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School Furniture Guide

School Furniture Guide 1

One of the most crucial tasks school administrators face
is establishing a positive atmosphere for learning, and
school furniture plays a major role in the way a school
looks and feels to the students learning within its walls.
Classrooms that are cheerful and bright encourage a far
more positive learning experience than ones that are
colorless and drab.
On the other hand, school furniture that is too color-
ful and busy can actually present a distraction to stu-
dents. Besides aesthetics, comfort, size, space, durability
and—don’t forget—budget, are all factors that need
to be taken into account when planning furniture for
schools. Whether you’re designing a new school or
upgrading an older one, the classroom furniture you
choose will have a decisive impact on the way students
feel about their studies.

Where to Start?
There is a whole world of school furniture out there.
While budget and space considerations will determine
the extent to which you can accessorize, school chairs
and school tables/desks are the most important school
furniture items, as well as the ones that are used (and
abused!) most by students.
Let’s take a look at those items on the following pages.
School Furniture Guide 2

Have a Seat!
The basics on school chairs
Studies show that students between the
ages of 13–18 years old spend about 78%
of their time sitting down. But the truth is
that even preschoolers spend a considerable
amount of time in their chairs. So a lot of
thought needs to go in to choosing the best
school chair for your classrooms.

Say What?
A little terminology…
When talking about school chairs, there are some technical words that come
up pretty often. So a little school furniture terminology will help make things
School chair seats are manufactured out of one of three materials: wood, soft
plastic and hard plastic. Wood means just that, wood. Soft plastic is the collo-
quial name for polyethylene and polypropylene. Polyethylene has a lot of give;
polypropylene, while not actually bendable, does conform somewhat so that
students can lean back a bit in their chairs. Hard plastic is far more rigid than
its soft counterpart and has no bend whatsoever.
The legs and supports of school chairs are usually made of one of three gauges
of steel: 18, 16, and 14 gauge. Contrary to what one might assume, the lower
the gauge the stronger the steel, so if you’re looking for the strongest supports
around, you would look for chairs with 14 gauge steel.
School Furniture Guide 3
doWn to SiZe
How high should school chairs really be?
Ideally, children should be able to plant their feet firmly on
the floor even when sitting with their backs against their
chairs. This position minimizes fidgeting and provides proper
back support. Practically speaking, there will always be some
children whose feet dangle when they sit all the way back,
or who will have to lean forward if they want their feet to
reach the floor. Use the following size guide to ensure that as
many students as possible have school chairs that are height-
appropriate for them. The split percentages allow for children
of varying heights to sit in the optimal position for learning
within the same classroom.

12” 14” 16” 18” SuggeSted chair SiZe chart

Use the chart to the left to find the
3 Years 50%
chair size right for your classroom.
4 Years 75% Note that when measuring school
Kindergarten 50% 50% chairs, the height is always measured
1st Grade 100% from the floor to the highest point on
2 Grade
50% 50% the seat surface.
3rd Grade 100%
4th Grade 75% 25%
5th–12th Grades 100%
School Furniture Guide 4
Table Talk
A word about school tables
As with chairs, here’s a bit of school desk and table
terminology you should be familiar with.
The top of school tables or desks is the part that gets
the most use, and is the easiest to damage. There
are two basic types of table/desk tops for schools.
The first—and least expensive—is called a laminate
(Figure 1), which is essentially a wood top with a
processed surface that protects it from minor damage.
Everyday splotches like pencil marks, fingerprints and
white-out will come off easily; however, the desk will
be vulnerable to dents and pen scratches, as well as
damage from sharp objects.
The second kind of tabletop is a hard plastic top
(Figure 2). This is just what it sounds like—a desk
or table covered with a solid piece of hard plastic.
These are extremely difficult to damage, as they are
quite tough and can stand up to major student abuse.
Figure 1 Laminate top
Although they can be significantly more expensive in
the short run, their durability can make them worth
their while in the long run.
There is, however, a third type of desk top called
WoodStone (Figure 3). Manufactured exclusively by
Hertz Furniture, WoodStone is made of a hard plastic
surface with a core of wood and/or wood parts. It is
just about as durable as regular hard plastic, but since
Figure 2 Hard plastic top
it is less expensive to manufacture, its price is more or
less the same as a laminate.
Now that you’ve got all the terminology you need,
you’re ready to actually think about the school
furniture that will serve your students best. Since
different grades have different needs, we’ll break it up
by age group.
Figure 3 WoodStone top
School Furniture Guide 5
kiddie korner
Preschool–Kindergarten: Chairs
Gross motor skills in small children are still very much in the
development stage; that’s why they tend to trip and fall more often
than older children. So when your budding students go down with
a bang, you want to make sure that their chairs stay intact.
Despite the need for durability, though, soft plastic is a far more
popular choice for this age than hard plastic. Small children’s bodies
are not yet fully developed (that’s why they’re so soft and cuddly!);
as a result, they are uncomfortable sitting in very rigid chairs. So
look for chairs made of top-quality soft plastic.

