored suit." or "He couldn't work unless his desk was meticulously arranged--every pencil sharpened to a needle point, exactly 25 sheets of spare paper to his left (and aligned 90 degrees with the edge), and finally a cup of Ethiopian decaf two inches from his dictionary." Now, meticulous means something.