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Protecting Student Learning and Well-Being: An Interior Designer's Response to the Pandemic

Author: Ashley Sheehan, NCIDQ, IIDA

As K-12 schools welcome students back to in-person learning, they face the extraordinary challenge to maintain a safe, comfortable, and effective environment. Focused on applying creative, cost-effective solutions, interior designer Ashley Sheehan shares a few design ideas to help protect student learning and well-being in the age of COVID-19. 

1. Cleanable and Flexible Furniture

With the rise of active learning, schools are increasingly adopting flexible furniture solutions. Even throughout the pandemic, reconfigurable, modular furniture remains a great option for students to actively engage in learning while creating physical distance. For example, the Exchange Modular Configuration by Allseating can completely transform according to your seating needs. For safe social distancing, the furniture can be easily separated and then assembled back together to encourage collaboration when restrictions are lifted.

What may come as a surprise to educators, commercial furniture products like this are designed to address needs for cleanability and sanitation. Like hard surfaces, commercial-grade fabrics can be easily cleaned with a bleach solution or disinfectant. So before removing all soft furniture, ask your interior designer about cleaning and maintenance protocols. (Note: It is recommended to remove items that have not been purchased from a commerical manufacturer, such as throw pillows, blankets, bean bags, or residential furniture.)

2. Creative Signage and Wayfinding

Communicating critical safety and operational procedures, signage and wayfinding play a significant role in schools today. Truly effective solutions are visually appealing, control occupant circulation and distance, and positively translate ideas in the built environment. Replacing small areas of existing flooring is a great way to visually separate occupants or provide wayfinding. Shaw Contract suggests using carpet and LVT to create a pattern that directs traffic flow or denotes safe distance. By outfitting schools with well-designed wayfinding solutions, we can promote safer behaviors and instill a feeling of confidence and belonging. Important considerations when it comes to wayfinding and sign design include messaging, scale, color, and typography as each of these choices can elicit different emotions and influence user response. 

Source: Shaw Contract, A Return-to-Schoolbook

3. Social Distancing with Plants

In addition to reconfiguring space to increase social distancing, consider incorporating large plants in your space. Acting as social distancing barriers, plants can be used to serve as visual separation or to provide directional cues. A natural alternative to traditional partitions, plants bring in a sense of the outdoors, support a feeling of well-being, and can be used to help remove pollutants from the air. Live plants that work well include fiddle leaf fig trees, cane plants, and snake plants. Check in with your interior designer for guidance on plant selection and placement.

4. Color for Comfort

Student social and emotional health is receiving greater attention than ever. Focused on fostering a sense of community in learning environments, designers understand how interior color choices can influence students' ability to connect. In a post-pandemic world, color changes may be used as a low-cost solution to promote feelings of comfort and peace. Whether it is painting an accent wall with a light color or adding colorful furniture and art, color selection can significantly impact students' sense of well-being.

At a time when the school experience is in flux and social norms are changing, the ability for students to focus, manage stress, and cope with the pandemic is tested. These creative interior design solutions are just a few ways schools can help impact student learning and well-being.

At CSArch, our interior design team remains connected, learning every day about the challenges schools are facing. We're researching new product developments, innovating creative solutions, and presenting fresh ideas to improve our designs now and for a post-pandemic world. Interested in our interior design services? We'd love to hear from you! Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.