Feeling Kinda Blue … or Green or Red?
How to Pick Furniture Colors for a New School
Building a new school is an epic bricks-and-mortar task. Choosing a color scheme for your new school furniture shouldn’t be. There’s a method to the potential madness of color chips, samples and finishes.
Welcome to our second blog in a series meant to simplify the furniture buying process and classroom design. As a leading pre-K-12 school furniture manufacturer, Smith System has decades of experience with new builds – and guiding decision makers. This blog focuses on how to finalize furniture colors.
Hold On! Function First
For sure, deciding on furniture color is a new-school milestone (and fun). It signifies light at the end of the long construction tunnel. You’re moving from the macro building to the micro of visualizing individual spaces.
Unfortunately, this is where schools can lose valuable time against their opening deadline. It’s common for people to prematurely start focusing on the color of their new space before deciding the essentials: furniture functionality and budget.
Yes, it’s useful to understand the color choices available. But until you have broadly chosen all of the items – student seating, student desks, storage and teacher items – and decided how they’ll work together, color conversations can derail important functionality decisions.
The Power of Color: Put it to Work
Color can effect mood, emotion and productivity, which, ultimately, influences student success. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the use of color, consider letting the purpose of the room or certain goals guide your color scheme. Some examples:
Define space or subject. Furniture color can differentiate space (a singular learning zone within a classroom, to an entire wing or pod in a school) and subjects or specialized rooms, such as a science lab, media center or makerspace.
• Identify grade level. A certain color can signify primary, elementary, intermediate, middle or high school.
• Classify furniture function. Some schools assign color purely by function: seating, tables, desks, storage, teacher podiums.
• Achieve learning and behavior goals. Brighter colors can create energy and excitement in young learners, while more “mature” colors prepare high schoolers for higher-ed environments. Neutral colors can also create a blank canvas for busy walls.
• Boost school pride. Using school spirit colors is an act of placemaking. It shows pride in the school’s unique history and culture, which can unite a community.
• Contrast (or complement) local climate. Certain colors, like a lush green, can bring a welcomed reprieve for schools in snowy or rainy climates.
I Can Add Color Where?
School furniture manufacturers vary in their number of color options and color applications. Some common spots to add color include laminate top and edge banding for work surfaces, chair shell colors for solid seating or fabric for soft seating, metal finish options for legs, and end-panel colors for storage systems and lecterns.
Certain manufacturers, like Smith System, provide a broad palette of standard color choices (and custom, too). Request a sample kit online or ask your Smith System dealer. The kit includes edge banding color samples, laminate top samples, seating color chips and all the other necessary pieces to select your school’s furnishings.
Classroom Color Selection Strategies: Three Examples
There’s no magic formula to select furniture colors and finishes. Some school districts hire an architectural firm’s interior design team for that service. Other districts want to be super involved. What’s most important is to have a purposeful approach that suits a school’s culture and avoids a color mash-up, says Bill Stoyke, an experienced regional sales manager with Smith System.
“My goal with a school is usually to create a common ‘kit of parts’ and help decision-makers select colors with purpose. I don’t choose particular colors for them. Rather, I provide a tailored methodology, based on the level of standardization the school wants. This helps ensure a cohesive and future-proof look with whatever colors are selected.”
He starts the color conversation by offering three basic approaches on choosing color for the four main categories of school furniture: student seating, student desks, teacher items and mobile storage.
Strategy 1: Uniform by grade level
• Student Seating
Choose one chair seat color and one chair frame color.
• Student Desks
Choose one laminate top color, one edge band color, and one desk frame color.
• Teacher Items (desks and lecterns)
Choose a consistent color for laminate, edge banding, end panel and frame.
• Mobile Storage (classroom storage units and carts)
Choose end panel colors that are the same for all storage units, along with complementary cart colors.
Strategy 2: Uniform by chair size
This approach uses the same four furniture categories as Strategy 1, but chair size determines color selection. For example, when furnishing a Midwest elementary school, Smith System recommends a 14-inch chair for grades K-1, a 16-inch chair for grades 2-4, and an 18-inch chair for grades 5 and up. So the school would select uniform colors and finishes for each of the grade clusters, as determined by chair size.
Strategy 3: Uniform by classroom zones
Some schools set up their classrooms with learning zones, such as instructional, collaborative, technology, reading, play, maker, etc. Having unique colors for each zone is a great way to differentiate them visually and set the right mood.