Some school chairs come with a plastic

back and seat, but metal frames and legs
for added strength and support. These are
great for durability, but smaller children
might stick their fingers into the space
between the metal and plastic and get
them pinched or even stuck. If that’s a
concern for you, look for soft plastic chairs
made of one piece, solid construction, as
these will have no spaces for curious little
fingers. They are also much less expensive.

If you’re looking for the strength of the metal-plastic combination but want the safety of a one-piece
unit, you might want to try a school chair made of a mixture of soft and hard plastic. These chairs
are made of a one-piece, soft plastic shell (meaning the back and seat) that is ultrasonically welded
to a hard plastic base. They are a bit more expensive than the standard soft plastic preschool chair,
but cost significantly less than a metal-plastic combo.
In most Pre–K classrooms, the same general areas are used for such varying activities as circle time,
arts and crafts, eating and even sleeping. That makes it necessary to have chairs that can be moved
and stored easily. So look for chairs that stack easily and in quantity. Make sure that they can be
pushed or pulled without too much effort as well. This is especially important for 5–6 year olds,
who will be expected to clear away the chairs when they’re “on duty”.
School Furniture Guide 6

Kiddie Korner
Preschool–Kindergarten: Tables
For preschoolers to kindergarten, you want to look for tables that
measure from about 19–23 inches in height. Some tables come with
adjustable legs, so you can raise and lower them to suit your needs.
Generally speaking, children up to kindergarten age sit between
four and eight to a table. If you’re looking at a rectangular table,
calculate approximately 20 inches for each child. For round tables,
figure that between eight and ten children can fit around a table
with a 48 inch diameter.
Although small children are not necessarily harsh on their school
furniture—even their scissors tend to have round edges—they can
be pretty messy. Glue, crayons, markers, glitter and paint will all
“decorate” your tables liberally. So, although you may not need
tables with hard plastic tops, make sure you buy ones with a high
quality laminate to make clean-up as hassle-free as possible.
The shape of your school tables
will depend a great deal on the
structure of your classroom.
While many schools use standard
round or rectangular tables, there
are others that prefer kidney-
shaped tables, which allow all the
children to have an equal view
of the teacher. If it is important
to you to be able to push tables
together, then consider trapezoidal
tables. Some companies, like Hertz
Furniture, carry specialty tables,
like clove or flower-shaped.
School Furniture Guide 7
The Next Stage
Elementary School Chairs
Starting with first grade, young students are expected to sit and concentrate for far longer periods of
time. Therefore, ensuring maximum comfort and minimum fidgeting is a top priority.
Most standard elementary school chairs are made from soft plastic. These are both more
comfortable and less expensive; however, they are not as durable as their hard counterparts. If you’re
operating under budget constraints—or it’s important to you that students have school chairs
they can lean back in—then a few features that will give your soft plastic chairs an added boost of
durability are listed below.

Back Supports
These are steel supports that run
all the way up the back so that the
chair will stand up to the pressure of
students leaning against it.

Underseat Brackets
Check to see that the school chair you
purchase has supporting brackets
under the chair seat.

16 Gauge Steel
Ideally, the steel supports should be
made of at least 16 gauge steel. If you
can find 14 gauge steel, all the better.

Wood chairs are extremely durable and

give a beautiful, classic look to schoolroom
furniture. They are considerably more
expensive than either soft or hard plastic,
though, which is one of the main reasons
you don’t see them too often.
School Furniture Guide 8
a Solid Foundation
Choices for Chair Legs
Quality school chairs come with different leg
options. Depending on the kind of flooring your
school has, choose the leg type that is best for
your needs.
A standard, four legged school chair is the best
choice for schools with hard floors. The chair
rests on four legs that are usually made of tubular
steel and capped with glides to keep the chairs
level and prevent scratches on hard surface floors.
Nylon or plastic glides are softer on hard floors,
and prevent students from making distracting
noises when they move around.
Sled-based chairs are also made of tubular steel;
however, rather than splitting into four legs, the
chair is supported on each side by a base that
resembles a sled. This type of school chair doesn’t
move easily across hard floors, but it glides softly
and easily on carpeted surfaces.
The third option is school chairs on casters. These
are four-legged chairs with little wheels attached
so that students can turn around with ease, and
are highly recommended for classrooms like
computer labs or art rooms. They can, however,
be hazardous for students in younger grades,
and are usually reserved for either teachers or for
middle school and up.
School Furniture Guide 9
Turning the Tables
Elementary School Table Tips
Once children enter first grade, they no longer sit four, six or eight to a table; rather, they sit either
in pairs or at individual desks. They use their tables more and more for writing and less and less
for activities such as arts and crafts, and, as their studies become departmentalized, they have more
materials to keep track of. The older the students get, the more
frequently they write with pens (as opposed to pencils),
and they need sharp-edged school supplies like sharp
scissors and compasses.
So when planning elementary school furniture, you should
be looking for tables that 1) accommodate two students comfort-
ably; 2) provide a storage solution for school materials and sup-
plies; and, 3) will stand up to intense daily wear and tear.
For younger grades, height adjustable activity tables are
great. They have plenty of room for young students to
have all their materials on the table without invading their
tablemate’s space. Although these work well for older grades, too, many schools prefer school desks
at this stage. If you’re interested in desks for grades 5 and up but still want your students to be
able to work comfortably in pairs, then look for double desks such as those manufactured by
As far as school supplies, consider chairs with attached book baskets, or desks with open view book
boxes. It can be important for the teacher to see what the students have under their desks, both to
facilitate neatness and order and to prevent undesirable objects (or pets!) from creating discipline
problems. Definitely look for school tables with hard plastic tops, or at least a very high quality lam-
inate. Best-quality desk and tabletops will save you both money and time-consuming maintenance.

