BACK TO SCHOOL AND BEYOND: Interior Design Meets Technology

Technology Cover Graphic As students head back to the classroom, tablets, laptops and even smartphones are increasingly among the learning tools at their disposal. And it’s not just students who expect technology to be available at their fingertips. In today’s world, technology accommodations—recharging stations integrated into the bedside lamp in our hotel room, table ordering systems at our local restaurant and WiFi hot spots just about anywhere we go—are commonplace. From space planning and programming to lighting and furniture selections, interior design solutions must include considerations for remaining connected comfortably, easily and without compromising style.

Learning environments: Flexible space layouts, such as moving partitions, portable technology and movable tables and chairs can help to meet diverse needs in spaces where collaboration is expected.

Messiah College - Learning Commons
Messiah College; Mechanicsburg, PA – Murray Library Learning Commons

Classroom desks that enable computers to be tucked out of view when not in use allow a single space to effectively function as a computer lab, collaboration center and classroom.

York College of Pennsylvania; York, PA – Willman Business Center
York College of Pennsylvania; York, PA – Willman Business Center

Study lounges, sitting areas and lobbies: These areas also require flexible furnishings that can be adjusted depending on how the space is being used. Side tables should be low enough to use as a work surface while sitting on a couch or comfortable chair.

ipad plugged into chair and charging with a backpack on ground in front
Franklin & Marshall College; Lancaster, PA – South Ben Franklin Hall

Tables, chairs, ottomans, chests, table lamps and even headboards on beds, are increasingly available with integrated charging stations. Some of the “charging chairs” also feature wide arms or come equipped with integrated side tables to enhance comfort and ease of use for devices. Recognizing that today’s cutting-edge technology will inevitably be rendered obsolete at some future point, we typically recommend limiting charging-equipped furnishings to a few key pieces that can that can be updated fairly easily and cost effectively.

Lightweight flat screen televisions and wireless technology have all but eliminated the need for bulky entertainment units. We have found a number of options for both wall mounted and console screens where a piece of artwork slides down to obscure the blank screen when the television is not in use.

Falcons Landing; Potomac Falls, Virginia
Falcons Landing; Potomac Falls, Virginia
Garden Spot Village; New Holland, PA
Garden Spot Village; New Holland, PA

Dining spaces: Technology integration is now an important design component for casual dining venues. Perhaps it’s the Starbucks effect, but no coffee shop today is complete without WiFi access. For recent café designs we have also incorporated booth charging stations and ordering kiosks allowing guests to review nutritional information, check the daily specials and place orders. This can be done either directly from the kiosk or accessed remotely from a smart phone, computer or tablet.

Office spaces: Desks are becoming sleeker with less storage capacity as files are increasingly stored “in the cloud” and printing is far surpassed by on-line correspondence and document transfers. Even the need for a home office space is less evident when tablets and laptops allow work (learning, entertainment, etc.) to occur pretty much anywhere.

As our phones and other electronic gadgets become increasingly essential to our daily lives, new multi-functional furnishings allowing us to discreetly and conveniently utilize these devices will become available. Ikea has recently launched a collection of bedside tables, lamps and coaster-like pads that function as standalone wireless charging stations for smart phones and tablets. The home furnishings provider also offers stand-alone chargers with how-to advice for adding them to your existing furniture. Starbucks is beginning to roll out similar wireless charging pads in its stores.

Ikea wireless charging products.
Ikea wireless charging products.

The furnishings and features we’ve mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg for existing designs and new concepts being developed to help us seamlessly integrate technology into our schools, homes, businesses and leisure venues.

Abby Stewart, IIDA, has more than 10 years of experience as a commercial interior designer. This has included several recent update projects to help clients seamlessly integrate technology into older spaces and ultimately making them work better for today’s constantly connected environments.


The following articles highlight more products and design innovations currently being developed.

RockPaperRobot Is Making Furniture That Captures The Wonders Of Physics

NY Times: Furniture Meets the Digital Age