Media Centers, Commons and Specialty Areas
A media center is considered a separate entity from classrooms, often with its own zones (makerspace, technology, etc.). Some schools like to define each zone with color.
For commons, many new schools are being designed in pods where the classrooms surround a central commons area. In these cases, color selection for the commons is often tied to the surrounding classroom colors.
With intervention or other specialty rooms, there are no right or wrong colors. Some schools prefer to have those colors match standard classrooms so it feels uniform. Other schools want unique colors that make those spaces feel more special and impactful.
Coming to Color Consensus
Sometimes there can be competing interests when finalizing furniture and color. Teachers invest a lot of time creating a personalized learning environment that reflects their own creativity and approach to teaching. They want to have a say about their new space.
By contrast, administration is making functional and aesthetic judgments about the practical stuff, like how furniture might be repurposed throughout a school (or other schools), if needs change over time. Decision-makers want a furniture package that meets quality, budget and flexibility criteria.
The great news is that by using a purposeful, well-communicated strategy, everyone can usually have his or her needs met and feel good about the result.
Case Study: Prairie Ridge Intermediate School
In late 2017, the citizens of Reedsburg, WI, passed a referendum to build a new intermediate school for grades 3-5. Principal Clint Beyer and his school team were tasked with leading the charge toward a Fall 2019 opening date for approximately 600 students in more than 30 classrooms. True to his leadership style, Beyer wanted to actively involve teachers in selecting furniture and furniture colors.
“I like to have an open dialogue and culture that includes teachers in decision-making. I want their valuable input, but I’m also ready to make tough decisions,” Beyer says. To select classroom furniture and colors, he used Google Docs to share supplier catalogs with staff. He asked them to decide what furniture they intended to use from the former school (they choose around 20 percent), what new furniture they needed, and what colors and color combinations they wanted. He managed the deadlines.
Beyer reviewed the input and decided on Smith System for the majority of the new school’s furnishings. “Some of their products are more modern in appearance, more flexible, and Smith has good variety, quality and service. It’s also much easier for us to work with one supplier for about 60 percent of the furniture we need.”
After selecting Smith, Beyer went through its catalog to best match up staff wants and color schemes. Final selection was guided by the Smith representative, the architect’s interior design team, and, in large part, the curriculum. Each grade has a dedicated color, for example, fourth grade is green for Earth; fifth grade is blue for water.
“The teachers got about half of the color choices they wanted. I had to factor in how color would flow throughout the building. I wasn’t too concerned with perfect match, but I wanted unifying colors across functional stuff, like storage, so it can be interchangeable between rooms. It’s a give-and-take process, but it has worked for us.”
Final Color Considerations
Opening a new school can require thousands of pieces of furniture prior to the opening date. Simplifying the furniture color selection process has many benefits.
A practical, streamlined approach can actually reduce installation time and costs, and delivery delays and errors. If color and quantity selections are complex for each classroom, it can increase the chance of something not being ordered correctly. Consider your deadline, too. It might sound great in February to let teachers choose their own colors. But in August, when time is tight and furniture is often being placed right as the carpet is laid, simple might be better.
Here are a few final tips:
• Longevity – Future-proof your purchase by choosing colors that will stand the test of time (think 20+ years). Avoid trendy colors, like Pantone’s color of the year. It has its “moment” for 365 days, and then it’s retired. Don’t go there.
• Versatility – Student populations change. Choose colors that don’t overly restrict your furniture’s location, but allow it to move around the school as your numbers (students, teachers, administration, subjects, space allocation) fluctuate and curriculum evolves.
• Cohesiveness – Ensure colors complement the overall physical design of your new school – wall colors, flooring, work surfaces, etc. Factor in lighting sources, too. This is where your furniture dealer and architect can provide a broader perspective.
Smith’s Color Choices
Unlike many other pre-K-12 school furniture manufacturers, all of Smith System’s furniture is made to order. That gives clients a broad range of options and the ability to customize any piece of furniture.
Smith makes all of its desk and table tops in-house, so clients can mix-and-match 13 standard top laminates and 20 edge band colors without any quantity minimums. Plus, the company offers corresponding colors on seating and mobile storage units to create just the right look.
The made-to-order method also means Smith can make and ship furniture with short lead times. That’s a big plus in the summer months, when everyone needs furniture before the school year starts.