If your school is fortunate to serve wheelchair-

bound students, make sure that at least some
of your tables are wheelchair accessible. Some
schools purchase only wheelchair accessible
tables so that all students have the same school
furniture, regardless of physical ability.
School Furniture Guide 10
Growing and Growing and…
Some Tips for 7th–12th Grade Chairs and Tables
Generally speaking, just about everything that applies to students uncomplicated access to their school materials,
elementary school furniture applies to junior high and but eliminate the problem of small objects falling out.
high school as well. There are, however, a few exceptions Lift top book boxes, once very popular, have the most
and additions. room for school supplies of all sizes. The problem is that
in order to remove anything, the student must first clear
The first is that, at this point, height is no longer an everything else off the desk. Besides that inconvenience,
issue. All your students will need 18”–19” inch school there were cases in which the lids slammed down on the
chairs. students’ fingers, and the schools found themselves the
object of lawsuits brought by the parents. So you don’t
Secondly, 7th–12th graders can be tough on their school see these too often anymore.
furniture. Besides regular wear and tear, they also have
a tendency to write (and occasionally engrave) messages Again, if you have wheelchair-bound students, make
on their chairs. So hard plastic chairs are highly recom- sure to take them into consideration when purchasing
mended. Ditto for desk tops. If budget constraints don’t school desks. There are a number of wheelchair-accessi-
allow for that, make sure that the desks you purchase ble desks available in a variety of styles, many of which
have a very high quality laminate or Woodstone top. are appropriate for the non-wheelchair bound as well.

Thirdly, unlike the elementary grades, most schools pro- An economical choice—both in terms of money and
vide individual desks from 7th grade and up. These come space—is a chair-desk combination unit. Used mostly in
in a variety of shapes and sizes, depending largely on high schools (and universities), these come with a choice
whether your school is geared for independent learning, of both soft and hard plastic chairs, and the desks usu-
cooperative learning or a combination of both. Double ally come with a choice of tops in terms of both color
desks, mentioned earlier, make it easy for students to and material. Some desks fold down; others have what
organize into partners. Trapezoidal desks allow students is called a tablet-arm, which means that the student has
to sit individually, but can be conveniently joined to- something to lean on, too. Many come with optional
gether to form semi-circles, hexagons or octagons for book baskets, either under the seat or attached to the
group learning. Individual desks, which you see in most side for convenient access to school materials.
classrooms, promote independent learning. Some have
an enlarged surface to fit large textbooks, laptops, and Due, perhaps, to the academic responsibility junior-
to provide additional working space for study partners. high and high-school students are expected to assume,
it is easy to neglect classroom aesthetics and to focus on
Last, students in 7th–12th grades have a lot more school pragmatics when planning school furniture for these
materials for each class, as well as school supplies. That grades. Don’t make that unfortunate mistake. It’s pre-
means that it is crucial to have school furniture that cisely because of the heavy workload they carry that an
provides a storage solution for all their stuff. Some attractive academic environment is so important. School
schools prefer chairs with attached bookshelves or furniture, including desks but especially chairs, comes
baskets, as this gives students a convenient place to store in a variety of colors. Navy blue and burgundy are cur-
their things yet eliminates the tendency to fidget with rently the most popular, but you can find chairs in such
them, as they are safely under their seats. Other schools unique colors as turquoise, cranberry and teal, as well
prefer under-the-desk storage, which allows students as in all the primary colors. For classrooms with a color
easy access to whatever they may need. Wire book racks scheme that is both classy and consistent, Educational
are great for students who will be storing pencil cases, Edge™ offers a whole line of completely color-coordinat-
books and notebooks, as they offer the best visibility to ed furniture. And if you’re looking for school furniture
both student and teacher. Individual pens and pencils, that is both unusually strong and uniquely designed, try
however, will fall through the mesh. If this is a concern the Inspiration line manufactured by Academia.
for you, consider open-front book boxes. These allow
School Furniture Guide 11
the FiniShing touch
School Chair Frame Finishes
Now that you’ve selected the height,
material, and type of leg you want
your school chairs to have, it’s time
to decide on the frame finish. There
are three types of frame finishes for
school chairs. All are rust-resistant,
unless of course you leave them out
in the rain.

chroMe poWder coat Mirage

This is the popular, very shiny silver Powder coat is a paint finish that is Mirage is also a powder coat, but
finish you see on many chairs. It is electro-statically applied to steel it is colored to look like the classic
very easy to maintain. components such as a frame, leaving chrome.
a highly durable finish. It can usually
be ordered in a number of colors, so
if color-coordinating the frame and
the seat is important to you, this is
the finish you would choose.
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