Enriching Education Through Interior Design


Have you ever wondered why so many fast-food restaurants center their color scheme around warm colors like red, yellow and orange? Here’s a hint: those colors have long been thought to stimulate your appetite and trigger feelings of happiness, increasing your chance of an eventual return.

Color is far from the only example of this phenomenon. In fact, interior design plays a massive role in our daily lives. Whether it’s an office, store or community gathering place you find yourself coming back to again and again, interior design has the power to make a space more practical and to enhance one’s experiences in them.

This is especially true in schools. For our educational studio clients, furnishings, their placement and configuration, lighting and color choices, textural elements, accessibility, technology infrastructure and more play a vital role in the creation of a successful and agile learning environment for all students to learn and grow.

It would be easy to dismiss interior design as a “cosmetic and aesthetic” addition to a new school or building renovation—especially as construction budgets dwindle. But this would be a mistake, according to SHP interior designer, Katy Goettl.

“Our educational clients’ project budgets are often strict, and eventually, decisions have to be made to keep a project within the dollars available,” she says. “But we always caution our clients not to cut down on interior design elements.”

When done well, interior design results in well-defined, easily navigated zones that support the purpose and activities that take place in each and account for all possible uses of your facility. When done really well, interior design facilitates a deeper connection between a school and the community it serves, creating an unmatched sense of place for students and enriching their educational experiences. Here are three ways our interior design team delivers.

1. Listen, Interpret, Articulate

Picture yourself sharing a Pinterest board or magazine cuttings of beautiful interior spaces, or even vaguely describing your vision. Now picture your interior design team articulating your preferences and ”wouldn’t it be cool if” musings in ways you never could have imagined. This is what designers do on a daily basis.

Our interior design team spends days—sometimes weeks—interviewing our clients’ stakeholders to understand the essentials. They ask loads of questions: What will each space be used for? By whom and for how long and to what end purpose? How does each space support the pedagogical, productivity or functional needs of our client? What are the unique physical, environmental and interpersonal requirements of the space and the people who will inhabit it?

Using the results of this in-depth analysis, our team works closely with yours to plot out, prioritize and reach compromises on how each space within your facility will be used. Then and only then can we make furniture choices, select paint colors, pore through textiles, parse flooring options and pick surfaces and fixtures.

“We listen, interpret, translate, articulate and apply everything we learn to the final design,” notes SHP’s senior interior designer, Carrie Malatesta.

2. Universal Appeal

Our team works closely with our clients to plot out, prioritize and reach compromises on how each space within your facility will be used. We consider how a variety of spaces—fluid and fixed, cozy and communal, public and private—will help with instructional delivery and student engagement. Most importantly, we recommend design choices that are flexible enough to be both accessible and inclusive of all.

For our education clients, this translates to intentionally designing for people with disabilities, different learning styles, pedagogies and educational philosophies, and even individual teaching styles.

“We often say that the educational delivery method drives the design. But that’s just part of the story,” explains Carrie. “Intentional and inclusive. That’s where we live.”

Intentional and inclusive interior design considers a variety of factors, such as:

  • How the space can support instructional and curricular design goals
  • How it can facilitate visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic learning
  • How it delivers an equitable experience for users with different physical, emotional, and behavioral needs, skills and abilities

Katy points to sensory spaces recently implemented at Clark-Shawnee Schools as an example of this. These spaces are safe places where students can self-regulate their behavior. “They allow for both passive and active interaction, where students can decrease sensory overload or increase their energy as needed,” she says.

3. Adding Long-Term Value

Beyond the learning implications, there are practical reasons for having a trained interior designer on your team: they can save you money in the long run. A good interior designer will know how to allocate funds in the best way, especially if there isn’t much room for flexibility within the budget. For example, our design team often leverages our buying power to negotiate volume discounts on everything from common furniture solutions to custom textiles and hand-milled woodwork.

Designers are also skilled at detecting possible hiccups within the design and can catch preventable errors before they result in field fixes or costly repairs. In the words of celebrity interior designer Kate Lester, via Forbes, “The margin of error is reduced when working with a designer, so the investment is more likely to yield a better result.”

Finally, as previously alluded to, interior designers make the process much easier for our clients.

“Regardless of what the project entails, the project management duties can be extremely overwhelming, especially for our clients—they’re too busy running their school or district to reschedule furniture deliveries or serve as the go-between for vendors and contractors,” says McKenzie. Luckily, interior designers are adept at coordinating every aspect of a facility fit-out seamlessly and can guide clients through the entire process without burdening them with unforeseen issues.

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