Design on a Dime

Notorious for their shoestring budgets, public schools have learned how to make every element of their space function in more ways than one. Here are 10 tips for making your design budget stretch twice as far.

1 Take the edge off by adding COLOR.

Research shows that color on the walls has a range of positive effects, from reducing heart rates to modifying behavior so students stay more focused and teachers stay calm. Colored paint costs the same as white paint, so why not liven things up?

2 Let in the LIGHT.
We are all born with circadian rhythms, and we are all biologically connected to the passage of time throughout the day. Our bodies rely on external cues like sun and light to stay in sync. A single consistent quality of light, with no variation, causes kids to act out. Once considered a distraction, we now know that windows actually help us stay focused and alert. Consider adding a window to a windowless room. If a window is not an option, choose light sources that are adjustable and provide a range of lighting levels.

3 DROP down some drama.
Pendant lighting, with both up and down lighting, is a great way to change the mood and reign in hyper energy — like after returning from recess. Research shows that pendant lighting is competitive in cost compared to recessed 2x4 light fixtures — less wiring requires less time from your electrician, and fewer fixtures to support means less work for your ceiling contractor. By properly utilizing highly efficient lighting, you will see the savings in your district’s electric bills for years to come.

4 OPEN your minds.
High ceilings and clerestory windows are architectural assets that can make a space feel brighter and less cramped. In older buildings, it’s not uncommon for gems like these to be hiding behind the dated acoustic tiles!

5 A strong FOUNDATION.
Don’t fall prey to the idea that lobbies and entry areas require tile flooring or other expensive coverings. If this is new construction, a nice concrete slab — before your contractor writes all over it — can be stamped and/or stained, giving the effect you want without the costs of additional finish materials.

6 STRIP the walls.

Like the tile myth, many facilities assume they need wall coverings along extended stretches of walls. But these soak up the dirt, rip and peel. The hidden life-cycle upkeep costs alone should cause you to reconsider wall coverings. Solid colors, stripes, patterns or a statement graphic — the look you are after can be created more cost effectively through paint.

7 DESIGNER tricks.
Get the look of high-end design for far less money. Go ahead and read trendy design magazines, but then visit low-cost retailers like Ikea for high-impact, low-cost solutions. Or create your own original graphic artwork inspired by higher-cost originals.

8 WINDOW of opportunity.
Part of appreciating our environment is learning how to live comfortably within it. To help cut down on operational costs associated with air conditioning, incorporate windows that open to ventilate and cool a space, as well as blinds, shades and/or outside shade structures. Students learn through participation — simple tasks like opening windows and adjusting window coverings to control light and heat teach the value of respecting our environment.

9 Get OUTSIDE.
Look at outdoor spaces as an extension of your facility and as a place for teaching. Consider low-maintenance plantings instead of more expensive paving solutions. Bring color into the outdoor spaces with bright outdoor furniture.

10 Be FLEXIBLE.
Everything you spend money on needs to do more than one thing. Not only should you look for furniture that can work in different scenarios, but these pieces can also be used to provide a pop of color to your space. Play with pattern and texture, as well as color, in the furniture. A colored chair is more than just function, it can bring more life to an environment. 

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