Here’s what classroom décor designers are creating for today’s fashonista teachers
by Tina Manzer
Smart, on trend, and packed with extra value
Barker Creek is a relative newcomer to the world of décor. The company was begun by Carolyn Hurst in her home in 1993 when she published a book series called Draw•Write•Now. Today, it offers about 500 SKUs ranging from creative file folders and office supplies to e-books, classroom posters and other teacher resources. The business named for a nearby salmon stream is located on a peninsula in Puget Sound, just west of Seattle.
Carolyn, the chief creative officer, gets design inspiration “from absolutely everything, including nature, magazines, shopping (from clothing and patterns on towels to colorful tableware), Pinterest, Instagram, blogs, my young employees, my family, and more.
“You name it and I’ve probably analyzed it to see if it would look cool on a 3.5 by 35-inch strip of trim,” she laughs. The company designs year-round. Its 2017 line was wrapped up earlier this spring, says Carolyn, and she and her staff are already working on the 2018 collection.
“I am absolutely passionate about helping people create beautiful learning and work environments,” she says. “The fact that I can help them do that on a tight budget is incredibly rewarding.”
The inspiration behind the company’s “Italy” collection is one of her favorite product development stories. “It came from a brightly colored shopping bag taped to the inside of a kiosk window in the train station in Venice,” Carolyn explains. “I snapped a photo, sent it to our design team and said, ‘What can we do using this as a starting point?’
“It was our first decor line to truly embody my vision of where we could take classroom and office décor – smart, on-trend, uniquely ours, and packed with extra value,” she explains. “It included our first double-sided trim designs that incorporated motivational quotes. Our Gold line, another decor collection, was inspired a little Kate Spade purse – sumptuous black leather with gold details.”
As she points out, teachers, “especially the younger set in their mid-20s to mid-30s,” have a keen fashion and design sense, thanks to Pinterest, Etsy and Instagram. “This past year I’ve felt that the quality of the images shared on these sites by fashion and decorating bloggers have gone from ‘scrapbook’ to high-end coffee-table-book quality,” she notes. “That’s going to force us to raise the bar in our product imagery, too. I think our catalog and Internet images – and I’m talking about the entire industry here – need to step up to the plate!”
Teachers are also highly creative people who want to put their personal stamp on their classrooms, she said. “We want to give them ideas and affordable products to help them create the classrooms of their dreams. I feel that a warm and welcoming learning environment helps students and teachers relax and focus on the task at hand. There’s a great deal of scientific and behavioral research that supports that belief.”
With the “metallic” trend influencing everything from apparel to furniture, Barker Creek’s “Gold” line is positioned to be a bestseller for back-to-school. “It has really taken off this year and is now our top-selling collection. We introduced it last year and I think we were ahead of the trend.”
New products include a “Color Me!” line introduced in the spring, along with “Bohemian” and “Moroccan” lines that are doing very well.
Getting words in edgewise
“The idea for our newest classroom decor line, Chatter Charts, was inspired by ‘subway art,’ a style that’s really popular now in home-décor stores and design magazines,” notes Janet Bolinske, managing editor of McDonald Publishing in St. Louis. “Art using that vintage-typeface look is also very popular on Etsy and Pinterest.”
So far, there’s been a “terrific response” to the charts, she says, with many dealers placing restocking orders for products in the new line.
Not to be confused with what was happening with the New York graffiti scene in the 1960s and ’70s, “subway art” is an arrangement of words in multiple fonts, sizes and sometimes colors that all relate to a single theme, quote or even a song lyric. The “subway” comes from its resemblance to old subway signs, which crammed many words into a small amount of space. The style lends itself very well to McDonald’s Chatter Chart themes that include literature, math, music, earth science and the
The charts are designed for grades 4 through 9, a unique age group that’s a specialty of the 37-year-old company.
McDonald introduces new core lines at the beginning of each year so that its dealers have them in stock for back-to-school customers, says Janet. Planning begins about a year beforehand. The goal is to create products that add color and interest to a classroom, but that can also be used as teaching tools.
Wow! Incredible! Superheroes motivate learners
“I think all of the former teachers who work here believe a nicely decorated classroom can be a great way to make students feel welcome and relaxed,” says Dianne Kelly from Teacher Created Resources. “It doesn’t mean that teachers have to spend a lot of money; displaying student work on a colorful bordered bulletin board, for instance, goes a long way in giving kids a sense of pride.”
