Sol Harris Day Architecture

Furnishing Your Classroom for the Future: Part II, The Practicality

Thursday, October 31, 2019
By Yvette Zingery, Partner - Interior Design / Business Development
In Design, Planning

We discussed in our first installment the impact that the right furniture can have when designing a ‘high-performance learning environment’. Everything from movement to choice comes into play when creating a school that aims to put the needs of the student first. We know that enabling student-centered learning is a top priority for many districts, both those involved with large building projects, as well as those just doing summertime renovations. Today we will focus on two furniture types that are gaining momentum in schools: soft seating and sit-to-stand.

Furnishing Your Classroom for the Future: Part II, The Practicality

Getting Comfy

Lounge furniture in school environments has become more common than ever before. But with comfort comes some compromise. Those hard plastic chairs with connected desks we all sat in as kids were uncomfortable and discouraged mobility, but they lasted forever. Now as we introduce alternative materials into the classrooms, such as upholstery, we are faced with new considerations – like cleanability, durability, and longevity. Also, up-front cost is a challenge. High-quality commercial furniture that can withstand the abuse of a school environment comes with a high price tag. For example, a single seat lounge chair with back comes in around $750 (or more, depending on features and fabric selection). Not only are the costs higher than traditional school furniture, but the warranties are shorter. The upholstery is typically only warranted for one to five years by the manufacturer - which in a school environment, is far from sufficient.

Furnishing Your Classroom for the Future: Part II, The Practicality

Materials Matter

A key component of selecting the right lounge furniture is to select the right materials. Upholstery has limitless options, with more options and technologies popping up all the time. For example, there used to be only a few options for “ink-resistant” textiles, but now there are many. Traditionally, vinyl has been the best workhorse upholstery for abusive environments. We also see a lot of polyurethanes and the more environmentally-friendly (vinyl-free) Silicas. Both are non-woven and cleanable, in many cases, with diluted bleach. They are frequently used in health care environments which (not surprisingly) have the most rigorous cleaning requirements. Polyurethanes offer the advantage of having a softer hand, feeling less institutional than vinyl. From an environmental standpoint, some clients wish to avoid vinyl altogether – if this is the case, Silica is an alternative.

Furnishing Your Classroom for the Future: Part II, The Practicality

Standing Height Desks

The concept of sit-to-stand desks is becoming increasingly popular. The ability for the student (or teacher) to adjust their desk from sitting-to-standing position allows them to change postures throughout the day, based on their activity and preference. For most districts, the cost (anywhere from double to triple the cost of a non-adjustable model) is prohibitive. A cost-effective alternative to sit-to-stand functionality on every desk or table would be to provide some standing-height tables (bar-height, or counter-height, depending on the age of the student) and some sitting-height, and rely on the freedom of movement within the classroom to let kids choose the right posture for themselves.

Furnishing Your Classroom for the Future: Part II, The Practicality

Trends with Staying Power

One thing we as designers find incredibly interesting in all of this, is the amount of cross-over between trends in education that we’ve discussed here and those in workplace design. There we don’t call it ‘high-performance learning environment’ of course, but terms like “employee engagement” and “employee retention” are at the center of every conversation, with the built environment playing a critical role. We see offices being designed to look more like home, with casual furnishings and décor meant to create a feeling of comfort. We see biophillic design continuing to thrive, that is, incorporating design elements that remind of us nature – mainly because we know that nature makes us feel good. We see height-adjustable workstations on the rise, with the realization that we have to keep moving if we don’t want to ruin our backs by sitting all day. We see lounge furniture and “variety” infused throughout the space. And we see mobile workers on the rise, a reminder that technology ultimately enables us to do our jobs anytime, anywhere.

Furnishing Your Classroom for the Future: Part II, The Practicality

As designers specializing in nearly equal parts Education and Corporate design, we love that we can impact people’s lives starting at young ages, continuing through school age, up to higher education, and then on into the workplace. Ultimately we are reminded of the importance of creating engaging environments for all ages, and for all phases of life.

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