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This Old Lounge

By Cara Bafile

Design-on-a-dime expert Evette Rios shares tips to make the staff room the comfortable, inviting retreat that it should be.

"The lounge should be a place where teachers can relax and decompress," advises design-on-a-dime guru Evette Rios. "It should feel distinct from the rest of the school, more grown up and more polished. Even a small separation from the look and routine of the every-day can recharge internal batteries."

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Unfortunately, as too many educators know, not every teachers' lounge is a retreat where staff members can comfortably rest and regroup. With limited funds and unlimited needs, educators often are compelled to invest the resources they have in their students and put their own concerns -- such as the lounge -- last. This was the situation at Balboa Elementary School in San Diego, California, where Rios recently unveiled a redesigned lounge. The improvements came through the Outreach to Teach project, which is sponsored by the National Education Association.

"The first thing I think about when redesigning a teacher's lounge is exactly what is the program for the new space?" Rios told Education World. "Teachers use their lounge not only for rest and relaxation, but for preparing food, having their morning cup of coffee, watching television and films together, holding meetings and hosting events. It's best not to leave that kind of thing to guesswork, so I arranged a meeting with Balboa's teachers and administrators to learn how they use their lounge now, and how they'd like to use it in the future."


That meeting influenced nearly all of Rios's choices in the makeover and helped her set goals for it. The theme arose from the school's demographic. Balboa Elementary is more than 90 percent Latino, so Rios wanted the community culture to be reflected in the space. She selected the Artesia line from JCPenney because of its adaptable, ethnic look and availability. As a spokesperson for Eight O'Clock Coffee, which lent support to the endeavor, Rios took inspiration from the company's coffee bag in selecting colors for the kitchen counter.

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"I love the color of Eight O'clock Coffee bags," said Rios, who often appears on the Rachael Ray program. "Fortunately for me, they work well with just about any interior. The red in the counter backsplash is an homage to Eight O'clock Coffee, but it's also there because red is a prevalent color in the artwork and textiles of Mexico and Central America. It's an actual Mexican serape fabric sealed behind Plexiglas. So color inspiration can come from anywhere and doesn't have to mean just one thing."

When it comes to choosing the right colors for a lounge, Rios feels that while it might foster school pride to use school colors in a building as a whole, it isn't necessary for private teachers' spaces to reflect school colors or mascots so literally. She always includes different lighting options in the lounges she revamps as well. For teachers, she says, being able to turn off overhead fluorescent lights for a few minutes and enjoy task lighting is a luxury. Many of the improvements in the lounge at Balboa Elementary made the lounge more earth-friendly -- a recycling area, a sink for washing dishes, mugs and cups, and updated lighting.

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"The teachers at Balboa Elementary were forced to use paper, plastic, and Styrofoam cups because the sink area they had was barely big enough to wash a dish in," Rios recalled. "The room was a reappropriated classroom, so it was not built to have a large sink or food prep area. Giving the teachers a large Moen sink and a heavy duty kitchen faucet also gave them the ability to wash their plates, mugs, and silverware, which really cuts down on waste."

The teachers also requested an area to sort out recyclables, so Rios provided stacking recycling bins as a central recycling area. She is a huge fan of earth-friendly design, but in this project, it was as much the teachers' goal as her own.


Glancing around their teachers' lounge at South Sioux City (Nebraska) Middle School at the end of the 2008-2009 school year, teacher Lori Gano and her mentor, Sherry Rohde, realized that it needed a fresh look. They joked that they should "win" a makeover for the desperate room. That plan didn't seem likely to the pair, but Gano found a viable alternative.

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"I started looking for ideas on the Internet. I came across Millennial Living and e-mailed the site for help," Gano recalled. "I couldn't believe it, but a couple of days later, I received a reply."

The site's creator, Tom Russo, didn't offer to do the remodel, but he did give Gano and the three other members of their self-described "happy committee" guidance about paint colors, supplies they might need, and how to get started. While they hoped for input from fellow teachers, the end of the school year kept everyone too busy. The project fell largely into the laps of the four musketeers, which included fellow teachers Maggie Grassel and Lori Singer.

