Cupboard love

The right spaces can make all the difference to pupils’ education. Simon Fry rounds up the latest furniture and storage news

Independent schools are giving more attention than ever to the furniture in their pupils’ classrooms and learning spaces, knowing that more engaged children learn more effectively. Just as children are often encouraged to work ‘smarter’ rather than ‘harder’, so too the spaces in which they apply themselves can incorporate clever touches boosting brightness. Moreover, space can be saved throughout the school, while for boarders, upgraded bedrooms make for maximum relaxation, leading to impressive marks come exam time.

With young people firmly connected to technology, using libraries and reading books is sinking to the bottom of their list of priorities. In an effort to reverse this trend and provide a stimulating library environment, Farnborough Hill decided to refurbish its rather austere and dated library and create a more attractive and colourful space. Sarah Buckle, headmistress said: “Even though the grade-I status of our beautiful building gave us certain boundaries to work within, we have found new lighting, colourful blinds and carpets, together with more technology and funky seating, have done the trick; use of the library has increased and the girls (and their parents) really love the new area. Particular favourites are the orange ‘bar stools’ when using the PCs, the blue and turquoise striped sofas and chairs for relaxing in whilst reading their favourite fiction, and the full-size television screens for watching educational resources and films. Girls also fill the library after school to get their homework done and find the whole room very conducive to comfortable study.”

Top marks go to Oakham School’s design teacher, who has recently designed furniture and spaces for the school to commission to be built. Great care has been given to the need for pupils (especially younger children transitioning from prep school) to be organised in their academic work, with the design department’s dual-purpose desks particularly praiseworthy. These have computers in them and can ‘pop up’ to be a bank of computer stations or go down to become normal desks for pupils to work at. Visually stunning, their multi-functionality has saved much space, negating the need for two separate classrooms. 

Wardrobe size depends on age and gender; small boys need smaller wardrobes whilst our sixth-form girls want masses of hanging space, so we adapt to the situation

Lancashire’s Rossall School similarly kept things in-house when deciding to create a new study space for its sixth-form students. Head Elaine Purves said: “Rather than second-guess what they might like, our A-level design technology group was commissioned to design and spec the space. Given a real budget and, essentially, a blank sheet of paper to organise the layout, colour scheme, furniture and functionality, they shared their plans at a recent presentation, all worked up from discussion and researched with their peers. Not dissimilar to some of the flexible student working spaces I saw at Lancaster University, the new sixth-form study space will have study pods, areas for collaborative work and an informal area for quiet discussion or laptop/tablet use. The lighting concept is hard to describe but I am sure will be fabulous; MDF ‘clouds’ with polka-dot strips of LED lights. There will be some computer and wireless printing facilities, but they know the majority of sixth formers will want to work on their own device – or paper – yes, we still do use paper. Reading is still in fashion too! The icing on the beautifully designed cake? They came in under budget. I have now decided we should probably hand all future design projects to our in-house student team!”

When St Swithun’s School’s dining room was in desperate need of a makeover, its pupils were asked what they wanted from it and their responses formed the basis for the design brief. Factoring in staff and catering opinions, the school worked with various contractors (JST Contractors, M Pagett Electrical, Aztec, New Forest Ceilings) to bring this vision to life.

The school’s domestic bursar, Sarah Draycott said: “We sought a modern, flexible space in which the pupils would enjoy gathering socially. They requested seating areas suited to different-sized groups, so choosing the right furniture was pivotal to the whole project. The project was split into two phases, with phase one being the installation of lighting, acoustics, flooring and walls. An acoustic ceiling was installed and a mixture of modern LED lighting run on different banks so different ambiences could be created depending on how the space was to be used. Phase two saw the installation of the bespoke furniture (GBN Primo) and the artwork (Re-Design), the artwork intending to complement the school’s rural setting and bring the space a fresh, modern feel. Some of the prints are photographs taken by the pupils.”

As part of Lancing College’s £4m refurbishment of its houses it is replacing most of the existing furniture in its boarders’ bedrooms – beds, mattresses, desks, chairs, wardrobes, bedside tables and sofas. Bursar Mark Milling said: “These items need to last for the next ten years before they are replaced again so we are going for top quality from the top suppliers in this field. For beds and mattresses we are using headboards with integrated storage and lighting to make our pupils’ ‘pitts’ (Lancing terminology for a bedroom) roomier. It is worth going for top-quality mattresses to help sleep quality, which helps make our kids even more intelligent than they already are. Wardrobe size depends on age and gender; small boys need smaller wardrobes whilst our sixth-form girls want masses of hanging space, so we adapt to the situation. It is worth going for overkill on the number and strength of the hinges – these things can take a bit of a battering! There are three sofa options – new from an interior designer, new off-the-shelf or the re-covering of existing good-quality stock. We have tried all three and I consider the best option is re-covering in stylish fabrics (providing the underlying sofa is still up to the job.) Overall, we are trying to ensure the pitts are as homely (but as robust) as possible since Lancing College is home to our pupils for much of the year.”

As boarders bring more and more to school it becomes a ‘home away from home’ for many while, in turn, schools face increasing pressure to use their valuable storage space for pupils’ belongings over the holidays and their empty trunks and suitcases during term time. Recognising this dilemma, School Trunk introduced the School Trunk Crate, a collapsible, rigid plastic crate occupying 80 percent less volume when empty and collapsed. They are easily and safely stacked when full or empty, with specially designed safety features preventing crates sliding off each other and, most importantly, when fully packed under normal circumstances they weigh no more than 25kg – the UK’s recommended safe lifting limit.


Schools nationally – such as Roedean and Headington – are adopting both School Trunk Crates as an alternative to the traditional trunk and the School Trunk Duvet bag – a strong, cotton, breathable barrel bag that comfortably stores a single duvet and pillow.

School Trunk Crates are also used by schools to store their course materials when not needed. For example, summer school materials, required for a short period only once a year, are stored by organisations such as Harrow Enterprises in School Trunk Crates and then collected and stored off-site by School Trunk.

New furniture and storage solutions don’t just look good – they can make a marked difference in how pupils perform and how a learning space functions. Schools updating their facilities can look forward to an impressive return on investment. 

Farnborough Hill W:

Oakham School W:

Rossall School W:

St Swithun’s School W:

Lancing College W:

School Trunk W:    

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