Furniture Selection Tips

As many schools across the nation outgrow older, aging buildings, many architecture and interior design firms have seen an uptick in remodeling and renovation work. Just as much thought and effort goes into additions, remodeling, and renovations of interior spaces — and in some cases more effort — to ensure every inch is used to its fullest potential. To top it off, recent studies have shown kids today learn differently than in years past. All of this has to be taken into account when determining the design of the interior space, which includes furniture — an important component in any building.

Following are a few tips and suggestions to keep in mind when determining furniture needs for any new school project.

  • Gather information. The more information you gather for your first meeting with the interior designer, the more money and time you will save in the long run. The first information to compile is on the areas that need furniture, the furniture you will need in those areas, and the furniture that will remain and be re-used. Don’t forget the “accessory” items such as tackboards and display cases. Get as much input as you can also from faculty, technology, maintenance, and administration — depending on the spaces needing furniture.
  • Select a “furniture czar.” The “czar” keeps the process on track. This person needs the ability to gather, organize, and communicate the requirements, details, and schedule with decision makers, the interior designer, and vendors.
  • Be prepared. When meeting for the first time with the interior designer, provide information on:
    • the school’s pedagogy
    • teaching philosophy/style
    • technology usage
    • furniture flexibility — one purpose or several uses
    • growth expectations (student population or programs)
  • Establish a budget. Get an idea of what you have to spend, but don’t set it in stone. The interior designer will be able to help you determine what the true budget will be based upon your list of needs.
  • Plan ahead. When it comes to purchasing furniture, timing really is everything. When replacing existing furniture that you need by the end of August, don’t wait until May or June to begin the process. Typical furniture delivery schedules can be up to 12 weeks. The complete process of information gathering, planning with the interior designer, testing samples, achieving “buy in” and approvals from final decision makers, vendor bidding, order placement, shipping, and delivery can take eight to nine months. The best rule of thumb for replacement furniture for an end of August delivery is to gather information in January, meet with the interior designer in February, and place an order no later than May 1st.
  • Plan ahead earlier for furniture required for a new construction or renovation project. The planning process should be part of the design development phase of the project to ensure the spaces designed not only meet the school’s spatial requirements, but the furniture needs of faculty, students, and technology. Knowing the furniture needs for a space early in the project also eliminates the cost later on to relocate electrical outlets and lighting fixtures, or needing to purchase less functional furniture because the space designed doesn’t allow room for preferred pieces.
  • Know your technology. Work with your school’s technology department to understand how they integrate equipment in each space. Will there be smart boards, linked desks, and/or television screens? What are the adjacencies of the printers and computers within the space? It is important to know the “big picture” in how technology is used throughout the facility. Understanding how furniture and technology work together enhances the opportunity to make the right purchase.
  • Select a reputable furniture vendor. The interior designer should recommend vendors they have worked with successfully and with whom they have a relationship. The interior designer will write up the specifications for the bid request. Along with a vendor’s price, expect the quote to include detailed breakdown of costs; purchasing warranties; receiving details; quality control inspection; and delivery, installation, and set-up description.

Other details to know and information on what to expect when selecting furniture for a facility include the following.
  • The number of meetings required to finalize selection depends on the variety of spaces and furniture types, the size of the overall project/task, and the detail of information provided.
  • Samples (textiles and furniture) will need to be “tested” before placing an order.
  • Decisions on every detail will need to be made. For example, a chair is not just one piece of furniture, but an assembly of many features that create a piece that satisfies the user and its purpose. Chair details include gliders, arms, backs, technology interaction (if any), and fabric.
  • The interior designer furniture specification will also serve as an inventory for your use in future furniture replacements or orders.
  • After installation/set up, the interior designer should walk through the space(s) to make sure all specifications have been met.

If you follow these guidelines, your furniture purchasing project will be successful and, most of all, fun!

Sandra Sawicki, IIDA, is the Interior Design manager for Rubeling & Associates, of one of the Mid-Atlantic’s leading architecture and interior design firms. Rubeling & Associates specializes in education, religious, corporate office, healthcare, campus spatial master planning, and local government projects. Other market specialties include elder care, banks, funeral homes, retail, and libraries. For more information, or to contact the author, please visit