Since 1977, the folks at California-based TCR have been helping teachers “create stimulating learning environments that decorate and educate,” Dianne explains. “Decorative calendars, charts, and bulletin boards create opportunities for both passive and active learning. When they are all tied together with a design or theme, it gives students the sense that they are part of a community.”
Themes come from many sources. “Our customers often give us ideas, and our designers pay close attention to home décor trends, fashion trends and what they see in stores,” she said. “Our ‘Chalkboard Brights’ line is a good example. Chalkboards and chalk lettering are everywhere in home decor and stationery, and, of course, it makes perfect sense in the classroom. We knew people would love it. We added our own unique design elements, and ‘Chalkboard Brights’ have become very popular.”
The company’s classroom decoration category features about 18 different décor types ranging from “Accents,” Awnings,” “Banners” and “Borders,” to “Paper Lanterns,” “Pennants” and “Pocket Charts.” Design themes coordinate across those types – there are “Superhero” awnings, for instance, along with pocket charts, labels for storage bins, and more. Because everything matches, the classroom not only looks great, it also makes the teacher’s life easier. “Having nicely labeled bins and boxes helps everyone in the classroom keep things neat and organized and find what they need,” explains Dianne.
For back-to-school this year, Dianne expects TCR’s “Superhero” products be big again – they were top sellers last year. “In preparation, we had a huge release of brand new Superhero items this year.
“We are also very excited about our ‘Marquee’ line,” she adds. “It’s a great example of a trend we have been seeing all over, and we think will translate well in the classroom.”
Other popular themes include “Chevrons & Dots” and “Parisian” – a combination of patterns in pink, black and white.
The TCR team starts planning new products a year in advance, so it’s important to spot trends and come up with ideas that stand the test of time. “Our new ‘Plaid’ and ‘Carnival’ lines are great examples,” points out Dianne.” Plaid is everywhere right now, but it’s also a classic that people love. Similarly, the carnival theme has been a classroom favorite for years; we just updated the look to make it current and fun.”
A backdrop for personal touches or the whole galaxy
There’s a lot going on with “Confetti Splash,” décor. It incorporates watercolor layers; vintage floral patterns; navy, turquoise and orange tones; accents of wood and cork; and arrow, splash and thought-bubble icons.
It’s brand new from Eureka/Paper Magic, and “brings together some of the most on-point trends you’ll find today,” notes Rebecca Rogers-Kreig, the company’s marketing and sales manager, school division. “There’s a wide array of products in the line to choose from, but at the same time it allows teachers to add their own Etsy-like touches with choices of backer paper, basket and ribbon additions, and more.”
The overwhelming influence of shared ideas on Pinterest has inspired all teachers to bring their own unique, creative-décor style to their classrooms. “But with busy schedules and demands on teachers’ time right now, starting from scratch can be hard,” Rebecca notes. “Pinterest helps by giving them starting points using shared ideas that work, and gives manufacturers the opportunity to offer additional resources that just didn’t make it into their products or on the packaging.”
For their designs, the Eureka team pulls inspiration from fashion-forward retail stores, top-grossing movies, and hot looks at trade shows. “We need to appeal to a wide array of classrooms, from pre-K fun and games to high-fashion high school. We make it a point to research teachers’ needs and wants, but we also scout emerging trends at the Stationery Show, Toy Fair, the Licensing Show and the gift markets.”
The company works closely with its licensing partners to bring popular and relevant licenses and style guides to the classroom. “There is no better example of movies driving product than the well-received addition of ‘Star Wars’ to the Eureka line – in the more vintage look of the first release, and with ‘The Force Awakens’ in the second,” she explains. “The license can work for something as simple as a ‘Welcome,’ but also for character education and STEM. The team at Lucas Film and Disney are really excited about developing product that helps teachers connect with their students.”
The “Star Wars” décor line and “Confetti Splash” are polar opposites, but Rebecca feels that both will be big sellers for back-to-school. “The variety simply shows how we help fill the needs of a lot of different educators.”
Like other décor-producing companies, planning for a product starts about a year ahead of a launch … unless it’s a licensed product. “‘Cat in the Hat for President’ was a perfect example this year,” she explains. “It was a great idea that came up a little late, so we had to scramble to make it happen quickly.”