When the Acorn School hired us to design their new collaborative early learning center, the staff made it clear that one of the major priorities for the new facility was to create a “home-like” and welcoming feel to the space. Their school was relocating from a residential daycare property that had been operating in North Boulder for over 20 years. The Acorn School families are a tight-knit group that emphasizes community. They place a high importance on the physical environment facilitating this closeness and feeling of togetherness. Teachers in the original Acorn School had both visual and physical access through adjoining spaces which, though a bit annoying at times, resulted in a sense of comradeship between classrooms, children and staff.
Moving from the 2,600 sq ft residential facility into the 18,000 sq ft office building was a big change. Not only did the physical size of the space increase dramatically, but the Acorn School was joined by Boulder County Headstart in the daycare space as well as several partner groups on the second floor of the building. The need for increased security and safety on the property was met and coupled with the challenge of making this industrial office building feel like a welcoming learning center for children and adults alike. In creating the desired space, we focused our efforts on three important layers of design: space planning, details, and staging.
It was important to the teachers and staff that there would still be visibility between interior spaces. All of the Acorn classrooms have interior windows looking into the community teaching space in the middle of the building and several of the classrooms have interior doors between them that can open up and allow the spaces to be joined. Classrooms share children’s toilet rooms with ½ doors separating the space resulting in both privacy for the children and visibility between classrooms for the teachers. All Acorn classrooms (except for the infant room) open directly to outdoor play areas, both private and public and all daycare spaces have full windows on the exterior walls, letting in large amounts of natural light. The entry into the daycare space is secured with a coded keypad, but is coupled with a large reception window that is open during business hours so visitors can interact directly with the daycare receptionist for that “personal touch”. The lobby of the daycare is designed to feel like a living room, encouraging small group conversations and a sense of “home”.
Details, details, details….these small elements in the design are the key to transforming any space. In manifesting a home-like space in this office building, residential accents, color, and material selection were extremely important. The door style selected for all interior doors was a residential multi-paneled door; some with glass in the upper panels and some solid. Trim detailing around the doors and windows was of a residential nature and elements such as floor lamps and curtains were added to create a homey feel to the spaces. Earth-tone colors were used on the interior doors and as accent walls in the classrooms and related spaces. The floor throughout the daycare space is plank vinyl composition tile with a natural wood grain pattern giving the space a warm and cozy feeling with very low maintenance and easy clean-up. Hand-painted tiles done by the children adorn the public bathroom walls which pair nicely with the granite countertops and wood cabinetry found throughout the center.
Staging is, simply put, spatial organization and decorating. The teachers and staff were vital to creating that desired home-like feel to the space. “Cozy-centers” in every classroom, art-work on the walls, activity spaces, area rugs, shelving, lamps, cubbies, and even well placed storage bins all contribute to the comfortable feel of the spaces. In the Lobby, house plants and residential furniture compliment the space and give it the home-like appeal that was such a critical element for the parents, staff, and teachers of the Acorn School.
With the grand opening behind us and the facility open since September 1, 2012 the positive feedback we have received is both gratifying and appreciated. Parents who were initially worried about relocating their child to an industrial office building have made a point to comment that the space feels inviting, warm and welcoming. The children are excited about their new school and proudly show off their classrooms and play spaces to their parents. Even local businesses in the office park have commented that the Wilderness Place Early Learning Center brings a new energy and freshness to the area as a whole.