"The lounge was very outdated -- beige-colored walls, 70's orange countertops, one wall with paneling -- along with no personality! Two long tables were filled with 16 squished chairs," reported Gano. "We used the room predominantly for lunch, and for rolls and donuts on Friday mornings. Teaching in a middle school can be somewhat stressful at times. We knew it would boost staff morale to have a place that's calm and comfortable."

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During the first week of the summer break, Gano solicited donations for the lounge makeover. She was surprised that some businesses, even those where teachers and the district regularly spent money, weren't interested in donating to the project. The local Home Depot, however, agreed to provide new paint that also contained primer, and the group chose soothing colors to achieve a relaxing mood.

Gano also went to other stores where she picked up complimentary items, and purchased knickknacks that had been marked down. One of the bigger changes in the room was the addition of three counter-height tables.

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Putting them together took time, but the result was worth the effort. The middle school staff is thrilled with the redesign and the new "feel" of the lounge.

"Making over the lounge was a great bonding experience for the people who worked on it," Gano shared. "We were very hopeful that everyone would appreciate the work that we put into the project and would continue to keep the lounge looking great."


Teachers at Grand Lake (Colorado) Elementary School are thanking members of the Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) for taking their teachers' lounge from drab to fab. When the committee's president, Schelly Olson, approached the staff about how parents could show their thanks during Teacher Appreciation Week, the staff room was mentioned. The teachers had hoped for paint and a little sprucing up. What they received was nothing short of a transformation.

"The condition of the staff room before the makeover was one of chaos," recalls Principal Phyllis Price. "The room was filled with unnecessary tables, shelves that were packed with items no longer used, cupboards that had various [outdated] items posted on them, curtains that were dusty and dirty, and walls that looked like they had not been painted in several years. It was not a welcoming environment."

As a result, staff members did not use the room effectively. It became a place to "grab and run" with coffee or lunch. Teachers were forced to crowd around one small table to eat. Thankfully, handy parents were about to rein in and reform the room.

During Teacher Appreciation Week, community members painted the walls, reorganized the equipment in the staff room, and cleaned out cupboards and other spaces. A dishwasher was purchased, and parents donated a refrigerator with an icemaker and a new faucet for the sink. Next, parents decorated the room and found a business willing to donate a used sofa and tables.

"I am most impressed with the way the room looks now," Price stated. "We have a large table that accommodates the staff so everyone can sit together for lunch, staff meetings, book study classes, and so on. The room is very inviting and sends the message that the work we do together as a staff is important."

Now the room is used consistently and is a pleasing location for teachers to meet, work, or unwind. They often gather there to visit, discuss school issues, and perform tasks that can't easily be done in the classroom.

"The transformation was truly incredible," added Price. "The staff is reminded daily of how valuable they are to the parents. Its a wonderful feeling to be so appreciated by parents and community members that they would do so much to show us how important we are to them."


Lounge Design "On a Dime"

Design expert Evette Rios has many tips for educators who want to spruce up their teachers' lounge. The first is to designate an area for food prep. That might sound like a big budget item, but Rios says it doesn't have to be. Sometimes all that's required is a table set aside for the microwave, toaster oven, and coffee machine.
"It's important to have all those appliances together in one place, because it keeps the food stuff (and the mess) confined to one area," advises Rios. "I've been able to include multiple microwaves in all my lounge projects, and teachers say it makes a big difference. One or two microwaves just don't give everyone the chance to warm up their food during a 30-minute break, so I would recommend adding a microwave (or two) to food prep areas."
Rios knows that teachers love mood lighting. Because schools typically have fluorescent overhead lighting throughout, it's vital that the lounge switch up the mood. Floor and table lamps do just that and they couldn't be simpler to incorporate.
"A can of paint can go very far when trying to turn an institutional space into something homey and comfortable," Rios shared. "I highly recommend painting at least one wall in the lounge, to give the entire space a more serene feeling. Go with residential colors, for that residential feel."
No lounge is complete without a place to lounge, Rios believes. She suggests that a good sofa, plenty of comfy chairs, a recliner, and an ottoman or two is the right combination for a place in which everyone can relax.
"Tired legs really benefit from being able to get propped up!" she added.