By Tina Manzer
Seven years ago, education industry entrepreneur Jason Tao saw a need in southern California for early childhood classroom furniture. And not just any furniture. It had to be sturdy, of course, and above all, safe; but also mobile, versatile and elegant – the spare kind of elegance called for in Reggio Emilia classrooms.
He named the company Kohburg because he wanted the furniture to reflect the strength and elegance of the royal town of Coburg in Bavaria. Through dynastic marriages, Coburg was linked to the rulers of Belgium, Bulgaria, Portugal and Britain. It was the home of Prince Albert before he married Queen Victoria. Talk about elegance – its architecture (castles dating back to 1050, for example) is “splendid with rococo, Renaissance and Tudor-era flourishes,” says London’s Daily Telegraph.
There are no fancy flourishes in Kohburg furniture. What’s “fancy” is its use of FSC-certified lumber and Australian Pine Fiberboard (APF), manmade from 100-percent recyclable wood fibers. “It’s not solid wood but it’s not particle board either” says Isabel Orellana, Kohburg’s general manager. “It’s the ‘greenest’ material in today’s market. All of our products are extensively tested and are certified Greenguard Gold.
“We’re really proud of our green commitment and use of nontoxic materials,” she explained. “Our finishes are water-based – readily biodegradable and child-safe. We use all-natural E-Zero Organic Glue, made from plant derivatives, and we were the first company in the industry to produce our metal accessories from 304 Stainless Steel. It’s stain, corrosion and rust resistant, and can be recycled and made into other products.”
The Third Teacher
In the Reggio Emilia approach to preschool, the environment is fundamentally important and often referred to as “the third teacher.” Here are some of its characteristics.
Neutral colors – neutral bulletin boards, off-white walls, wooden furniture, woven baskets and simple carpets on the floor. It sounds dull but it isn’t, since the work of the children is displayed all around to document their learning.
The outside is brought in with open doors, big windows, lots of natural light and indoor plants.
Highly organized – think purposeful and functional, not perfect and pristine. Art resources, for instance, should be visible; neatly displayed all together so that children can choose them with purpose. Paper, crayons and other materials should be available near the table where the children create art, and where the art is displayed.
At the same time, spaces are less structured but carefully planned. Quiet, intimate nooks for one, two or three children promote reading, playing or creating. They should be furnished with soft cushions and natural light.
A living-room style that says “welcome and relax.”
The furniture is available in classroom packages (“basic” and “complete”) for Headstart, Montessori, Preschool and Transitional Kindergarten. Twenty-three add-on sets – the new Kids Zone line – includes a kitchen play area, privacy cubes, the very popular Literacy Corner and more.
Kohburg furniture is made in China. It has a warehouse and offices in Pomona where it employs 16 people. Its prices are competitive with other companies in the industry that produce wood furniture, says Isabel. Delivery takes two weeks from the order date, and all items ship directly from the warehouse in Pomona, California. The furniture comes unassembled, but customers have the option of using Kohburg’s assembly service. “It’s easy to put together,” Isabel says.
In 2010, Kohburg began by selling through the dealer market, but switched to selling direct until its product line grew. As an exhibitor each year at NAEYC, the company gained customers locally and around the world. “Our first international customer was the Butterfly Preschool in Abu Dhabi,” says Isabel. “We made the contact at NAEYC. We were not sure about taking it on at first because we were worried that the furniture would be damaged travelling that far. But we shipped it via a freight forwarder, and everything arrived intact.”
Closer to home, Kohburg is currently completing a project for the University of Southern California. “It recently built an early childhood center, a two-story structure with 12 classrooms,” says Isabel. “We are furnishing them, and are just waiting for the building inspections to be completed so we can move in.”
Kohburg is a regular partner of PBS SoCal, providing safe and fun learning environments for their special events. “PBS used our furniture at the USC Festival of Books, and we could see that the kids loved learning and playing on it,” says Isabel. “We also partner with CalTech Pasadena, providing furniture for some of their conferences. Working with our partners and our teachers is a great way to get new product ideas, and to test what we have created so far.”
For more information, visit kohburg.com.